“You are standing today, all of you, before the Eternal your God” (Deuteronomy 29:9).
Today is a special day, the day when your leader Moses is going to withdraw himself from the world, in order to let you blossom, autonomously, on your own Promised Land.
But this day could also be any other day: the day when you feel a renewal of your relationship with the Eternal, your God; the day when you start a new stage in your life’s journey; the day when you wake up, either at the blast of the shofar, or at the sound of the alarm-clock.
Nothing is special about today. You are standing before the Eternal, as always. The only difference may be that today, you are aware of being in the presence of the Eternal. Maybe you are standing near the Ark, where the Torah is enshrined, in all its sanctity; it might explain why the Eternal feels so present to you, all of a sudden. Or maybe you are standing somewhere else. Actually, it does not make any difference, for the world is filled with the Eternal’s presence. The reason why you perceive it today is merely that you have made yourself available to it.
Your status in society, your wealth, your age, your gender does not make any difference in that experience. You may be standing together, or alone; that does not matter either. Indeed, are not all human beings candles for the Eternal?
But candles are fragile. Their light may flicker, or even die out. Candles may also be dangerous, for they may burn, or even put the fire everywhere and destroy everything. You carry the same ambiguity in you, the same fragility allied with a potentially destroying strength, which may have an effect on your relationship with the Eternal.
It can happen, one day when you are standing before the Eternal, especially one of those days when you are not aware of it, that you remain insensitive to its presence. Your rational mind tells you that weird mystical experiences and divine promises are but traps of the human mind. You will wonder, very reasonably, that you would be better off not taking ancient words written more than two millennia ago into account for living your own life today. Are they not anachronistic? And, by the way, who can prove that the Eternal even exists? Nobody. So, you will decide to put your hope and confidence in things that are definitely part of your own present world.
Such wonders conscious or not, are very human. Rejecting an unknowable and maybe non-existing Eternal is so tempting… Then, it will appear that you cannot really live without a god. Of course, you may not notice that you have replaced it by the works of human hands and the inventions of human minds. But it will be the case. You will have make yourself deaf and blind to the transcendent, the unknowable, the challenging, in order to enclose yourself in a reassuring bubble where you can control everything, where you feel that you understand what you do and believe in, and why.
However, your bubble may not satisfy you in the long term. Your life may have lost in intensity. If you do not strive to connect it to the transcendent anymore, you may feel that it lacks a profound meaning. You will feel that something is missing.
What is missing is that you have, maybe inadvertently, stepped out from the presence of the Eternal. At the same time, you have also lost the connection with all the other human beings standing before the Eternal; not only those who are alive, with you, today, but also those who have lived earlier or will be born later. Indeed, being in a relationship with the Eternal also puts you in a relationship with all the other human beings in search of meaning.
Human nature is such that you will definitely wander, far from the Eternal, at some point in your life. If you are the Eternal’s candles, you are not able to produce a gentle bright light at any time. Sometimes you flicker. Sometimes the wind blows over you and extinguishes you. Sometimes you put the fire in the Eternal’s house. You will fall into the trap of idolatry, in your own ways, which may be different each time. Sometimes, you may even not notice that what you are worshipping is not the Eternal, but your own simpler, unchallenging and reassuring image of it.
Maybe this part of the journey is unavoidable, or even necessary. Torah is clear about that: you will be expelled from your Promised Land, you will not always find comfort in times of suffering. You will feel lost, and blind. You will err. Like everyone else.
But it will not last forever. Today, or tomorrow, you will stop wandering, when you will open yourself to the Torah which is enshrined in your heart. Your Torah is not a mere ancient text written on a scroll; it is your own guide and companion through the journey of life. Thus, it is not necessary to cross the sea in order to find it, nor to fly far up to the sky; Torah is not on the moon. It is deep in you. Once you have realised it, you will be driven back to the presence of the Eternal, instantly, even though you had gone as far as the moon.
Then, you will be standing anew before the Eternal, your God. You will be ready to conquer your own Promised Land, where you will blossom… Until you lose yourself again.
But that doesn’t matter. You will come back.
Iris Ferreira LBC rabbinic student
The views expressed in this D’var Torah do not necessarily reflect the position of Leo Baeck College.