- Rabbi Ben Tzion Spitz
The Far/Near God (Mishpatim)
God is a circle whose center is everywhere and circumference nowhere. -Empedocles
After the Revelation at Mount Sinai, the instruction and communication between God, Moses and the People of Israel continues at the foot of the desert mountain. At one point the Jews are instructed that they will “bow down from afar.”
The Berdichever takes the opportunity to explore the meanings of a “far” God versus a God that is “near.”
The aspect of God being “far” is the belief that God’s infinite light precedes all existence and that there is nothing in all of creation that is capable of understanding God, not even the ministering angels. That is the concept of a “far” God – that He’s incomprehensible. Understanding Him is infinitely far from our capabilities.
The aspect of God being “near” is the belief that there is no place in all of creation that doesn’t have God. God is everywhere. He fills, and surrounds, and sustains reality. He is right here, next to me, with me, in me. It doesn’t get closer than that.
It is the obligation of a Jew to believe in both aspects of God. He’s “far” – infinitely incomprehensible to our minds, and He’s “near” – right here with us, around us, sustaining our beings and existence.
That is an explanation of the verse: “Peace upon the far and the near, said God.”
Another dimension to God being “far” and “near” are the feelings of awe on one side and love on the other, which we need to have of God. “Far” correlates to both the awe of God and the related distance we feel from the mind of God. “Near” correlates to the love and the nearness we feel, to the love and constant attention and care from God.
Hence, when the Jews are instructed to “bow down from afar,” it specifically relates to awe. You bow down to a being that you are in awe of, that you have some distance from.
But where there is love and nearness, we can embrace.
May we feel both close and distant from God, as the situation dictates.
To the participants in this week’s Zehut Open Primaries.