Earlier this week, I was speaking with some colleagues as we were working on assigning tasks to complete a project. One person would be in charge of this, another in charge of that. We went through our list of tasks, and we came to one that left us stumped. Who should take responsibility? “God,” someone piped up eagerly.
At first we chuckled at the thought – and then we laughed in earnest as we realized the essential truth within the humor. As Rabbi Shais Taub teaches, everything in our reality is an expression of God. Everything – from the humans in our homes and workplaces to the tasks that we’re not sure how to handle – is a manifestation of God in our human world.
It’s not always so easy to see that the people we meet and the responsibilities we have are Divine expression, that they contain a Divine essence. In this week’s parashah, we see perhaps the most notable example in the Torah of a well-meaning human who forgets that God is present in every aspect of our world.
The Israelites are continuing their forty years of wandering in the desert, and their community is going through a generational shift. New babies are born, and loved ones die… including Miriam, who according to midrashic legend, had been responsible for providing the community with water. As the community grieves and thirsts, Moses and Aaron approach God for help, and God instructs them to take the rod and speak to the rock, so it will bring forth its water in accordance with God’s will.
One would think that Moses and Aaron are seasoned experts, at this point, in following God’s instruction. They take the rod as planned, but then for some reason, they start improvising. They gather all the Israelites before the rock – and then they address them, saying, “Listen, you rebels, shall we get water for you out of this rock?!” Moses strikes the rock with the rod, and water comes forth; the people’s thirst is quenched.
God had not told Moses and Aaron to speak to the people – much less with anger. God had not told Moses to strike the rock. And most of all, God had not instructed Moses and Aaron to take credit for this miracle. It was not their expertise that brought forth water; God had said, “…and before their very eyes order the rock to yield its water. Thus you shall produce water for them from the rock…” (Numbers 20:8) – it was God’s will.
We see from this story how quickly we can forget, how easily disregard God’s instruction. If it could happen to Moses and Aaron, who came face to face with God’s presence, how much more so can it happen to us?
As we move through life and recovery, we are continually faced with challenges we aren’t sure how to handle. Now we face a global pandemic that sets before us – in hyper focus – the problems of our lives as well as the problems of our world that we had been choosing to ignore. In the depths of these struggles, in the depths of this pain, it can seem like God is nowhere; that it is we, with only our human strength, who must summon an audience and then scream and lash out in order to effect any change in the world.
Of course it is true that we must take human action. We cannot manage our lives in recovery, we cannot make necessary change in our society, if we are passive, if we expect God to take care of human tasks. As Jewish tradition teaches, humans and God are partners in creation; as the Twelve Steps teach, we must take care of the footwork and stay out of the results.
As we move towards this Shabbat together, may we be blessed to remember God’s presence as we look at our loved ones, as we reflect on our week, as we wash the dishes and make the bed. May we have the courage to take action in our lives, in our society, and in our recovery. And may we find serenity to feel God’s presence in every task set before us, and in everyone we meet.