In the circles in which I travel, people take God very seriously. Now, I don’t mean the God of Hebrew school or Hollywood, a stern male God with long white beard and imposing voice. Nor do I mean the kind of God who seems to sit on people’s shoulders and whisper advice about trivial life decisions.
More and more I find people striving to cultivate some measure of awareness that there is more to life than our own personal needs. These are people who desire to live in a way that is guided by Torah and the highest truth to which they have access, in accord with their own deepest wisdom.
In this context, my friends who are spiritual directors have a favorite question that they often ask a person who is struggling with a painful life question. They ask, “How would all of this look through God’s eyes?” The attempt to imagine a life situation in which we find ourselves from the perspective of the Ultimate, of the Infinite, of the totality of life, regularly reveals a very different perspective than the limited view to which we normally have access.
This week I found a stunning teaching from the Degel Machane Efraim, the grandson of the Ba’al Shem Tov, imagining the world in which we live from God’s perspective. The verse in our parashah, “For you are residents and aliens with Me” (Lev. 25:23) leads him to the following reflection. “It is in the nature of things that the ‘stranger’ has no one, no friend with whom to feel close and tell the events of life and all that is in his heart. But when he sees a friend from his own land, then each tells the other what is happening in their lives.” So far we have a sensitive description of the human experience of living in a land not your own.
Now comes the stunning part. “It is known that the Blessed Holy One is like a stranger in this world, having no one on whom to rest the blessed divine presence.” The rebbe imagines God a lonely presence in the world, alienated and alone, aching for companionship.
The rebbe is reminded of a commentary on the verse in Psalms, “I am only a stranger in the land; do not hide Your commandments from me.” (Psalms 119:19)
Turning the simple meaning of the verse on its head, the rebbe imagines God speaking these words, speaking of God’s own longing for connection with us, pleading with us to observe the mitzvot as a way of connecting with God. The rebbe then rereads the verse in our portion from this radical perspective of God as a lonely stranger in the world. “For you are residents and aliens with Me” then comes to mean, “When you are residents and aliens in this world, then you are with Me, for I, too, am a stranger in this world.”
I find this a powerfully evocative view of the world we live in. Imagine that if God could walk around in our world, God would be alienated and alone, pained and outraged by so much of the daily reality that has become normal for us. God would be horrified and angered by senseless hatred and violence, and deeply pained by the suffering that afflicts so many. God would ache with loneliness, feeling there was no one to talk to, no one to share the pain of beholding the brokenness of the world. God would weep for God’s own suffering creatures and for the beautiful world that now contains so much pain and evil.
So perhaps we should read the newspaper each day imagining God reading it along with us. When we encounter a person in pain, a moment of anger or a flash of hatred, we should imagine God’s pain in beholding how hard it is to live in God’s beloved world. When we have a decision to make, we might ask ourselves, “How would God see this crossroads at which I find myself?” When I do this, I regularly find more love and compassion moving through me. This, without a doubt, is exactly what God would desire.
Rabbi Amy Eilberg is a spiritual director in private practice.