Do we Grasp God?

24 Shevat 5781

When I was reading Parashat Yitro, one of the most central portions of Judaism, I saw several main themes emerge: The first is the person of Yitro; second, Yitro’s observation of the daily life of Moshe and Israel; third: the banquet of Yitro and Moshe; fourth: Yitro’s advice to Moshe; fifth: how, after three months, Moshe climbed Mount Sinai and God told His people that they would be a nation of  Cohanim (priests) and a holy ( a separate) nation if they kept their covenant with Him; sixth: how Moshe spoke to the elders and all the people answered in one voice: “Everything that God has said we will do and obey”. Then God instructed Moshe about the rules of purity to approach God, ending with how God spoke through thunder and blasting shofars, and Moshe grasping the Word of God, while the rest of the people could only see and hear thunder and noise. Seventh: God descended to the top of Mt. Sinai and called Moshe from there. God warned the people about His Holiness. God spoke the Ten Commandments to Moshe, and he received them. And last but not least, the people, overwhelmed by God’s presence, asked Moshe to be their spokesperson to Him. God gave instructions not to make statues of gods with silver or gold, but to form His altar from earth for their offerings, and to keep the cohen modest as he climbed the altar. 

Apparently, these are different subjects with the main three being Yitro, the Ten Commandments, and the Divine manifestation upon Sinai, but for me, they all have one thing in common: “the ability to grasp the divine in each situation”.

Why? Of Yitro it says in Shemot 18: 1 “וַיִּשְׁמַע יִתְרוֹ – Vayishma Yitro – And Yitro heard” which later in verse 11 concludes with: “Atah yadati ki-gadol Adonai mikol-ha’elohim – עַתָּה יָדַעְתִּי, כִּיהֹה יֱלמִכָּה י-גָדהגָדל יְלֹה – Now I have just learned that the Eternal is greater than all the gods”. It is beautiful to see that the Torah focuses on who Yitro is “now” not “on who he was“; for God, the present defines each person; he is not defined by his past. It is also interesting to see that a non-Israelite man, a leader and a probably pagan priest of the Midianite people, a non-chosen people, is the first to be mentioned in the Torah who blesses God when he said in Shemot 18:10: “Vayomer Yitro baruch Adonai- וַיֹּאמֶר, יִתְרוֹ, בָּרוּךְ יְהוָה- “And Yitró said: Blessed be the Eternal!”  In this way, we see that Yitro captured, grasped the Divine through a story told by Moshe, as Yeshua said in Yochanan 20:29 “blessed are those who have not seen and yet they believe”. 

Another level to grasp God is through other people and their wise advice. In this case, Yitro solved a problem through simple observation. I don’t know how often the Israelites stood in that long line taking turns to see Moshe for “conflict resolution” yet nobody did anything about it; perhaps they simply didn’t realize that something was wrong. However, Yitro grasped the situation that needed attention and decided to take action. He spoke to Moshe with humility saying: (18:23) “If you do this thing and God will order it so, then you will be able to bear it, and also all these people will go to their place in peace“. On the other hand, we see that a leader must also be humble enough to listen and to act upon someone’s good advice, as we see in 18:24, “And Moses heard the voice of his father-in-law and did everything that he had told him.” If we read between the lines, Yitro understood the solution to the problem, and Moshe realized that God spoke to him through his father-in-law because it does not mention that he consulted God about it.

We can also capture God in the face of natural phenomena, that is, we vibrate at the frequency that God vibrates, or in other words: “we tune into God.” While the people saw and heard natural phenomena (tremors, thunder, clouds, lightning, and a blast of the shofar (19: 16), Moses clearly heard the voice of God (19:19). Only on one occasion, in this portion, did the people understand God when they said with one voice “Everything that the Eternal has said we will do” (19: 8). However, when we human beings, are not prepared to hear God’s voice, we become fearful because we feel vulnerable; this causes us to distance ourselves from the Divine (20: 17-18) and instead of approaching God, we ask for an intermediary like in Shemot 20:16 which says: “and they said to Moses: you speak to us, so that we will hear; but God does not speak with us, or else we’ll die!”. 

We can also grasp God through both written and spoken words (Devarim 5:19, Shemot 20:1) when the Ten Commandants that summarize the Torah were expressed, as our Rabbi Netanel taught us. They summarize our ability to grasp God by how we relate to Him, to ourselves, and our fellow men.

This week in our office we had an unfortunate accident when a tanker that was transporting molasses to the port overturned. The driver took a curve without respecting the speed limit based on the weight that he was carrying. When they told me, of course, my first thought was, had he been injured or killed. When I heard that the damage was solely material, I mobilized to carry out the cleaning operation to avoid another accident. When I arrived, God allowed me to assess the site of the accident: It was a place where there are usually many people waiting to take the bus; the molasses spilled into a gutter in an area that does not affect the environment. When we began the rescue work, I asked God to help me, to show me even more mercy than He had shown by the absence of people present. Immediately, while a container with pressurized water arrived to clean the road, the owner of the truck had coordinated the delivery of sand, and from out of nowhere, a brigade, which I had not called or coordinated, appeared from the government road maintenance company FOVIAL. It was like a synchronized clock cleaning up the road in all of 10-15 minutes, for a job that would have taken no less than 4-5 hours to complete. I said: Baruch Hashem! The owner of the transport company and the personnel of the insurance company were amazed at the coordination, and I told them: “God coordinated everything so that we could solve the problem quickly.” Then I understood (I grasped) that it was God at work in this everyday situation.

I don’t know how many of you are focused upon negative situations in your lives but by seeing the glass half empty and not half full, are you grasping that God is in the midst of this? Or are you only focusing upon yourselves? How will we act – like Moshe who grasped, who SAW God in everything or like the people who were afraid of what they saw?

Shabbat Shalom!

Mauricio Quintero