An Accessible God — With Me Always

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May 1, 2012
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Aliza Lavie

At Mattan Torah, the Giving of the Torah, God says to Moses, “Thus shalt thou say to the house of Jacob, and tell the children of Israel.” (Exodus 19:3) Rashi comments on this verse, saying that the house of Jacob represents the women and the children of Israel are the men. From this, it is clear that every one of us was present when the Torah was given; men and women alike. Our mission is to continue living the Torah that we received. We must understand and believe that revelation did not happen only in the past; it is happening every day to all of us — as individuals, as families, as communities, as a state, and as the Jewish people.

Revelation must be experienced in our lives on a daily basis. The framework within which we live reflects a Torah that belongs to us. The Torah becomes a mirror with which to evaluate ourselves and our deeds. Judaism is a religion not to be practiced, but to be lived; living the Torah makes us better people, more aware as human beings. The Israeli poet Zelda refers to Exodus 19:16 in a poem, stating: “I do not exist without the lightning and the voices which I heard at Mount Sinai.” Here she notes the constancy and necessity of Torah in her life while acknowledging her presence at Mount Sinai when the Torah was given. In fact, each of us is commanded to see ourselves as if we were present at revelation and, in turn, were freed from Egypt as well. Our Judaism today stems from the very act of being freed and receiving the Torah. This is why we are obligated to talk about our exodus, to study it, and to emphasize it every year anew at the Passover seder. It is our relationship to the exodus that reflects our relationship and connection to God.

Personally, God has been a known part of my life since I was born. I never had to find my way to God; I didn’t come to know God by some mysterious path, or through suffering. God’s presence flowed in my blood from my earliest childhood. Perhaps it was religious naiveté that accompanied my childhood; perhaps there was a model for emulation in the form of the elders of the tribe; perhaps it was fate.

I first sensed my God through the religious observance of the elderly women who gathered at the Moussayof Synagogue in the Bukharian neighborhood in Jerusalem. As I walked with my grandmother through the picturesque streets and in between the courtyards, I felt God’s presence. When I listened to the prayers that rose up from the circle of women worshippers, I sensed God’s certain existence. Eventually, I came to learn that the tremor I felt within me every time I was in the presence of these women praying — as I breathed in their fragrance — inculcated in me a profound intergenerational connection and commitment. They prayed through their hearts, without siddurim open. With simplicity arising from a stalwart faith and knowledge of who they were, they transmitted their wondrous knowledge and their absolute faith to their children and grandchildren with great sensitivity. They were certain of their ability to maintain day-to-day contact with God. In words spiced with a mixture of languages, they maintained an enlightening and fertile feminine dialogue. Despite their marginal status in the synagogue, they maintained what they had received from their mothers and grandmothers, adding to this heritage in the spirit of the times. My memories are etched with an awareness of the existence of a feminine Jewish chain with the power and ability to conduct dealings with God.

It is in this spirit and with these memories that I pass on the concept of a living God and living Judaism to my children. Keeping the generations of our extended family close at all times, we “do Judaism” together; Shabbat meals, holidays, and simply living in Israel and traveling together throughout the country are all part of our “doing.” We spend our time sharing daily experiences and living Torah so that God is part of everything we do and our connection is constant and everlasting.

What my grandmother knew has been known since biblical times. In the Torah, our forefathers and foremothers prayed, but we have no texts of their prayers. Everyone prayed and spoke to God in his or her own way. They spoke to God individually as the need arose; on a very personal level. Unfortunately, in modern times, most of us have forgotten these solitary prayers. We have lost confidence that we can mine our hearts for our own prayers — that our prayers can be spontaneous and unformulated.

While our communities have forgotten these individual supplications, women have never forgotten. Women have always known that they could formulate their own prayers and dialogue with God.

We still need that accessible God. We must believe firmly that our revelation is constant and ongoing — that God is by our side at every moment, no matter who or where we are.

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Aliza Lavie is the author of A Journey of Jewish Customs, Rituals, Prayers and Stories (Yediot Sfarim, 2012, in Hebrew), and A Jewish Woman’s Prayer Book (Random House 2008). She lives in Netanya, Israel and can be reached at AlizaLavie.com.

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