Community Rabbi Corner, Nov. 13, 2020

Rabbi Howard Tilman
Congregation Beth Israel
Scotch Plains, NJ
Parashat Chayei Sarah

There’s a popular image that’s represented time and again in literature and media of all sorts. A young man or woman standing out in the field late in the day looking out towards the sunset and pondering what’s to come. You might picture Luke Skywalker gazing at the suns of Tatooine or Mufasa telling Simba that everything the light touches will be his. Or, perhaps, you can picture our patriarch Isaac in his own such moment.
Towards the end of Chayei Sarah, which we read this weekend, the Torah tells us, “And Isaac went out walking in the field toward evening and, looking up, he saw camels approaching.” (Gen 24:63) It’s here that he first sees Rebekah, the woman he will marry, in what becomes a key moment in his life. In the Talmud, this verse is used as an explanation for the Minhah service, our daily afternoon service, because Isaac is interpreted to be praying late in the afternoon, towards evening. Elsewhere though, this same verse becomes a description not just of prayer, but of God.
One of the hasidic masters, the Kedushat Levi, Rabbi Levi Yitzchok of Berditchev explains that each patriarch used a different metaphor in explaining their concept of God.Avraham saw God in terms of a 'mountain,' i.e. something far above our level towering above man. Yitzchok perceived him as a field, covering huge expanses of earth, but sharing earth with man. Yaakov perceived Him as a house, i.e. an intimate term, viewing God as if He were at home with human beings.” (Kedushat Levi, Genesis, Vayetzei 20)
This is an important reminder that all our conceptions of God may be different. Some may view God as a ruler on high, others as an ever-present being across the earth, and still others in a more intimate way, at home among us. Those understandings can change and evolve over time too, as we may think differently now than we did a few years ago. However we do understand God though, it’s something for all of us to consider as we head out into the open at the end of the day to watch the sunset, wondering about what’s next.
Shabbat Shalom.