16 Tamuz, 5761
July 6-7, '01
It's Shabbos. Do you know where G-d is?
A lot of people don't. And the answer may surprise you…
The first person to be confused as to G-d's whereabouts was none other than the first person: Adam in the Garden of Eden. Adam sinned, we all remember, eating the forbidden fruit, and then tried hiding from G-d in his shame. "…and the man and his wife hid from the Lord, G-d, among the trees of the garden. And the Lord, G-d, called to the man, saying to him: 'Where are you?'" (Genesis 3:8-9).
Where are you?? Was G-d somewhere else, inquiring regarding Adam's location?
Of course not. G-d knows where we all are; He could win any game of hide-and-seek. The Creator of heaven and earth was asking more: "Where are you, Adam? Where have you gone with all your great potential?"
G-d was expressing something else as well. Rashi, quoting a
Midrash, explains that G-d was gently entering into a conversation with Adam to give him an opportunity to recognize his mistake and change his behavior. G-d could have just blasted Adam, which would have certainly made him recognize his mistake, but then Adam would have been too shaken up to change and grow. So G-d first hinted gently, "Where are you, Adam? Take My hint. Come clean with Me. There's still time to change." But Adam didn't fully get it. Instead, he became the first man to blame everything on his wife, earning a one-way ticket out of paradise, like so many husbands since.
Next, history repeated itself in the world's first sibling rivalry, when Cain slew his brother Abel. G-d inquired of Cain, "Where is Abel, your brother?" (Genesis 4:9). Was G-d really not sure?
G-d was trying to wake Cain up to recognizing his crime and truly repenting. But Cain blew it, shrugging: "I don't know; am I my brother's keeper?" (Genesis 4:10). Wrong answer, Cain. You're the weakest link, goodbye.
In this week's parsha, we find a similar incident. The gentile prophet, Bilam, gets a wake-up call from G-d in the middle of the night. Balak, the newly crowned king of Moav, had sent messengers to Bilam to hire him out to curse the Jewish nation. Bilam informs his nefarious guests: "Spend the night here and I'll let you know what G-d tells me (regarding your request)… And the Lord came to Bilam saying: 'Who are these men with you?' And Bilam told the Lord: 'Balak, the son of Tzipor, king of Moav, sent them to me." (Numbers 22:8-10).
Was G-d unaware of the identity of Bilam's visitors?
G-d was trying to wake Bilam up to recognizing the folly of his plan. Bilam wanted to turn around and use the extraordinary spiritual abilities that G-d had bestowed upon him to try to curse G-d's chosen people. G-d asked Bilam a simple question: "Who are these men with you? What are you doing associating with such lowlifes? Don't you realize where you're going to end up if you keep hanging in crowds like this?"
But what did Bilam answer? Who are these men with me? "Balak, the son of Tzipor, king of Moav, sent them to me." Bilam told off G-d! "Even if I'm not important in Your eyes, I'm important in the eyes of kings!" (Rashi). Bilam's response to G-d would be amusing, if it didn't sound so familiar to how so many people think today.
This is all very interesting, how G-d spoke to Adam and Cain and Bilam, asking apparently obvious questions in order to wake them up to recognizing the truth. But what's all this got to do with us? We're not prophets. We've never heard G-d asking us where we are or who we're hanging around with. Why doesn't G-d speak to us?
Why doesn't G-d speak to us?? Are we really sure that He doesn't?
We're not prophets today. The world is not focused on the spiritual enough these days to allow for the clarity of prophetic vision (we've all seen a little too much TV). But G-d does send us messages still, in many different ways.
One of G-d's current channels of communication is delivered straight into our minds, free of charge. It's almost as if we hear G-d speaking to us. We call this inner voice our conscience. What our conscience really is is G-d gently hinting to us to recognize our mistakes and to try to correct them.
Where is G-d? G-d can be found in the heart of our conscience, gently nudging us away from wrong and encouraging right. In our conscience, G-d speaks in a soft voice, a thousand times softer than prophecy. It's so soft that sometimes we almost can't hear it (especially over the roar of the world around us). But G-d's voice in our conscience is there, barely perceptible to those who search for it and focus on it and truly want to hear it.
(Note: Look, of course we know that G-d is truly everywhere: up, down and all around. But it's hard to always see that and feel that unless someone's a truly holy person. What I'm talking about in this essay is where we can perceive G-d ourselves.)
When Adam and Cain and Bilam heard G-d speaking, they were having a prophetic experience. But from how G-d approached them, we can gain insight into how G-d communicates with us, on our level. G-d asks us seemingly simple questions. He raises tiny doubts in our minds. Is that really the right way for me to respond? Is my decision really based on what's right, or am I just trying to cover up my own shortcomings? Where am I? Where is my brother? Who are these people I am allowing to influence me?
It's Shabbos. The roar of the world should be a little quieter for just one day. If we listen, we can hear our conscience a little more clearly. There's a voice. A soft voice. A gentle voice. It's G-d's voice, trying to bring us closer to Him.
Insights Into Exodus
Insights Into Leviticus
Insights into Numbers
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