D’var Torah by Rabbi Neal Rose: Where is God to be found?

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Rabbi Neal Rose

RABBI NEAL ROSE

The Rebbe of Kotzk was once asked: “Where is God to be found?” He famously answered” God is found wherever we let God  in.”

At first the question seems to be about a specific geographic location (like a synagogue, a temple, or another sacred space).

This week’s Torah reading (Parashat Terumah) tells us that letting the Divine into our lives is related to how we conduct ourselves (ie. the way we relate to others) rather than where.

Previous Torah readings dealt with the origins and history of our people. However, beginning with this Parasha (Terumah) we learn about the construction of the portable sanctuary or the tabernacle (known in Hebrew as the Mishkan). The Hebrew term Mishkan, most likely is derived from the Hebrew root meaning “to dwell” or “to live in”, indicating a place that is fit to receive the Presence of the Holy One.

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Whenever our people travelled, they broke the  portable sanctuary apart, and when they arrived at their location it was, once again, erected according to the Divine blueprint. Then it was ready to welcome the Presence into its midst.

Because it was such an important project one might have believed that each individual had to contribute a specific amount. Or, perhaps, there might have been a sliding scale based on the wealth or the size of each family. Yet, this was not the case. Rather, it was left to the choice of each individual donor.

Perhaps this was because the tabernacle was such a sacred space, one that should be available to each individual equally.  Therefore every person had to feel comfortable with their donation, so that they did not feel alienated from the  very structure they were building.

When read in the original Hebrew the point is made even more clearly –  it says everyone should donate according to “the generosity of their heart” (Yidvenu Libo), since unless the  heart is in it, they will not feel connected to what others regard as the house of God.

The teachers of the Jewish ethical discipline know as Mussar see  this text as a paradigm for the Middah known as Nidivut, generosity of soul.

The spirituality of generosity extends not only to the giving of money or other possessions, generosity of soul extends to to the way we make ourselves available to all of life. The Mussar teachers understand generosity as an aspect of the Divine (Chesed)  and therefore when we behave in a generous way we are, in fact, acting like God:or as the Kotzker Rebbe said,”we are making room for God” … allowing God to enter.

Our family has been in mourning since the death of our dear friend, Rabanit Malka Goodman. Malka and my wife Carol have been friends since they were both 12 years old. Malka  and her late husband, Rabbi Philip Goodman, shared a wide range of life‘s experiences with us. Malka died quite suddenly about a month ago. Due to COVID we attended several evenings of shiva, via Zooom. During those condolence visits we heard the stories of many of Malka’s students in both the early years program, and in the Hebrew school where she taught for many years. Among the mourners were several of the children of her former students.They were her students as well! And in the memories from these multigenerational students  we heard how Malka was a master of the soul trait known as  Nidivut, generosity of the soul.

Malka was the person other teachers went to when they were unable to deal with difficult students. One such student, now a rabbi himself, told us that Malka welcomed him with unconditional love and acceptance: “She was my first spiritual master,” he said, “my Rebbe of love.” When the young man finished his reflections his wife spoke softly and tearfully. It seems that at an early stage in their married life they encountered very serious issues and they almost broke up. The young wife, knowing how much her husband valued Malka’s opinion, turned to her for couple counseling. After sharing her own personal experience with marital issues, the young woman came to understand the nature of her husband’s behavior. Subsequently they returned to their marriage and they are now the parents of two sweet children. Both were so thankful to Malka. 

Another story about the beauty of this generous soul was shared by a young women who also spoke of Malka’s ability to love those she taught. At the conclusion of her remarks she introduced us to a newborn baby: please welcome our little daughter, Malka, she said.

I share these stories with you because Malka Goodman’s generosity of soul, for me, is a powerful example of how Niddivut, human generosity, allows us to experience the presence of the Divine in the midst of the world we inhabit. May her memory continue to be a blessing.

Shabbat Shalom.

Rabbi Neal Rose serves Congregation B’nai Amoona and is a member of the St. Louis Rabbinical and Cantorial Association, which coordinates the d’var Torah for the Jewish Light.