He who created the speech of the lips, peace, peace, to him that is far off and to him that is near, said God; and I will heal him. – Isaiah 57:19
A fundamental concept in Judaism is the idea of approaching God, of getting closer to God, of connecting to God. We often define these concepts in spatial terms.
In ancient days we approached the Temple in Jerusalem. The closer we were to that epicenter of religious life, the closer we were to God. In our own day, synagogue, ritual, the Torah and its many commandments have supplanted the Temple service, but nonetheless, we tend to think in spatial expressions and may think of ourselves or others as “closer” or “further” from God and divine service.
A person afflicted with the biblical condition of Tzaraat (an unusual skin discoloration) was exiled from the Israelite camp. The Sfat Emet in 5648 (1898) explains the counterintuitive phenomena of having to go “farther” to come “closer.” Many people see God and feel closer to God when they approach the “center” of religious worship, when they are involved in the details of the commandments, when they pray in the synagogue, when they study the Torah. However, for some, it doesn’t work. They are turned off by the rituals. They are bored by the traditions and inherited wisdom. They go away. They go into exile. They get as far away, physically and existentially from their heritage. And that’s when they discover it. At the farthest distance from Jewish communal life, in the solitude of strange and unusual cultural existence, they suddenly encounter God. Then they get an inkling as to the value of what their ancestors had. Then they feel the closeness of God, the connection to the infinite and divine that magically transcends the finite and the mortal.
May we all receive such moments of inspiration and connect to God, no matter how “far” or “close” we are.
Shabbat Shalom and Chag Kasher Ve’Sameach,
To Moses, for his integral role in taking us out of Egypt (and for so much more). He gets very little credit or mention in the Pesach Haggadah (on purpose…).