by Rabbi Shelton J. Donnell
Where do you find God? Ever been to the Grand Canyon? Have you seen the majestic snow-capped splendor of Mount Saint Helen’s? Many of us have been to places of spectacular natural beauty (indeed, America is blessed with a host of natural wonders) and at such moments we can truly feel God’s presence in the Divine handiwork, can’t we?
This Shabbat during the festival of Pesach we read of Moses’ search for God’s Presence. Right after the famous incident of the Golden Calf, Moses said to God, “Now show me your Presence.” And Adonai said, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim My name, Adonai, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. But,” He said, “you cannot see My face, for no one may see Me and live.” Then Adonai said, “There is a place near Me where you may stand on a rock. When My Presence passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with My hand until I have passed by. Then I will remove My hand and you will see My back; but My face must not be seen” (Ex. 33:18-23).
What does all this mean? God is present in goodness. Though we cannot see God’s “face,” we can see God’s “back” – that is, we can see where God has been. We can discern where goodness has left its mark on the world, where godliness has imprinted itself revealing God’s seal. The prophet Isaiah (Isa. 43:10) counseled, “You are my witnesses,” declares Adonai and my servant whom I have chosen.” We are witnesses to God’s presence in the world by the way in which we live our lives. If we live our lives in affirmation of God by bringing godliness into the world through justice, righteousness, love and kindness, then God’s presence is revealed but if we give into selfishness and pettiness, hatred and fear, then God becomes hidden from the world.
And where do we discover this Presence of God? The prophet Elijah looked and found… Adonai said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of Adonai, for Adonai is about to pass by.” Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before Adonai, but Adonai was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but Adonai was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but Adonai was not in the fire. And after the fire came a still, small sound. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave” (1Ki. 19:11-13).
For Elijah God’s Presence was not to be found in the wonders of nature, not in the mighty wind or in the majestic fire or even in the awesome earthquake. No, God’s Presence was in the still, small sound within Elijah himself and, indeed, within each and every one of us.
Passover is the season of our liberation from all that prevents us from becoming our best selves. It is the season for finding God.