In the Song of the Sea portion from the Torah, which was recently chanted in the synagogue as part of the weekly portion, it reads: “This is my God and I will praise Him; my father’s God, and I will exalt Him.” (Exodus 15:2) These words, and all the words of this magnificent poem to God, were sung by Moses as he and the hundreds of thousands of Israelites stood on the opposite shore of the Red Sea from Egypt and could now give thanks to God for the freedom from slavery that had been given to them through the miracle of the splitting of the sea.
The rabbinic commentators to the Torah questioned as to why it reads, “My God” and not “Our God.” After all, did not All the Israelites experience this miracle as a united people of God? The rabbinic answer is that each of the Israelites experienced God and the miracle in his or her own way. This then was the greatest miracle of all. Every single one of them found God on that day, even the sceptics and the doubters. Every Israelite became a person with and of faith.
In a similar vein, the commentators to the prayer book asked the question: “Why in the Amidah prayer does it read, “the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob,” and not the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob? Didn’t all the patriarchs, and the matriarchs Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah, have experiences of the one God and therefore the same God?” The answer they gave was that while it is true there is only one God for the Jewish people, each person experiences God for himself and herself. No two people will necessarily have the same experience of God, for God is a part of each person’s life depending upon not only the differences that mark each person but upon the needs of the moment for that person.
Finding God in our lives is not easy for many of us, particularly during the difficult and stressful times we are living in. Certainly, for those of us who are seniors, and I assume most reading this article are, this is a particularly stressful time. Most of us know how important it is to get vaccinated against COVID-19, and yet tremendous stress is caused by the challenges that are presented to us as we try to maneuver ourselves through the frustrating and terribly arduous task of getting an appointment. This becomes even more stressful for those of us who either do not have a computer, have one that does not work properly, or do not know how to work one. Few of us want to turn to family, friends, or neighbors to help us but some of us have no choice and that causes stress too. For those of us who have tried the telephone route of getting an appointment, they have not found this any easier than the computer.
There is then the stress caused by our fears of the virus itself. Do we leave our home and if yes, when and how? When do we wear a mask and how many masks should we wear? For those of us who live alone, the social isolation can at times be overwhelming physically, intellectually, emotionally and spiritually. The isolation from children and grandchildren becomes too much for many of us. Zoom, Skype, Facetime are incredible tools to use at this time, but none of them can replace a hug or a kiss.
I will also mention only in passing the stress caused by the partisan political strife that is tearing our country, our communities and our families apart. Too many of us are glued to the television watching CNN, FOX, MSNBC and becoming overwhelmed by the new we are seeing and hearing, as each of us is being torn apart inside by our own beliefs and hopes for our country.
With all the stress that is bombarding us every single moment of every day, how are we to find the equilibrium and peace of mind, body, and soul that will reduce our stress levels and help us to find the peace within to get through every day? I believe the way is to find God in our lives!
The words of the Song of the Sea and of the Amidah prayer, quoted above, tell us that God is here for each and everyone of us. We must open our heart, our eyes, our ears, and our souls to that divine presence which is not further than the air that we breathe.
During these stressful moments, when you feel overwhelmed by some of the stresses I have mentioned, or others as well, try to sit yourself down, close your eyes, and take a deep slow breath in and then a slow deep breath out. After a few of these slow breaths, then as you exhale say nice and slowly the word “Shalom” (which means peace) and repeat this a few times. Finally, say nice and slowly a few times, as a mantra, the words that conclude the prayer Adon Olam, “The Lord is with me; I have no fear.”
A mantra is a repetitive sound or words that when recited begin to almost anesthetize the mind and allow a calmness to overcome the person. When words like these become a statement of faith, the words become an affirmation that is then engraved on the mind, heart and soul of the person repeating them. Just by repeating these words, the faith then is achieved so that when you open your eyes and put a smile on your face, you feel at peace for you then know and believe: God is with you and you will have no fear!
We have a new smart TV. Almost every night, I first need to unplug and replug the television to get onto Netflix. The Netflix is always on, but I cannot receive it until I go through what has now become this ritual. God is here with you and me always, even when we, due to the overwhelming stresses in our lives, do not believe God is. Replug and say God is with me, and then God will be with you to help you through the morass of life’s events and experiences. Each of us as individuals will then be able to say, as did our ancestors at the other side of the sea, “This is my God, and I will praise Him!”
Rabbi Dr. Steven A Moss is Rabbi Emeritus of B’nai Israel Reform Temple in Oakdale, NY, a synagogue he has served since 1972. He recently retired to Boynton Beach, FL, and is serving as rabbi of Temple Sinai of Palm Beach County. He has also authored, God Is With Me; I Have No Fear, and A Poetical Journey Through Sefirat HaOmer.