Shalom New North London

Erev Shabbat, 24 Elul 5770

Friday, 3 September 2010

I get up early this morning, drawn, as I hope to be, by a sensation in the heart, a feeling hovering there like the thin cloud of a beautiful day. It wants to lead me; it asks me not to return to sleep but to follow it to the place where I belong. I do not want to lose it. I rise and go out into the garden, followed by the dog, my companion in the morning prayers: Elohai neshamah, ‘God, the soul you have given me is pure’.

Outside, it smells of autumn; that tartness has arrived which is always in the air before Rosh Hashanah. Somehow the long grass looks like autumn too; maybe it’s because of the way it lies flatter under the cold dew, slightly grey with the first premonition of frosts to come, perhaps in a month or two. The world is animate with living being, vibrant in everything which is.

That is the core of my faith, the heart’s feeling, an intuition sometimes as compelling as a physical perception, often strongest at the liminal hours of dawn and dusk. I can convert it into no proofs, nor have I generally sought to do so. In the semi-secret morning, while many others are still asleep, it leads me to prayer, it wants to sing.

Who is the God I pray to? Did God make the universe? Is God the intelligence who by a fiat long ago fashioned the great design? Is God the great decision maker, hovering ominously over our destinies, deciding who will live and who will die? Is God a delusion, which nevertheless fulfils a function which somehow satisfies the heart and should therefore be preserved because, if not true, it has at least a functional, moral value?

My God is the life within all being, who moves through this and however many universes there have been, are, and shall be. God evolves as matter and life evolve; is present in the changing of energy to matter and matter back to energy; speaks, without any specific words, in the language of the sea, the birds and humankind; urges the alert heart, in the privileged moments of its attentiveness, to a reverence, a sense of wonder, awe, and love, from which all the just commandments of human conduct devolve. The existence of God is neither proved nor disproved, though the existence of our images and idols, of what we assume or proclaim God to be, often is. God’s presence is felt, occasionally, rarely, in moments that subsequently act as loadstar to our entire life, in the heart.

All the rest is a question of faithfulness: do I live as I know that this secret voice, articulate in sky and river and fellow human beings, and yet transcending them all, commands that I should do? ‘Who are you?’ it asks without words, and all our life is the answer.

‘You stand this day, all of you, before the Lord your God’, opens the Torah portion which we read this Shabbat, as every year on the Sabbath before Rosh Hashanah. The response to that question is the way we live our life, every single moment without exception.

Shabbat Shalom and Leshanah Tovah

Jonathan Wittenberg

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