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D'var Torah

by Hazzan Ozur Bass

It is a blessing to know that you’re in God’s Presence. In our modern and skeptical culture, we rarely observe God’s company, walking next to us, helping us when we call. One of the greatest boons to my spirituality was the summer I worked with the Pastoral department at Shady Grove Adventist Hospital, in Rockville. There I was surrounded by clergy and chaplains who witnessed The Merciful One and the Glory of God’s Presence. From them I learned how to interact with God in a more personal way.

At the recommendation of my Clinical Pastoral Educator at JTS I started reading a book that I thoroughly recommend: “Making Prayer Real”, by Rabbi Mike Comins. This book has further informed my spirituality and how I relate to prayer, personal and during services. I am trying to stop relating to God as the “Great Vending Machine in the Sky”, the idea that if we pray and concentrate hard enough, God will grant us our wishes. I am beginning to understand my relationship to The Eternal as one of presence: I find, in the prayers, concepts associated with The Almighty which are meant to inspire me to act in Divine ways. When I say a line about God granting wisdom, I am inspired to search for that wisdom; when I say the line about granting forgiveness, I am moved to repent and to forgive; and when I say a line about God being the healer of our people, I look for ways in which I can bring healing, to me and to others. I’d love to be able to act without hurting anyone; oh, to be granted that wisdom! Inadvertently, however, I still hurt others; that’s part of being human. The reflections our Sages of Blessed Memory included in the prayer service are meant to change us, to inspire us to work on earth through Divine attributes.

The idea of us walking the path of The Divine is found in our siddur Sim Shalom, page 69: “’To walk in all God’s ways’ (Deut. 11:22): These are the ways of the Holy One – ‘gracious and compassionate, patient, abounding in kindness and faithfulness, assuring love for a thousand generations, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin, and granting pardon…’ (Ex. 34:6). Just as God is gracious and compassionate, you too must be gracious and compassionate. ‘Adonai is faithful in all God’s ways and loving in all God’s deeds’ (Ps. 145:17). As the Holy One is faithful, you too must be faithful. As the Holy One is loving, you too must be loving.” This passage from the Midrash Sifre on the book of Deuteronomy informs us on how to interact with other beings: we aim to do so in the most Divine way possible! And, if we fail, we continue to look for Holy ways to repent and forgive, and to bring healing. That is how we strive to walk in all God’s ways.

In this week’s portion, Ki Tissa, the tables are slightly turned. Instead of attempting to walk in God’s ways, Moses asks The Creator to be with him, to grace him with God’s Presence: “Now, if I have truly gained Your favor, pray let me know Your ways, that I may know You and continue in Your favor” (Exodus 33: 13). Moses goes on to beg for a vision of God’s Presence (33:18). Walking in God’s ways does not require confirmation that God is with us. As lovely as that might be, it is not necessary for our continuing the Divine work on earth. And since none of us is Moses, we must be content with belief and trust: open our hearts and minds to God’s presence and be inspired to walk in God’s ways, this Shabbat and in future days.





Sat, April 17 2021 5 Iyyar 5781