Seeking God – and Losing Him
״ובקשתם משם את ה אלוקיך ומצאת כי תדרשנו בכל לבבך ובכל נפשך״ – דברים ד כט
“From there you will seek God, your God, and you will find Him - if you seek Him with all your heart and with all your soul.” – Deut. 4:29
This Passuk (verse) comes off as a comfort for us in exile - a guarantee that we will be able to find God despite our distance from the Holy Land in which the Torah lifestyle finds its ultimate completion. Any truth seeker who dedicates themselves entirely to finding God will find Him, even in the most supposedly “Godless” of places.
I say “supposedly” because we know that there is no such thing as a “Godless place” - Hashem’s Essence permeates all of the Multiverse; it is the whiteboard on which the cosmic drama of all existence is etched in dry-erase marker. Meaning that if it weren’t for Hashem’s constant input and involvement, all of existence would be wiped out, as if it were never there.
However, the Chumash, or the part of the Torah commonly referred to as “the Five Books of Moses,” is specifically written in terms that any human can understand in order that the words of the verse be fulfilled, “rather, this matter (of the Torah) is very near to you, in your mouth and in your heart, to fulfill it” (Devarim 30:14). If you want to find Jewish texts that transcend human comprehension, you can look through the Kabbalistic sources, or the Talmud. Haha.
But I digress. This Passuk, on the surface level, is an assurance of the fact that God is always there, a reminder of the central truth of Judaism - that God’s immanence within this and all worlds is an accessible immanence, that one can reach closeness with God - Kirvat Elohim - through the observation of the Torah and Mitzvot.
But a more exacting read reveals an even more delicate truth. The verse does not assure that a person who seeks God out through the Torah’s path will ALWAYS find Him. In fact, the verse focuses much more on the seeking than the finding. “From there you will seek God... and find Him - if you seek Him with all your heart and soul.” That’s a 2:1 seek to find ratio…
The fact is that we are always seeking. A person can spend a lifetime seeking God, find Him, and then a few weeks later realize that they’ve lost Him once more. If we give the crude metaphor of the options of solid, liquid or gas, God would be a gas - always slipping through any box or set of fingers that attempts to contain Him. While the Torah and Mitzvot are a great jumping off point on the mission to find God, they are not a trump card to be played and grant their owner lifetime access to the sublime satisfaction of closeness to God. A person can work so hard to avoid violating any Torah prohibitions, fill their day with Mitzvot and spend every morning learning an hour of Gemara and still not feel any closer to Hashem than before they began this process. This is the struggle of seeking God - even when we look exactly where we’re told that God can be found, we can be staring Him right in the face and see and feel nothing but an increasingly boring daily routine of “tradition.”
And this is the key to the verse, to the question of why it is that we seek and we seek but we do not find. The truth is that God is always revealing Himself to us - through the natural world around us, through those routines and rhythms of daily life that we consider the most “normal” of all. God is not in the thunder or the fire - God is the still, small hum of the Universe running exactly as it should be, in accordance with a Divine rhythm that was set during the seven days of Creation and has chugged along beautifully ever since.
Rav Kook captures the sentiment perfectly - he says that when we look for God in the transcendent, in those moments of Divine inspiration that hit like a lightning bolt and jar us into higher spiritual consciousness - we are fated to experience only a short-lived high of closeness to God, with an even more powerful comedown once the feeling wears off and we return to the normality of existence. A person who seeks God through these moments of transcendence becomes addicted to a feeling that is quite simply not of this world - and, like the elders of Chelm, will spend their whole life trying and failing to capture the moon in a barrel of water. This seeker finds God and then loses Him, finds and then loses, and each time finds less of the stubbornness necessary to get back on their feet and try again.
But a person who sees the Divinity in every aspect of our lived existence - who constantly stirs their imagination and intellect to see the Divine spark in the design of the orange in front of them; in the dazzling human inspiration that created the Tefillin they bind to their arms and between their eyes; in the elegance of the bee landing on the flower and the perfectly orchestrated system that allows both organisms to thrive through their interaction - this person will find that Heaven is not nearly as far off as the movies would have it seem.
Heaven is a perspective - a decision to expend the mental effort needed to overcome the addictive state of sleepy satiety, rouse the intellect and emotions and apply them towards the constant task of finding the Creator’s signature on each and every piece of performance art that makes up the Universe we live in. And even though most agree that the best examples we have are out there in nature, I bet you can find that Godly signature on most every picture in your Instagram feed if you try hard enough.
Ya’akov (Jacob) Adam Schwartz regularly writes blog postings for Jewish Values Online. His blog entry, Kvetching for a Cause, was selected as one of the three best for the third quarter of 5779. You can find it on the Jewish Values Online website at the top left.
Please note: All opinions expressed in Blog Postings and comments on the Jewish Values Online site and through Jewish Values Online are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views, thoughts, beliefs, or position of Jewish Values Online, or those associated with it.
I am a religiously-unaffiliated philosophy professor seriously considering conversion to Judaism, and am currently learning as much as I can in order to make a decision. My reasons for wanting to convert are entirely my own - I find myself drawn to the religion's beliefs and practices and feel it may be where I belong. In my research I have found numerous books on the subject of conversion, however they normally focus on the process of conversion itself - the 'how'. Whilst this is certainly important, I feel I first need to tackle the question of 'should' on a deep and careful level. I would like to make a sincere spiritual and moral commitment, and I know that converting to Judaism is not a small or trivial commitment to make. Are you able to recommend any reading material that explores the question of 'should I convert?' in a deep and contemplative way? Something that explores not just the practicalities of the decision, but its deeper meaning in terms of one's moral commitments and relationship with God? I am particularly interested in the pros and cons in this respect, as I have sometimes encountered dire warnings that "It is better to be a righteous Gentile than to make a commitment that you cannot keep". I feel I will need to study and contemplate the pros and cons of conversions very deeply in order to choose wisely.
See answers from Orthodox, Conservative and Reform rabbis here.
If you have a question about Jewish values that you would like to ask rabbis from multiple denominations, click here to enter your question. We will ask rabbis on our panel for answers and post them. You can also search our repository of over 800 questions and answers about Jewish values.
For more great Jewish content, please subscribe in the right-hand column. Once you confirm your subscription, you'll get an email whenever new content is published to the Jewish Values Online blog.