Rabbi Sacks on Connecting to God

JInsider (March 2010)

In Judaism, we believe we connect to God in three different ways; creation, revelation, redemption. So how do we connect to God through creation? Well, look, this is a difficult one. I remember on one occasion when I was young and I was in Jerusalem for one of the first times of my life. You will probably know if you’ve ever been to Jerusalem at sunset, how the setting sun turns those light brick walls of Jerusalem into burnished gold. And if you’re standing on Mount Scopus where the Hebrew University is, and you’re looking out to the Judaean Hills out towards the Dead Sea, it looks as if the whole landscape is on fire.

And my goodness me, I felt God at that moment. But you can feel God in the blossoms on a spring day in Central Park. You can sense God in a snowflake. William Blake was right, wasn’t he, when he said, “To see infinity in a grain of sand and eternity in a single hour”? So to see the beauty of creation, that is one way God speaks to us.

Revelation. When we sit and learn Torah, especially when we sit and learn Torah together and we are hearing God’s word. And it may be that we’re learning Torah so we are looking at how Rashi refracted that word and Ramban and Rashbam, and Ibn Ezra. So we’re hearing that several thousand-year-old conversation between heaven and earth that we call the written Torah and the oral Torah. And we become part of that conversation. So in creation very often, we see God in revelation, we hear God through the words of Torah or Talmud or Midrash. Learning together, recapturing that moment of revelation on Sinai.

And then there’s a third way; redemption. When I hear the cry of a child or the cry of a person dying of hunger in Africa, I am hearing God calling to us to be His partner in the work of redemption. And whenever I hear that cry, as Moses heard the cry of the Israelites, then we are encountering God in a different way as well. One that is much more active than in creational revelation, but one where we really feel we are partners with God in making the world a little better.

So I think those are the three primary ways in which we encounter God. It may be that not all of them come at the same period in our lives. Certainly not the same period in our week or our year. But God is always there if we know where to look.