Post -Shavuot Reflections-Intimations of Revelation
מי כמוך באלים ה’ מי כמוך נאדר בקדש נורא תהילות עושה פלא
Who is like You, O Lord, among the celestials (mighty) (all that is worshipped)
Who is like You, majestic in holiness, awesome in splendor, working wonders?
The Festival of Weeks-Shavuot-highlights the event of revelation on SInai, the “Giving of the Torah.” The notion of revelation has been on my mind throughout the festival, begging for an interpretation and definition beyond the common and literal understanding of the heavenly encounter between Israel and God on Mount Sinai resulting in the issuance of Torah to the Jewish people. Is revelation, therefore, a unique, one-time event, never to be duplicated in some way, or does it hold out the promise and possibility of a process that is continuous and on-going? How does one understand the concept of divine transmission to the human mind and heart?
I would like to believe that the full spectrum of creative thinking and output is an unending unfolding of revelation in human life. Do we understand the nature of a thought, an intuition, a sensing of that which is beyond the physical and easily recognizable? Do these phenomena not defy the categorization or measurement applied to other domains of human understanding, those that are considered scientific or material?
Whenever a depth of meaning or interpretation that has the potentiality of enriching my grasp of the divine occurs to me, I wonder whether that in fact represents a moment of revelation?
The above verse from the Pentateuch-Exodus 15:11, a passage that is part of the liturgy, struck me on Shavuot as being a verse of revelation that allowed me to unnderstand the nature of the divine in a way transcending the traditional and the more widely accepted.
On the face of this verse, it reflects a response of awareness of an Omnipotent God who delivers Israel from the hands of its enemies and in this demonstrates the incomporability of His power and might. From an historical/mythical point of view, this makes perfect sense; however, its contemporary relevance in its ancient form of an Omnipotent God intervening in Israel’s affairs, fighting its battles as a divine warrior, is highly problematic.
Is this the prism through which we recognize the divine today? I think not. Thus the above passage deserves a different reading to extract from its rich language another way of ‘seeing’ God.
I suggest the following. The final phrase of this passage-translated as God who works wonders,עושה פלא- to me conveys a different but essential idea of God’s Presence in the world.
God is the Source of Wonder in the universe. His incomparability, holiness and splendor, celebrated in the verse, are not related to His Might as a Warrior, but to His creative unfolding of a world as a place infused with wonder, awaiting the awe, the joy, the sublime awareness of the human mind and heart that can recognize the wonder in all things. The dimension of the divine in human life and the beauty and complexities of the natural world all point to a reality that is divine, transcending the apparent, captured so often by the eye of the artist and the ear of the poet and the musician, and the heart and soul of the scholar and saint.
This is not a totally unprecedented revelation. So many of us have been inspired by the thinking and presence of Abraham Joshua Heschel, of saintly memory. In some way, if the above insight can be understood as a mirror of revelation, its source on its journey to my mind was the brilliant and illustrious soul of Heschel.
Prior to his untimely demise in 1972, Heschel suffered a near fatal heart attack from which he never fully recovered. A student , Samuel H. Dresner, traveled to his apartment in New York to see him.
“He had gotten out of his bed for the first time to greet me and was sitting in the living room when I arrived, looking weak and pale. He spoke slowly and with some effort, almost in a whisper......
‘Sam,’ he said,‘when I regained consciousness, my first feelings were not of despair or anger. I felt only gratitude to God for my life, for every moment I had lived. I was ready to depart. ‘Take me, O Lord,’ I thought, ‘I have seen so many miracles in my lifetime.’
Exhausted by the effort, he paused for a moment , then added: ‘That is what I meant when I wrote (in the preface to his book of Yiddish poems):
‘I did not ask for success; I asked for wonder. And You gave it to me.’ “ ( I Asked for Wonder, A Spiritual Anthology -Abraham Joshua Heschel, ed.Samuel H. Dresner,1986, Crossroad, New York.)
Who is like You-You who created the Wonder of life, the Wonder of the world, and put the human being on this earth to perceive it, and praise the Source for it.