In a famous Hasidic saying, the Kotzker Rebbe was once asked: “Where does God dwell?” to which he replied, “Wherever you let Him in.”
So this week as I read the Torah portion I have wondered about all the places where people let God into their lives, and the places where they keep God out. I spent time today talking with eleven-year-old Alex whose father has been lying in a coma in the hospital for a week, ever since a massive heart attack left him with little chance of recovery. Alex looked up at me through tear-filled eyes and had a message for God: “It sucks! And it isn’t fair.”
And yet as we talked for awhile about life and death, the apparent capriciousness of life’s twists and turns and the challenge that every one of us faces as we struggle to find some meaning and purpose to it all in spite of death and suffering and loss, Alex started to laugh. “What’s so funny?” I asked. “Chocolate chip cookies,” he answered. “And so much soup we can’t possibly eat it all, and at least half a cow, too that you can take home with you if you want.”
He was referring to the home-made cookies in the middle of the table in front of us, the endless bowls of soup that well-meaning friends had been dropping off at their doorstep every day this week and the pot roasts and briskets that have piled up in the refrigerator from dinner offerings that every neighbor has brought as well.
“Maybe God is in the chocolate chip cookies,” I said, matching his smile and his laugh. And maybe God is. For Judaism has always sought and found God in the simple everyday miracles of life, like the loving care of family, the hug of a friend, and the silent shared moments of grief and sadness.
“He chose ‘A’” Alex told me with a resigned sigh. “He told us what he wanted to happen.” When I turned to him with a puzzled expression on my face, he explained in a calm, even voice how his father had circled “A” when given a number of choices on a “Durable Power of Attorney” form that let his family know what he wanted done to his body in the event he was unable to talk or make a decision himself.
“He didn’t want his body to just be kept going if he couldn’t be the same any more,” Alex explained. “He didn’t want us to suffer even more.”
And as our conversation continued, and Alex undertook the task of teaching me about his father’s wishes and what they meant and how he wasn’t really even himself anymore, his heaviness seemed to lift a bit and his eyes took on a deeper, more penetrating look. When we began our conversation, he had announced he was angry with God and didn’t want to step foot in the temple again. By the time we finished, he said he was willing to come back to the temple, and that when he got upset, he would just come to my study and sit and talk with me and see if we could figure out what it all means together.
“And let them make me a sanctuary, that I might dwell among them,” (Exodus 25:8) God declares in this week’s portion. Even God needs somewhere to go, and knows that the place God needs to be, is wherever the people are. Even Alex knows that God’s sanctuary isn’t only the temple, because he found God right there in his own home, with the cookies, and brisket, and soup.
“Where does God dwell?” “Wherever and whenever you let God in.”