This week was exhausting existentially in our homeland. Ideology and fundamentalism became tools of violence in a land so desperate for peace. These were not external threats, but internal zealotry born of an arrogance and certitude that should make us pause, wonder, feel immense shame and anger and then take a painful look inside.
One of the names of God in Hebrew is Makom; God is a place, the ultimate place, so to speak. Makom is an odd way to refer to a Divine Being, but there is something about it that signals both grandeur and solace. When it comes to spiritual shelter, what matters is location, location, location. Many biblical verses refer to God as a refuge or place we hide to escape from our troubles when we feel ill at ease or afraid.
Stamped on many psalms is not the idea that God is a place as in a scenic vista or a magnificent sweep of landscape but a place we can go to when there is nowhere else to go. "Deliver me, O Lord, from my enemies. I take refuge in You" (Psalms 143:9). Continuing the theme of protection, we read, "For You have been a refuge to me, a tower of strength against the enemy (61:3). God not only shields us. God is a tower when we are feeling small and powerless. "You are my hiding place. You preserve me from trouble. You surround me with songs of deliverance" (32:7). Not only do we hide in God, when we do so, we are surrounded by the loving cradle of song to sooth us. Sometimes we need to hide and do not know how. Then, too, the psalmist calls out to God, "Hide me in the shadow of your wings" (17:8).
Elsewhere, in the book of Isaiah, we have God as place using visual cues in nature: "Each will be like a refuge from the wing and a shelter from the storm. Like streams of water in a dry country, like a huge rock in a parched land" (32:2). God offers a place for us to hide when we are at our lowest and most fragile, and we suddenly grasp sight of a rich oasis. The problem is that we cannot always hide nor should we.
Turning to a more modern view of place, we study the living words of Israeli poet Tuvya Ruebner, who was awarded the Israel Prize for his poetry in 2008. Ruebner came to what was then Palestine from Czechoslovakia in 1941 during the British Mandate. He came alone. His family eventually perished in the Holocaust, but Ruebner's different path saved him. He became a member of Kibbutz Merhavia and a schoolteacher.
His poem, "When I arrived the place was," appears here in an English translation by Oded Manor.
When I arrived the place was
Filled with dust. No signature
Of grass. Not
A single blade. A few grey trees
Stood here, there, shrouded
In sackcloth and dust. In my dream I saw
The rivers of my youth, the nights of my forests. Nowadays
Everything is green. In my dream I see
Filled with dust.
Sometimes we dream of a place that is lush and verdant but the reality turns out not to match the welcoming vision. Hardly anything is growing. Everything is covered in a film of dust that mars the deep green of nature. That happens to places when we have great expectations that are not met, when our disappointments become a storm cloud of reality.
When we speak of God as "Makom," we don't mean just any place. We mean a place of safety, of joy, of triumph, of home. Our homeland, too, has to feel like that makom, that place of vibrancy and shelter for all who live there if we take the mandate to live in God's image seriously. Because if it is not a makom - a safe and loving space - for all who live there now then it will cease to be that one day for any who live there. Let the repair and the healing begin.