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DOES G-D GET LONELY?

Friday, 6 July, 2018 - 12:00 pm

A woman told her husband, “You really brought religion into my life.”

“How so?” he asked. “I am an atheist!”

“Until I married you I didn’t believe in hell.”

This week’s Torah portion, Pinchas, relays how Moses confronts his own mortality and asks G-d to appoint a successor. His words are moving:

“May the Lord, God of the spirits of all flesh, choose a man over the congregation… they should not be like sheep without a shepherd.”

G-d tells Moses to appoint Joshua as his successor; he will be the nation’s next leader.

Then there is a strange juxtaposition. Moses is pleading for a new leader; he fears his flock will be left without a shepherd. G-d responds by telling him to appoint Joshua and then instructs him to tell the Jewish people to bring a daily offering—one sheep in the morning and one in the afternoon. (Since Temple times, these have been substituted with the morning and afternoon services, Shacharit and Mincha, when we “offer” ourselves to G-d.

The Midrash offers the following connection:

The sages present a fascinating parable about a princess on her deathbed. She called in her husband and commanded him to treat their children with respect, dignity, and love. She instructed him to ensure that all their needs would be met and that they would be able to live in security and peace.

Her husband, the future widower, responded: As you are instructing me to take care of my children, please instruct my children that they should take care of me!

This is how the rabbi’s understand the sequence of events. Moses, the faithful “mother” of Israel, the one who stood up for them, protected them, fought for them, led, guided, taught, and nurtured them for over four decades, is about to die. He had even needed to protect them from the “anger” of their father—G-d—for example, after the Golden Calf, the Korach mutiny, and more. Now that he is passing on, his concern is who will be there for his children! Who will stand up for them? Who will be their shepherd? In the absence of a mother, who will make sure they are fine?

This is pretty heavy, emotional, and heart-stirring. What is G-d’s response?

Hey! You are worried about them, but who will worry about Me? You, my dear wife, took care not only of them; you also cared for Me. You ensured that they treat Me fairly and live up to their calling as My children. You worry about them, but I am worried about Myself. I will now be a widower, alone. I will only have my children—and I am afraid to lose them. I need you to speak to them that they should take care of their “old man” after you pass on; they should not forget Me.

And what, specifically, does He request? “Make sure to give me my daily bread; a daily sacrifice of two sheep, one in the morning, one in the afternoon.”

This seems senseless. The infinite G-d is “crying” to Moses, that He is afraid of remaining a widower after his death?  I understand Moses, but not G-d. Moses knows the people intimately; he led them for 40 years and watched them grow up. He was a mother to them in the fullest sense of the word. He also knows how tough Jews can be, how disheartening, rebellious, and challenging. He knows they can get on their Father's nerves…. So he tells G-d, Listen! I need you to take care of our children! Do not allow them to drift away or fall apart.

But G-d? The infinite Creator? The all-powerful one? G-d, the embodiment of perfection and flawlessness! What exactly is He worried about? Does G-d get lonely?  

As Moses is about to die and is pleading for his people’s welfare, G-d reminds him how much He needs us. He needs us as much as we need Him.

You may be small in your own eyes, but G-d has a burning need of you! G-d’s “needs” are infinite, because they are not forced, but chosen by Him.

Today, as mentioned, these two lambs have been replaced by the daily prayers. Sometimes you may think to yourself: So what if I miss a Mincha service on this simple Wednesday? What’s the big deal if I don’t go to Shul to pray? Who cares if during prayers I am busy texting or checking my email? Don’t tell me that G-d Almighty cares about some little guy’s praying and saying the same words, daily!

Some people look at their prayers and deem them insignificant, but this is not how G-d sees them. A “simple Mincha on a Wednesday” means the world to Him. Without it, He is missing His “bread,” His food, His existence. You are the axis upon which the entire universe revolves. Never think of yourself as tiny and useless. Imagine, the infinite perfect G-d needs you to be here for Him and for His world.

Dr. Yaakov Brawer is Professor Emeritus of the Faculty of Medicine at McGill University. He relates a lovely story.

The Mincha, or afternoon, prayer is the shortest of the three daily services. Moreover, the time for this prayer often arrives while we are still immersed in our work. People are tired and busy, and it is difficult to divest oneself of the effects of a day at the office in order to generate proper intention and emotional involvement.

It has long been my privilege to speak at the men’s Shabbaton held annually in Crown Heights. I would arrive in New York on Thursday and leave the following Sunday. I always scheduled my return flight to allow me the opportunity to join the Rebbe’s Minyan for Mincha on Sunday afternoon.

On one such occasion, many years ago, I had arranged to return to Montreal at 4:30 PM. That Sunday morning, I began to worry about my return trip. I am a very nervous traveler, and I generally insist on being at the airport way in advance of my flight. Why had I decided to leave so early? The Rebbe’s Minyan was from 3:15 until 3:30. Allowing myself 15 minutes to return to where I was staying, I could leave for LaGuardia no earlier than 3:45. What if traffic was heavy? What if a tire went flat? What if a tree fell across the Parkway, and being Sunday, the road crews took their sweet time to remove it? I calmed myself with the thought that these were unlikely possibilities, and that if I left at 3:45 sharp I would probably make my flight to Canada. [This was before airport security was so tight; you could still walk straight up to the plane.]

By 3:00 PM I was in the little synagogue where the Rebbe prayed. Every student attending one of the two local Yeshivah’s, as well as numerous local residents and out-of-town guests, were competing for space in that small room. My bones ached and I couldn’t breathe, but this did not trouble me; this was normal. What bothered me was the time. 3:15, 3:16, 3:17. At 3:20 the Rebbe came in, and Mincha began. I tried to concentrate, reminding myself I was in the same Minyan as my holy Rebbe. However, my overwrought brain simply would not listen. It perversely dwelt on my imminent betrayal by the car service.

In the course of my struggles with myself, I became aware of a soft sobbing sound. I had already raced through my prayer, and I was able to glance sideways at my neighbor, a tall, thin, bearded man dressed in Chassidic garb. Tears streamed down his cheeks. His face was intense with concentration. He prayed slowly and with obvious effort.

In spite of myself, I was touched. I could not imagine what sort of terrible trouble lay behind that heartfelt prayer. Perhaps he had a sick child at home, or some crushing financial burden. I assumed he was an out-of-town visitor seeking the Rebbe’s aid, and I could not help feeling guilty about my own silly preoccupations with the car service and my flight. I mentally wished him the best and hoped things would turn out well for him.

Mincha completed, I raced back to my host’s home, and by 3:42 I was awaiting the promised car with fire in my eyes, certain that it would not show. At precisely 3:45, a noisy, rusty station wagon, belching blue exhaust, rolled up, and the driver waved me in. I couldn’t believe it! I put my suitcase in the back and climbed in next to the driver.

My second shock came with the realization that the driver was none other than my heartbroken neighbor at Mincha. As we set off, the driver hummed a jolly Chassidic melody and seemed quite happy. We began to talk. Cautiously I asked him about his welfare: his health, his family’s health, and the state of his finances. Each question elicited a hearty (if somewhat perplexed) “Thank G‑d.” Moreover, his wife was soon due to give birth, and he was particularly excited about that. Gradually, it dawned on me that the remarkable outpouring of the heart that I had witnessed earlier was this man’s ordinary, daily Mincha.

That is a how a Jew prays. Every Mincha is priceless. Every Mincha is an intimate one-on-one with the Creator of the universe. Each time you pray to G-d, the world stops. All He wants to do is listen to you.

Like two people who love each other infinitely, who meet after five years of separation, when they come together, nothing else can disturb them—that is how G-d feels when you start to pray.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Yoseph Geisinsky

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