Stumbling Through Blessing: Part Four – What if God Were All of Us?

(The latest in this series about the Birkot HaShachar, the Jewish morning blessings, and the role they might play in helping us – Jews and non-Jews; believers, agnostics, and atheists – live with more gratitude, presence, and even compassion.  Part spiritual reportage, part suggested practice.)

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“Who’s next?” the woman working the pizza counter asks.

The guy beside me starts ordering.  Until I interrupt.

“I think I’m next,” I say.  I’m going for a neutral, matter-of-fact, tone.  Still, I wonder if the subtext I’m feeling in my heart is coming through.  The subtext that says, “How bloody rude are you?  If they gave you the guillotine, it would be too good.”  (My heart can be disproportionate where pizza is involved.)

“Sorry,” he says.  “You go ahead.”

I order a couple of slices, and consider the brucha of which I’m trying to be mindful these days

Baruch atah adonay, eloheynu melech ha’olam, she’asani betzalmo

Blessed are You, The One, who has made me in Your image

On those occasions when I recite all the morning blessings in succession, I generally enjoy this one, with its suggestion of divinity in me.

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But as my sole focus, without surrounding brachot reminding me of the gifts with which I have been bequeathed, to recite it feels chutzpadik (the best translation I can offer for chutzpadik is “full of chutzpah”).  Who am I to suggest that I am in the image of God?

Especially given my conduct on the subway this morning.

I boarded the train just behind a woman with a backpack in her hand.  Then, as we stood back-to-back – despite the frequent announcements made on the subway to remove one’s backpack – she put hers on.  As her pack burrowed into my tailbone, I began to stew, not wanting to – yet again – ask someone to remove their pack (and, by extension, suggest they lack basic human consideration).

“F*^% this,” I said, startling some of the other passengers as I strode to another spot, nudging aside yet another backpack-wearer – not very aggressively, but not subtly either.IMG_0974

So much for being in God’s image. 

But then again…

Which God are we talking about? 

While many of us ascribe transcendent and noble qualities to God – wise beyond our understanding, boundlessly compassionate – the God I am most familiar with is the one of the Hebrew Bible (known to many as the “Old Testament”).  A God who is sometimes transcendent, and at others, (to borrow the phrase from literary critic Harold Bloom in his The Book of J), “human, all too human.” A God of jealousy and anger, who decides to drown all living beings, sparing only Noah’s family and a select few animals.  A God who, following the golden calf episode, declares his intention to wipe out the very Israelites he has liberated from Egyptian slavery, only relenting after Moses appeals to his ego:

“Why, O Lord, [says Moses], should your wrath flare against Your people that You brought out from the land of Egypt with great power and with a strong hand?  Why should the Egyptians say, ‘For evil He brought them out, to kill them in the mountains, to put an end to them on the face of the earth?'”…And the Lord relented from the evil that He had spoken to do His people. (Exodus 32:11-14)

Yet, only a few chapters later, Moses exclaims this same God’s capacity for kindness, with what have come to be called God’s attributes of mercy:

“The Lord, the Lord!  A compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, and abounding in kindness and good faith, keeping kindness for the thousandth generation, bearing crime, trespass, and offense. (Exodus 34:6-7)

This God is powerful and multidimensional, a source of suffering and love, destruction and compassion.

Like you and me.

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Did I cause that much suffering by how I behaved on the subway this morning?  Let’s put it this way.  I didn’t get anyone’s day get off to a good start. 

So as I stand at the pizza counter beside the guy my heart has condemned to the guillotine, the least I can do in light of his overture, is commute his sentence, look at him again and say, “Thank you.”  

At the close of the day, I step onto the subway again, and encounter what is often a source of ire – a cluster of passengers standing near the door, making it difficult for anyone else to board.  As I move past the crowd to make room for those getting on behind me, I calmly say, “Excuse me, I’m just going to squeeze through.”  Much to my shock, instead of being resentful, I feel happy to have been so civil and polite.  This is an image of God –  kindness trumping judgement – it would do some good to inhabit more often.

After all, I’m not the only one made in the image of God.  So are my fellow subway riders, and people I will pass on the street the next day: the young woman in fishnets, toting a hockey stick as she cruises about on roller blades,; the middle-aged guy listing to one side, dragged down by the weight of his laptop; and the fellow with the beige suit and white fedora, making mincing steps as he goes.  All with God’s capacity to create both ease and unrest.  The least I can do is make their lives easier so that they might do the same for others.

Baruch atah adonay, eloheynu melech ha’olam, she’asani betzalmo

Blessed are You, The One, who has made me in Your image

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Let’s get mindful

  • Sit for a few minutes, breathing, being. Then consider ways in which you have brought ease into the world of late.  Without judgement, also consider ways in which you might have brought unease.  Just be with this knowing.  Then recite the brucha

Baruch atah adonay, eloheynu melech ha’olam, she’asani betzalmo

 Blessed are You, The One, who has made me in Your image

and breathe some more, and return to the world with the divine powers with which you have been endowed.

  • If you’re out in public, do some people-watching (taking care not to make others feel uncomfortable). Look at the unique way each of us moves our arms when we walk, the different paces at which we go, the range of skin colour.  If you are in the image of the Divine, so are they.  Step into the crowd, knowing you are part of the divine flow, one of billions of God-images making our way through the world.
  • Are you dealing with someone you find difficult, tempting you to act with hostility or anger? Remember how powerful you are.  How your conduct will affect their conduct, not only with you but everyone.  Consider the possibility that listening to them, being attentive and compassionate, might be the path to resolution for you both, leaving you free to bring the best of your divinity back into the world.

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4 Comments

Filed under Birkot HaShachar, Mindfulness

4 responses to “Stumbling Through Blessing: Part Four – What if God Were All of Us?

  1. Alex Hickey

    Love this post, Lorne. In my rural setting, rubbing up against people is way less pronounced, but I try to bring love, warmth and joy to each exchange. It’s easier when it’s only one or two exchanges a day – with NO crowded subways!

  2. rita goldenberg

    Yes we are loving and compassionate and as you said we are ALL made in the image of GD so we should expect others to be loving and compassionate to us. Most of all we should first be loving and compassionate to oneself. In growing spiritually we have to balance CHESED with GEVERAH just as GD does with us. In my opinion that means
    being compassionate and having healthy boundaries. So I agree that you told the person out of line that you are next ask the woman with the knapsack on her back to please put it down as it is hitting you.. The tone of your voice is important and so is your intention that will be expressed in your tone. This is the difference between REACTING with anger and RESPONDING with anger; a principle of the Mindfulness Course.

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