Where is God Nowadays?

There is a pattern in Jacob's life of doubt and Divine promise. God repeatedly reassures Jacob that He will be with him, protect him, and redeem his descendents. Jacob, nonetheless, appears constantly worried. In the Torah reading of this week, we read how Jacob has learned that his son Joseph is still alive. He excitedly prepares to go down to Egypt to see him, but he has a nagging fear. He is afraid that his children and grandchildren will become Egyptian, and will lose the tradition of the patriarchs. He knows how tempting that society can be, and fears that it will be the end of the Abrahamic mission.

God, accordingly, reassures Jacob that he should go to Egypt. "I will bring your descendents back up from there, and Joseph will put his hands upon your eyes." The first part of God's message indeed appears to reassure Jacob. But what does the second part mean? What is the significance of Joseph putting his hands on Jacob's eyes?

Based on the commentary of Rabbi Meir Simcha, I believe that it is a powerful lesson in faith. Jacob's concern is a real one. It makes sense, it is something to worry about. But God tells Jacob that he must trust Divine Providence. Even though the laws of nature make it almost impossible for the Israelites to not assimilate, Jacob must remember that God controls the laws of nature.

Take, for example, the story of Joseph. He became the second to the king, the prime minister of all Egypt. By the laws of nature, that could not happen. Joseph was an inconsequential prisoner in an Egyptian dungeon. To go from there to the pinnacle of power in the greatest empire of the ancient world in one day simply cannot happen. And yet it did. So, Jacob, do not fear the inevitable spiritual demise of the Jewish people in Egypt, because it is not inevitable. I, God, am watching, and will not allow that to happen. The proof is Joseph. You thought he was dead, but he was very much alive, miraculously so. When your time comes, he will be the one to close your eyes. He is the symbol of hope, and so you have nothing to fear.

But there is tension in our understanding of God's involvement. In the earlier generations, God was an active participant in human affairs. This was no more evident than in the exodus story, where God brought plagues and split seas. In fact, God tells us directly to Jacob. When he says, "I will bring your descendents out of Egypt," the sages in the Hagadah stress that God will do this Himself. There will be no angels involved, only direct Divine intervention.

But as time goes by, God's direct involvement decreases. At some point in Jewish history, prophecy ends. Today we no longer have someone getting direct, articulate messages from God. All we have is our Torah and our traditions.

There is, however, one mode of communication that remains open. The sages tell us that we still have what is called, "the Holy Spirit." What is that? In practical terms, it means Divine inspiration. It means that something of God is available to guide us when we need it. It's not the same as prophecy, we're not getting discernible words and instructions, but it comes from the same source. It moves our soul, it moves our heart.

The patriarchs also represent this historical development. Abraham's life was quite charmed. God was with him, he succeeded everywhere he went, he only had a minimum of stress. Isaac's life was a little less smooth. Jacob, however, only knew struggles and travails. Even though God promised him protection, he became afraid at every step of the way. Before reuniting with Esau, he feared the destruction of his entire family. Why? Didn't God's promise him a successful progeny?

When a child is born, his parents must do everything for him. His mother nurses him and warms him. His parents clothe him and clean him. They move him where he needs to be, and take complete care of him. As the baby grows, he begins to be able to do things for himself. At some point, the baby will protest when the parent tries to do something for him that he feels he can do himself. He will begin to proclaim his independence. Eventually, he will be completely independent in living his life. He will, however, always retain an emotional need and connection to his parents.

So it is with mankind. It is natural, it is necessary, that we grow up. In the beginning, God has to do everything for us. As history develops, we become more and more independent. No more massive miracles, no more prophecy. Indeed, with the exile, there was no more holy Temple with the ark of the covenant. We were on our own. That is, with the exception of that emotional connection and need for God, our Father in heaven.

There is a principal in Jewish thought called "The acts of the fathers are a signpost for the sons." This teaches us that the lives of the patriarchs for a paradigm for the future history of their descendents. Therefore, Abraham was the example of a divinely guided life. Isaac less so, and Jacob was the most independent. He felt his role was to live a life in this world, not relying on any divine intervention. Therefore, he looked at the laws of nature and was worried about how he would surmount them. Esau was stronger, and he was coming with 400 men! According to nature, Jacob was in trouble. Now his descendents were going to the most seductive society in the world. How will they ever retain their identity? According to the laws of nature, it can't happen.

Along comes God's promise, which will become the divine inspiration that will guide Jacob. You live your life, says God, and your soul will guide you in the right direction. Joseph will put his hands upon your eyes. God is now in your soul, trust that.

The final phase of the baby's growth is when the baby becomes an adult and has his own children. That is the mark of completed maturity. Now, the baby must do for another what was done for him. He now exchanges places with his parents, and takes responsibility for the next generation's well-being. Nonetheless, it is his parents inspiration in his soul that enables him to do so successfully.

So where is God? Why should we pray? Because we have matured and now it is our job to help God do His work. By praying, we invite God's inspiration into our souls. That inspiration will guide us to seek to do the divine work of fixing the world. We should not look at nature and see limitations, rather we should look at it and see challenges. When we pray, we become the agents of change. Where is God? In our souls. By praying, we gain the power to change the world.