As the High Holidays grow nearer, it’s the perfect time for us to reflect both on ourselves and our relationship with God. Interestingly, in Judaism, it can become difficult to separate these relationships.
On the one hand, we view God as the Divine Creator separate and apart from us. God stands outside time and history and is the Divine Being that we build a relationship with and pray to. God stands outside of us, and it’s incumbent on us to find God. All of this language implies a separate Being apart from us in the universe and beyond.
On the other hand, we’re taught that God lies within each of us, deep inside. Hardly a Being outside in the world, God in this view is a Being with whom we connect internally. To discover God now becomes a journey of self-discovery.
So which relationship is the correct one? As with most things in Judaism, there’s never one answer or one correct path. Ultimately the goal is to have one approach lead to the other. A journey outward would bring about moments of self-discovery and personal limitation, while a journey inward would bring about a new appreciation for the context of the world.
Each of these approaches situates God as an integral part of our identities and how we place ourselves within the world. Sometimes it’s our love of God that allows us to be respectful and polite to our neighbour, to remember that even they have God within them, and to disrespect them is, in fact, to disrespect God. Sometimes it’s our commitment to God that allows us to prepare for a Jewish holiday even when we’re exhausted from the last one. Sometimes it’s our trust in God that allows us to bear the trials of life when we feel that we just can’t take any more.
The outcome of all of this is that we become nicer people who have stretched the limitations of our abilities and our endurance. Our relationship with God, in other words, redefines us. Who we are and who we will become is directly connected to where we situate God in our lives.
The Sages in the Talmud understood that how we define God will ultimately result in how we are defined. They stated that God had said, “You have declared Me a unique entity, and I shall declare you a unique entity.”
Rachael Turkienicz is director of Rachaelscentre.org.