When I was in the Navy, my department head used to speak about ‘the man upstairs.’ At first, I thought he was referring to the commanding officer of our base whose office was one floor above ours. But he was actually talking about THE MAN UPSTAIRS. It was his way of referring to God.
V’yedabayr Adonai el Moshe b’har. The Eternal spoke to Moses from on high, from the mountain top. So begins this week’s torah portion.
Nothing unusual there. The prayer book refers to God asel ram v’nisah - God high and exalted. If anything we would expect that God to speak to us from on-high, from the heavens or the heights, into the great pivotal moments of life, at the birth of a child, on the banks of the Red Sea, in the thunder and lightening of the great natural forces of the world.
But what of the quieter moments? What about seemingly chance encounters? What of the hushed, ordinary minutes? Does God ever speak to us from on low? Are we being addressed in the day-to-day, in the so easily and often overlooked?
It is not uncommon when eating something quite delicious to say, “God that was good.” But what if what we are really saying is, “God, thank you for the blessing of something so mouth-wateringly amazing that I can only describe its merits by associating it with You.” I think that’s what the Rabbis was aiming at with the traditional berachah: boray p’re ha-adamah – Blessed are you, Lord, our God, Ruler of the Universe who brings forth the fruit of the earth.
Living in Italy, I discovered that there is produce of such quality and taste that it can actually convince you that God is speaking to you through a tomato. The Psalmist wrote, “Taste, and know that the Lord is good.” Are we then addressed in each and every mouthful of sustenance that we enjoy?
In English, OMG (Oh my God) is used in electronic correspondence to express low-level astonishment or a confounding, surprising or startling realization. But what if that was literally true and God was speaking in every problem solved, every unexpected little discovery, every joyous insight or meaningful association. That would make such ‘aha’ and ‘wow’ moments -with all the intellectual, aesthetic and emotional pleasure associated with them - a form of divine address. I think that’s what the Rabbis were aiming at with the traditional berachah, shechalak mikevodo,Blessed is the Lord who shares His insight with creation. Are we addressed in every answer or insight that comes to us seemingly from out of the blue?
To hear the Bible tell it, God spoke to Moses in whole paragraphs. To the prophets, God spoke in whole books. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote that now God speaks to us but a syllable at a time, in the slow episodic details of everyday living. That would mean that it is only at the end of our life that we can assemble the whole passage and we do that by reading the message of our life in reverse, by looking back at a lifetime of small moments and day-to-day miracles.
I really cannot explain to you how my GPS keeps track of me no less how God might do that for all of creation, but I think Rabbi Heschel got it right. So, pay attention to your life and someday – like Moses - you just might be able to say: And the Lord spoke to me saying.