God’s road rage

What’s up with God? 

One minute God’s up on Mount Sinai giving us laws and teachings to transform our people and the world, and the next, the Holy One is contemplating — no, planning, actually — to destroy the whole Israelite people and begin again with Moses as the progenitor seed. There God goes again, getting pissed off!

God is so angry (dare I say, “Out of control!”?) that it takes a rationally focused Moses to talk God down from the veritable ledge. “Do you want to be known,” Moses calmly asks (I am paraphrasing here), “as the Divine who freed the people from slavery only to take them out to the desert to destroy them?” 

“Now that you put it that way,” God responds, “I suppose not. That won’t play well across the generations.”

Uncontrolled road rage 

Most of us are familiar with what happens next at Mount Sinai. Upon seeing the Israelites in the act of rejecting their Creator, Moses throws down the Ten Commandments in rage. The breaking tablets destroy the golden calf, and a whole bunch of Israelites along with it. In a classic case of rage transmitted across generations, the child learns from the parent and lashes out harshly.

This is not the first (nor the last) time God expresses uncontrolled “road rage.” In the Beginning, as the world becomes increasingly corrupt, God throws up God’s metaphoric hands and decides it is time to start over. Moments later, Noah is building an ark, the animals are lining up two by two, and Creation faces another anger-induced destruction (Genesis 6-9). After the waters subside, God learns from the experience and faces up to God’s anger-management issue. God sets up a Three-Step addiction recovery program: see rainbow in sky, remember the brit (covenant), don’t destroy world by flood. Creative, hopeful. But ultimately very theologically problematic.

God’s anger-management issues

Just nine generations after God created humanity, God gets fed up with humanity’s predilection for egocentrism, evidenced by its high-rise project (see Tower of Babel, Genesis 11). Today, we guide our children to use their words to express their frustrations, but back then, God just knocks down the whole tower and scrambles everyone’s words. End of game: God 1, Humanity 0.

The trouble with this narrative, and with subsequent bouts of Divine rage, is that we have grown to expect our Divine to be better than that, to be immune to the emotional highs and lows that permeate our less-than-divine human existence. God is supposed to be perfect (and all-good, all-knowing and all-powerful, too); when God flies off into a rage — or seems to act in ways that can hardly be described as good or perfect (see the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 18-19), or the call for genocidal slaughtering of the inhabitants of the land in Deuteronomy 20, 25, or the unnecessary slandering of all homosexual acts as abominations in Leviticus 18, 20 — either we are missing the point, or God is messing up, or …

Theologically speaking, God just ain’t perfect

American theologian Charles Hartshorne (1897-2000), in his insightful work, “Omnipotence and Other Theological Mistakes” (SUNY Press, 1984), argues just that. God was never unchanging, perfect, all-powerful, all-knowing or all-good. According to Hartshorne, these attributions to God are a later rereading of the Torah by Greek philosophy-influenced rabbinic scholars.

These traits of perfection are not native to the Holy One — at least as far as the Torah text itself is concerned. In Torah, for example, we see God acting imperfectly rashly (in the deaths of Nadav and Avihu in Numbers 3) and evidencing a lack of knowledge about how humans might act (in the near sacrifice of Isaac in Genesis 22).

God learns and grows

So, let’s face it. Our God is an imperfect, growing, changing Divine. As the kabbalists will later insist, God learns from humanity just like a parent learns from a child (and a person learns from a lover) and is able to grow and self-actuate from those interactions.

God may never fully get a handle on the Holy Rage issues, but as the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) continues, God is quicker to walk back from the precipice.

We humans, created b’tzelem Elohim (in God’s image) and expected to live imitatio Dei (following God’s example), can learn from the Divine. Perhaps therein lie significant lessons from Parashat Ki Tisa: That God isn’t and never has been perfect. That we need to stop holding God up to unachievable, unrealistic theological standards. And coming to terms with these realities are necessary first steps toward developing a healthy, reality-based belief system. 

Rabbi Paul Kipnes is spiritual leader at Congregation Or Ami in Calabasas. He blogs at rabbipaul.blogspot.com and tweets @RabbiKip.

Within Us

Once upon a time, as God created the world, He decided to make beings in His image. As he generated his own reflection in man and woman, the angels got word of the
project, and were consumed with jealousy.

“How unfair!” they cried. “Those humans will have it all. They get to experience life on earth with all the perks: laughter, tears, ice cream, wasabi, softness, scratchiness. And as if that ‘being alive’ stuff weren’t blessing enough, they get immortality as well!” (If God is eternal, so, too, would be anything made in God’s image.)

The angels were furious; no being should merit both ice cream and infinity. If heavenly beings were denied earthly experiences, why allow humans celestial ones?

So, they plotted against the humans. They decided to hide immortality from them, and assembled to determine how it could be done. One angel suggested, “Let’s hide it far up in the mountains; I hear humans don’t like to shvitz much.
They’ll never climb that high.”

Another disagreed: “That won’t work. Those granola hippie Jews God put on the West Coast will surely hike to the top of the mountains and discover it. Better we hide eternality far out in the sea. Most folks won’t go farther than a cruise ship will take them.”

Again, others dissented. They realized that any God-like being would eventually access the heights of heaven and the depths of the ocean.

Finally, a wise old angel made a brilliant suggestion: “Let us hide the infinite between and within the humans. That will be the last place on earth they would think to look for it.”

And so it was.

Parashat Nitzavim illustrates the result of the angels’ prank. They succeeded in ensuring that the last place we look for God is right in front of us. The text beseeches the people to take a stand “this day” in testament that the “only God is Eternal,” but acknowledges that we have no idea how to affirm that truth. It speaks to our ignorance of accessing the Infinite, and tries to remedy our delusion. We need not struggle to reach the Divine.

Lo bashamiyim hi.

“No, it is not in heaven,” God explains. “It is very near to you.”

Contact with the Eternal is between us and within us.

The parsha speaks to our fantasy that we must search far and suffer long to retrieve this blessing. Were it not, the wording would be different. God would simply state: “Hey guys, check out this groovy commandment I’ve placed right in front of you.”

Instead, He addresses our misconception that good things are hard to come by. He elaborates: “[It is not] beyond the sea that you should say: ‘Who will cross the sea for us and bring it over to us that we may do it.”

In other words: “No need for drama, difficulty or complication; you don’t need a personal assistant to get this for you. Just open your eyes and see: infinite life is right here, within you.”

But we remain blind, instead assuming that if something good happens easily, it is suspicious. We spit three times, even knock on wood, or mumble a “God forbid.” We prepare for disappointment, assume a mistake, because in our estimation no blessing comes effortlessly. Life is hard. Good fortune takes work. Right?

Not according to the text.

Lo bashamyim hi.

Our divine legacy is found within us and between us: “See, I have set before you this day life and blessing or death and curse. Choose life.”

Easy. Stick with God for an endlessly good time. You’ll receive immortal prosperity through generations that will flow through you, always have what you need, and live a life of endless possibility.

Still, we continue cursing ourselves with dissident struggles — idolizing dramas of the difficult and inaccessible rather than recognizing the abundance we have now. The angels shake their heads as we look everywhere for our hats except our heads, running away from God while He waits within us; She is right here between us.

We need only see that the trees surrounding us don’t struggle to grow, they just grow; fish don’t try to swim, they just swim. It is their nature. And it is our nature to exist eternally in God’s image.

The angels are tired of laughing at us. They forgive us our good fortune and seek to help us remember. We stand this day, testaments of the infinite Divine presence. There’s nowhere else to look, no place else to be, nothing else as perpetually filled with blessing. We need only accept this present of a moment, this gift of being human.

We can stand here and now, present to all the feelings that the angels so covet, in eternal gratitude for having them. We can “Choose life, therefore that [we and our] descendents may live – by loving [our] God; listening to God’s voice.”

By adoring our experience, by hearing His voice in one another’s words. We choose life and death: by dying to our attachment to what was and will be.

By surrendering to this moment as being nothing but what it is, by appreciating the blessing of our curses. We choose it all, for it is revealed to us as One and the same present from our creator. Eternally within and between us, and we don’t have to shvitz or swim to get it.

Rabbi Karen Deitsch will be teaching at the University of Judaism’s continuing education program this fall. You can reach her at karendeitsch@yahoo.com.

Find Your Melody

This Shabbat is called Shabbat Shirah and is named for the “Song of the Sea” sung by Moses and the Israelites after they experienced the redemption at the splitting of the Red Sea.

What was it, the rabbis asked, that evoked shirah, song, at this point and not earlier when they actually left Egypt? What propels the song to burst forth from their lips? When are we motivated to truly sing the song in our hearts?

I remember a powerful insight from Rabbi Nachman of Bratzlav that a dear colleague shared years ago. Every person, Rabbi Nachman believed, has his or her own niggun, a wordless melody that is like a key that opens up our Neshamah, our soul. The task of our lives, he continues, is to find that melody that opens us up. Just as each lock has a different key, each person has to find his or her own special melody.

The ancient Israelites found their niggun, their melody, at that moment when they were saved from the Egyptians. The text teaches, “On that day, the Lord delivered Israel from the Egyptians. Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the shore of the sea. And when Israel saw the wondrous power, which the Lord had wielded against the Egyptians, the people feared the Lord; they had faith in the Lord and His servant Moses. Then Moses and the Israelites sang this song to the Lord” (Exodus 14:30-15:1).

There is a Chasidic teaching that believes: “Ha’ke’riayah M’orair Ha’zman.” The designated Torah reading on Shabbat wakes up a dormant yearning within us.

When we chant “Shirat Hayam” from the Torah, we can actually use the energy of the day to find our personal niggun and to open our hearts. Our song, however, is often hidden from us, buried by the routines in our busy lives, unknown and never used. Also, our true song is not only about “joy” but is about sadness and loss, yearning and hope, faith and despair. We often do not want to experience all these feelings, and cannot sing.

Avivah Zorenberg, in her Torah commentary, understood that the power of Shabbat Shirah is recognizing that a song is not simply an explosion of jubilant gratitude. The Song, she states, “is a complex set of emotions and points to life and death … justice and mercy.” The moment the Israelites sang was an opening that “transcends a simple split between ‘us’ and ‘them.'” The song emerged from that moment of tension: remembering their overwhelming physical suffering on the one hand, and experiencing the joy of God’s salvation on the other.

The Israelites’ song sprang from a deep place of knowing that no one is exempt from human torment and no one is always safe. It is for those precious moments when we are saved and jubilant, and understand how sacred these moments are, that we are able to sing.

The Sfat Emet, the renowned 19th century Chasidic rabbi, taught that the “Song of the Sea” was implanted in the Jewish soul forever. It was only after the miracle of the Exodus and the splitting of the sea that the Israelites were able to call it forth. They had to first witness the salvation, understand God’s awesome power and experience emunah, abiding faith, and not until then could they sing.

Rabbi Gedaliah Shorr, in his commentary, teaches that songs are like wings of birds because just like a wing lifts a bird off the ground, so, too, a song lifts us off the ground. When we sing, he explains, we are lifted out of our worldly concerns to reveal the hidden parts of God in all things.

Medieval commentator Rashi explained that when Moses saw the miracle of the splitting sea, he had to wait a few minutes until his heart told him he should sing. It was only when he was aroused and inspired, that the song emerged.

When we sing our inspired song, we are revealing heaven on earth. When we sing our true song, we gain perspective and know we can praise God in times of pain and sorrow, as well as in times of joy.

May we all be inspired to open our hearts to life’s possibilities, to the Divine within, and sing our songs.

Toba August, rabbi of Adat Shalom in West Los Angeles, can be reached at tobaug@aol.com.


Divine Listening

“This is the story of Isaac, son of Abraham. Abraham begot Isaac. Isaac was 40 years old when he took to wife Rebecca, daughter of

Bethuel of Paddan-aram, sister of Laban the Aramean. Isaac pleaded with the Lord on behalf of his wife, because she was barren; and the Lord responded to his plea, and his wife Rebecca conceived. But the children struggled in her womb and she said, ‘If so why do I exist?'” (Genesis 25:19-22).

How do we answer those in pain?

This week’s Torah portion begins with an issue that is a recurrent one for our foremothers — difficulty conceiving. As Sarah before her and Rachel after her, Rebecca has trouble getting pregnant. After her husband Isaac pleads with God, she does conceive. But the pregnancy is a painful one — so much so that Rebecca cries out with words to the effect of, “Would that I did not exist!” Out of this depth of despair she approaches God.

She went to inquire of the Lord, and the Lord answered her: “Two nations are in your womb, two separate peoples shall issue from your body; one people shall be mightier than the other, and the older shall serve the younger” (Genesis 25:23).

God’s response is profound and gives us great insight into how we can help those in pain. The most noteworthy element is that God does not seek to take away Rebecca’s pain. Rather God listens to her with no interruptions. While such listening does not cure Rebecca of her pain by removing it, it heals her because it helps overcome some of the isolation and loneliness that often accompanies those who are suffering.

In addition, God points out that her pain is due to the nature of the fetuses that she carries and is indicative of the way they will be as both individuals and even as kingdoms. In essence, God informs Rebecca that her pain is not random and pointless but that it has meaning and significance. After being heard, Rebecca is able to motivate herself and endure her suffering until the end of her term.

So often when we encounter those who are in pain we make several mistakes. Our natural reaction is to want to take their suffering away. While understandable, it is also highly impractical since we cannot really do it (nor by the way do people expect us to do so). But since we cannot directly relieve them of their suffering, we search for the right thing to do or say in an attempt to make everything OK.

Another error we make in our desire to help is to talk. We either say that they should not worry and that everything will be all right. Or we hear their pain and then tell them of our own experiences in an attempt to show that we empathize with them.

But these responses make us feel better and not those who we are seeking to help.

When someone is hurting, there truly are no right things to say or do. It’s sometimes enough merely to be present, to show people that they are heard and hence not alone. We must acknowledge where they are so that they know we have heard them in all their pain. Furthermore, we must help them see that their suffering is not for nothing, but has meaning and purpose; for these two things allow them to bear that which would otherwise be unbearable.

To be able hear someone’s pain and give meaning to his or her suffering are the most important things we can do when we approach those in difficulty — and in doing so effectively we act divinely.

Jonathan Jaffe Bernhard is a rabbi at Adat Ari El, a Conservative synagogue in Valley Village. He can be reached at rabbijjb@adatariel.org.


The Power of Memory

Memory is a multibillion-dollar enterprise these days. I am personally on my fourth PDA and angling for a fifth even sleeker, more efficient model. Reminder cards and scheduler programs abound. Capitalizing on human frailty, the memory industry offers compensation.

For in a world that moves ever so quickly, we dare not forget that crucial meeting nor miss that all-important birthday (anniversary, wedding or bar mitzvah…). If forgetting is a touchstone of our humanity, then the opposite perspective should reign from the Divine. "Ein Shikcha lifnei kisei kevodecha" — "There is no forgetting before Your Divine throne" — is the great theme of Rosh Hashanah and is a vital component of God’s curriculum vitae. Imagine our surprise when we encounter in Parshat Noah the striking concept of Divine memory as the very explanation for the recession of the flood waters:

"And God remembered Noah and all of the animals that were with him on the Ark and God brought a wind upon the Earth and the Waters receded."

And God remembered?

What, pray tell, was God doing until that point? And while this might be the first time we encounter Divine memory, by no means is it the last. God keeps on remembering — be it Sarah, Rachel or Chana in their state of barrenness or the Jewish people as they wallow in the depths of Egypt. The notion of Divine memory certainly deserves our attention. Does God also need a Palm? (I have three older models.)

Nachmanides (Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman, Spain, 1194-1270) distinguishes between the process of memory and its role. The process of remembering entails bringing an image from the past into the forefront of one’s thought.

Quite apart from its process, memory serves a specific role. Consider the disorientation of the advanced Alzheimer’s patient or the tragic plight of the stroke victim who courageously relearns the fine art of walking, talking and eating. Reflect upon the personal frustration we all feel when we just can’t put the name to the face. Without memory, opportunities for social, physical or intellectual advancement range from minimal to none.

Thus, the role of memory is to allow us to develop proficiency by reflecting upon and refining our previous bits of knowledge. It is in this vein that we speak of national or cultural memory — a knowledge of the past that allows us to advance civilization a notch beyond. 

Surely, God has no need for the process of memory. He never forgets. Yet, the role of memory is acutely relevant to the Divine realm. When the Torah states that "God remembered Noah" — i.e. He bestowed upon him special mercy — it is for a particular higher purpose. Were God not to remember Noah, surely Noah would be reduced to spiritual toast. Similarly, Sarah, Rachel and Chana, as beneficiaries of Divine memory, are enabled to transcend their physical barrenness in order to serve as matriarchs of the Jewish people. In the realm of the Divine, memory is totally purpose-oriented.

Divine memory need not be restricted to God. About three years ago a particularly pious-looking young man walked into our daily afternoon prayer service. His gentle swaying and intense prayer bespoke a refined yet fervent religious commitment. Surely, I had no recollection of this fellow; yet he looked hauntingly familiar. Mentally, I exchanged his formal dresswear with a pair of jeans and a T-shirt. My mind’s eye darted back 10 years, the beginning of my teaching career, to recollect a dear high school student who lived life on the wild side — able to rile up an entire school with a single howl; a student whose cresting popularity easily propelled him to the student council presidency. As I conjured up these images, I stared at the prayerful figure in the room, and was stirred by the realization that this was my beloved student — now a responsible, charismatic, intense young man, a newly minted abba to boot. As the two pictures collided, I gained a new appreciation of his personal odyssey. Here was an individual who did not remain stuck in the quagmire of memory, but one who was able to build upon yesterday’s passions to build a prayerful personality.

For some time now, "We will never forget" has been a mantra of the Jewish community. To never forget is not enough. Instead, we would do well to heed Yogi Berra’s comment that "nostalgia isn’t what it used to be."

When Mark Twain wonders aloud: "All things are mortal but the Jew; all other forces pass, but he remains. What is the secret of his immortality?" do we simply smile or do we understand the implied challenge to grow our personal and communal Judaism?

The raison d’être of our collective Jewish memory should not merely warm the heart, but should serve to reorient our perspective on all things past. Divine memory, as a notion, issues a clarion call of renewed obligation, inspiration and energy. Are we listening?

Rabbi Asher Brander is the rabbi of Westwood Kehilla, founder of LINK (Los Angeles Intercommunity Kollel) and long-time teacher at Yeshiva University of Los Angeles High Schools.

Secrets of the Cryptic Scripture

Is the Torah an ancient set of laws or a divinely coded document that, if read correctly, provides clues to all major historical events? That’s the question the History Channel documentary “The Bible Code: Predicting Armageddon” wants to answer.

While many might think of the codes as a modern phenomenon, people have been searching for codes in the Torah since the 12th century.

In the late 20th century, Bible code scholars counted letters at various intervals to see what words appeared, and later, they used computers to lay the text out on a grid, or matrix, and counted some more. Noting when certain words materialized next to each other on the grid, scholars say they found clues to — among other things — the 1929 stock market crash, World War II, the assassinations of John and Robert Kennedy and the L.A. earthquake of 1994.

While most of these clues were found after the fact, Bible code proponents point out that they were able to predict the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin before it happened, and they tried to warn the Israeli government to no avail. (Though presumably, if the Torah is divine, then it is unlikely a little warning would derail God’s plan.) They also predict another major earthquake in Los Angeles in 2010 and Earth’s possible destruction by a comet in 2012.

Opponents of the codes interviewed in the documentary say that they can be found in any text, and point to experiments run on “Moby Dick,” where letters counted at equal distances revealed Princess Diana’s death.

Matthew Asner and Danny Gold, the two Reform Jews who wrote, directed and produced the documentary, say that while they don’t necessarily believe in the codes, they find them interesting.

“If you totally believe in the codes you’re a fool, but if you dismiss them completely then you’re a fool, too,” Asner said. “But let’s just say that in the last part of 2009, I will be getting earthquake insurance.”

“The Bible Code” premieres on The History Channel,
Sun.,’ Sept. 7 at 9 p.m. www.historychannel.com .

Who Wrote the Torah?

If two Jews equal three opinions, what do you get when you mix five rabbis of various denominations to answer a topic as important as the origins of the Torah?

Answer: A rather heated discussion, to say the least.

Five Los Angeles rabbis dove into the topic "Who Wrote the Torah?" at a panel discussion held March 20 at Valley Beth Shalom (VBS) in Encino. The event, sponsored by KOCHAV: The L.A. Jewish Living Network, drew an audience of about 300 people, and was based on readings from the similarly titled book "Who Wrote the Bible," by Richard Elliot Friedman.

The issue of biblical criticism has been hotly debated over the past few years, marked by archeological findings which question if and when events described in the Torah occurred. The discussion, raised in a very public way last year in a series of provocative sermonds by Rabbi David Wolpe, also comes at Passover time, when Jews are asked to remember events from the Torah and live as if we are experiencing them ourselves. For many in the community, it is a pleasant, if awkward, fiction; for others it is a reenactment of a literal truth. This divide in philosophy was one of the driving forces in the debate at VBS.

Rabbi Elazar Muskin of Young Israel of Century City took the most offense at Friedman’s book, which analyzes the Torah as the product of various authors over time, rather than a divinely inspired holy text. Muskin argued passionately against Friedman’s theories, railing against what he called his "sloppy methodology."

The panel discussion quickly moved from a critique of Friedman’s work to a debate between the rabbis of what each believed about the divinity of the Torah. Rabbi Steven Leder of Wilshire Boulevard Temple clearly stated that to accept the Torah as written directly by God via Moses is to accept many unacceptable practices. "If all the theology I had to believe in was Deuteronomy, which basically says that suffering comes from sin, I could not be a believing Jew," he said. "To me it is incredibly clear that it, the Torah, was written over time by various people."

Rabbi Mimi Wiesel, assistant dean of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at the University of Judaism and moderator Rabbi Steven Carr Reuben, senior rabbi of Kehillat Israel and president of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California, tended to agree with Leder. But Rabbi Daniel Bouskila of Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel tried to strike a balance: "I do believe there was a divine experience at Mt. Sinai; I do not believe the full five books were given at Sinai but in stages over the 40 years in the desert." Like Leder and Wiesel, Bouskila said the most important thing for every generation was "to seek out the divine" within the Torah.

"Who wrote the Bible is an essential question," Muskin said later in his concluding remarks. "If it was humans, that has one ramification, and if it is divine than it has another ramification. It becomes the definition of what you believe your Judaism is and what kind of Judaism you are going to observe."

A Divine Voice

God spoke to me once when I was 12 years old. Although it happened years ago, I remember it as clearly as if it were today. Revelation is a tricky thing. I am reminded of the Midrash that when God gave the commandments at Mt. Sinai, God speaks to the Children of Israel in a divine voice so powerful they are too terrified to hear anything beyond the very first word of the first commandment. Since even that was too much to bear, God arranged it so they only heard the first letter of the first word. The first word is Anohi (“I am”), and the first letter is an alef, which is silent. So the rabbis teach us that what the Jewish people heard when God spoke was the Divine Silence of the mitzvot. Within that Divine Silence, each woman and man experienced her or his own unique divine revelation.

That was my experience, too. It happened on a Boy Scout trip to the High Sierras in the summer after sixth grade. It should have been one of the great summers of my life. Instead it was a disaster. In that one summer, I went to camp in Catalina, Jewish summer camp in Saratoga and a High Sierra backpacking experience. I was miserable, anxious and homesick during each one.

I sat on the sidelines during the entire time at Catalina, depressed and unwilling to participate in much of anything. I was actually sent home early from Camp Saratoga (an experience that left me one of the few kids in history to be told he “failed” camp!), and I was profoundly homesick in my pup tent high atop the Sierra Mountains — even though my father went on the trip with us.

Now I suppose I could simply chalk it up to a summer of raging adolescent hormones. It was certainly that. But that wouldn’t really tell the whole story. For adolescence is not only a time of great physical upheaval, it is often the most emotionally disorienting and confusing time in our lives as well. It certainly was for me.

When I was growing up, I was always the smallest kid in class. Whenever we took class pictures and lined up according to height, I was inevitably at the end of the line. I’m not sure if anyone has done a double-blind study of such things, but I can tell you from personal experience that the simple logistical decision of lining up kids for a picture can seem to have near cosmic significance to the fragile ego of a child. I was certain that being at the end of the line was as much a judgment on my social stature as it was on my physical size.

It was this less-than-secure sense of self worth that I shlepped with me to all those camps that summer, particularly prevalent high atop the mountain in the Sierras.

It must be something about mountains. For it was there in this week’s portion that Moses had his encounter with God, and it was on a mountain that I had mine. I have often wondered how long Moses had to stand and watch before he noticed that the bush was burning but not burning up. The Torah tells us that only after his internal realization did God effect a divine revelation. In my case, I was alone in the tent when I heard God’s whisper. To this day I don’t know why. I only know I heard an unmistakable message to stop whining, and start worshipping — to stop focusing on all I wasn’t and start realizing all that I was and the miracles that were everywhere if I was willing to open my eyes and see them. I was only 12, but my life has never been the same.

Steven Carr Reuben is rabbi at Kehillat Israel in Pacific Palisades.