On God and Godzilla // Shabbat Tzav, March 25, 2016
Welcome to you, dear members of BCC. Welcome to you who are visiting for the first time. And those of you who are tuning in from abroad.
Welcome especially to Cantor Juval’s brother who is visiting us all the way from Norway- ask him later about the Jewish community there later. We may be tempted to ask him a little bit about Cantor’s youth… but that reminds me of a hasidic story- one that we studied in my Hasidic Tales from the Crypt, over the past two weeks here at BCC.
Several Hasidim of Rabbe Menachem Mendel of Kotsk were visiting another town, the town of Tomashav, singing praises of their teacher. One of the townspeople was stunned by the news that Menachem Mendel was now a Rebbe. “Why he and I were classmates! We went to cheder together. A rebbe! How marvelous!”
Learning that they had a boyhood friend of their Rebbe’s in their midst, the Hasidim pestered him for information about Menachem Mendel as a young man. The man insisted that there was nothing to tell. Nothing special about his friend. He was a boy like all others, the man insisted. Just as the hasidim were about to take leave of the man, he said, “No, wait! I do remember something. One time our teacher took us all out to celebrate Lag B’Omer with a picnic held high up in the mountains, and after the picnic, we all returned home together. All that is, but Menachem Mendel. He was no longer among us. We raced back up the mountain and found him lying face down on the mountainside, arms and legs outstretched as far as they could go. He was hugging the mountain with all his might, speaking directly to the earth. Our teacher went over to him and listened to what he was saying. He heard Menachem Mendel repeating the phrase, “My heart and my flesh sing praises to the living God,” over and over again. (From: Hasidic Tales, Rabbi Rami Shapiro).
This is quite a beautiful story isn’t it? Many ideas come from this story but one of them is that God can be found anywhere… even on top of an empty mountain.
It begs the question: where else can God be found?
In the Purim Shpiel Wednesday night, though we were dressed as various dinosaurs, the clergy team and I posed the theological question about God– who we called Godzilla– where IS God found?
That’s because, in the book of Esther, God is found… NOWHERE. That’s right, the name is God appears exactly ZERO times in the Megillah.
An interesting aside: did you know that scribes, when they learn how to write according to the rules of STaM literature, the sacred rules of writing the Sefer Torah, the Mezuzah and the Tefillin, they write, as their first sacred text: the book of Esther! That’s because all of the extra laws surrounding the writing of God’s name are not relevant in the book of Esther, because God’s name appears: NEVER!
Some would say that God’s handiwork is in the story of Esther though it is actually implied– a case can be made that God was the master orchestrator of the ascent of the Jewish Esther (YAY!) to the throne, to be in a position to thwart the evil plot of Haman (BOO!) to save the Jews. Still, God is never mentioned explicitly.
So why isn’t God mentioned explicitly? Where is God?
This week’s Torah poriton, Tzav, describes all the ways the ancient Israelites tried to cling closer to God, tried to get closer to God, through various types of offerings in the Temple. The burnt offering. The sin offering. The guilt offering. The meal offering. The thanksgiving offering. These are all ways we try to get closer to God. But, where is that exactly?
Godzilla, actually, may help point us to the locale of God. What do I mean? You know how the film opens with a scene of Japan — the ocean…the skyline… buildings.. and the camera pans a bit further to reveal a path of destruction…cars overturned, buildings crushed, a helicopter circling. And, the viewer is left with the impression that something very destructive was just there. Even before Godzilla even appears on the screen… we have evidence of Godzilla’s presence.
That is kind of like the rabbinic idea of God. But in reverse. Here’s what I mean. The rabbis who wrote prayers point to all of the beauty and miracles of the natural world… as evidence of God’s presence. As evidence that God was just there. Even as we cannot see God, we CAN see the miracles left in the wake of God’s presence. And, so we bless them. The rabbis gave us blessings for encounters with rainbows, thunderstorms, and food, and we give thanks following salvation from a life-threatening accident, or upon reaching an important moment in our lives. These blessings serve to acknowledge that God was there. God’s presence is in our lives.
No matter if you think of God as a man in the sky with a beard or a light source or life force, or just the force. Whatever God is… God was there. God IS here.
Cultivating that awareness brings God into our lives.
You may know that tonight is Rabbi Lisa’s birthday– and how many of us have heard her ask, “isn’t it funny that…?” or “did you notice…?” She is someone who points each of us to recognize the interconnectedness and the co-incidence of the universe. Some would say that she points us to recognize God in the universe. Especially when we are down and out and we need the reminder…
Looking at the world through the lens of appreciation and wonderment points us back to oneness and wholeness. It points us back to the sacredness of our lives. We don’t have to climb to the top of a hill and hug the earth to find it… we need only to take a moment to pause and reflect on our lives.
Now, we invite you to rise for the Amidah which can be found on pages 41-51— and as you do so, we invite you to pray the words on the page or simple take a moment to pause and consider– When you rise to speak to God, what are you doing? Where do you find God? Where has the Divine’s presence revealed itself to you this week?
Was it through a kind word or a beautiful natural event? Was it through the sacred bonds of community or through the goodness of a stranger?
Where has God been revealed to you? And how have you received God’s presence?