Seeking and Finding

Seek the Lord while He may be found; call on Him while he is near.
— Isaiah 55:6

Still haven’t found what you’re looking for? Neither has anyone from the band U2, but it shouldn’t stop us from seeking. After all, it’s called fishing, not catching. The orientation in the spiritual realm is process rather than outcome. There is value simply in looking for transcendence. Perhaps the activity of searching for higher ground will bring us closer by virtue of the exploration, the rooting out and naming of longings and yearnings.

 A modern Israeli commentary suggests that this verse from Isaiah was a signal to those who were in exile and near its end to call out to God to achieve redmeption; according to prophetic tradition the exiles had reached a time to seek out God. The opening verses of this chapter in Isaiah read: “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters...Give ear and come to me, hear Me that your soul may live…” The senses are amplified in these verses. The chapter is filled with a sense of movement, of aspiration turned heavenward. The mouth and ears are instruments we use to find that which we seek, particularly when we recognize how barren our spiritual lives may be.

Isaiah implies that one must search for God in places where the divine spirit exists naturally. We cannot surround ourselves exclusively with materialistic desires and acquisitions and expect that God will materialize. We must actively put ourselves in places that nourish the heart, mind and spirit. But sometimes we find God in the oddest of places, where we least expect to be touched, moved and inspired, shifting our understanding of seeking to looking where we believe God may be least present. The Kotzker Rebbe famously asked where God is found and responded that God is found in the place where we let God in. We hold the keys.

 Others understand that God is not situated in a particular place but that our relationship can be located anywhere God is sought after in this world.  In the search would be the finding, following another verse from Deuteronomy: “And if from there you seek the Lord, your God, you will find him if you look for him with all your heart and with all your soul” (4:29). Use all that you have in the process of seeking, and it will yield surprising results.

I found a lovely Hasidic tale in a book my friend Saul gave me. It’s an anthology of Hasidic teachings, fable sand legends that his grandfather, the scholar Louis Newman collected and organized topically. Here’s the Torah of seeking according to the Apelier Rebbe.  

“The Apelier Rabbi made the following comment on the verse (I Chronicles 16:10): ‘Let the heart of them rejoice that seek the Lord:’ ‘When one seeks a certain object, he feels no gladness in his heart until his quest is successful. But when one seeks after the Lord, the very act of seeking Him rejoices the heart of the seeker,’” [Siach Sarfei Kodesh v.48].

 We lose things all the time. So it’s frustrating when we have trouble finding them. Our search is only successful if there is an actual result. But when it comes to God, we aren’t looking for a particular “object” so the seeking itself can be filled with joy.

Rabbi Newman (1893-1972), in his introduction, shares the impetus for many of these teachings about Hasidic traditions. “Their interest in joy, laughter, gaiety, the song, the dance and the cup of cheer may have been a compensation for the gloom and rigor of much of life as they witnessed it round about; their insistence upon enthusiasm and enkindlement in worship, and upon sincerity in conduct and observance may have been a foil for the tepid and formalistic traits of much Jewish observance in their neighborhood…”

When it comes to spirituality, how is your neighborhood? Today, many spiritual seekers need not travel far to achieve the enlightenment within. And yet, even so, many Jews believe that Judaism is not particularly spiritual and seek value frameworks in other faiths or no faith because there is not enough God talk. We have more resources, texts and places to study Judaism than ever before but spiritual wisdom is largely assumed to exist outside of conventional Jewish organizational life.

When we seek, we may not need to find, but let’s not assume that we cannot find the religious solace and challenge with our own faith transition. There is pleasure in the search.

Shabbat Shalom


A Place Called Home

by Erica Brown


“Great sages would kiss the borders of the land of Israel, kiss its stones and roll in its dust, as it says in Psalms: ‘Behold, your servants hold her stones dear and cherish her dust’ [102:15].”

Maimonides, Laws of Kings, Mishne Torah 5:10


The past few weeks have been our season of Jewish peoplehood. We move from Passover to Shavuot - exodus to Sinai - and in between we observe Holocaust Remembrance Day, Memorial Day for Israel’s fallen soldiers and Israel’s Independence Day. These are the days we became a nation, celebrate our collective shared history and values and mourn those who made it happen who did not survive. It’s a good time, in the thick of so many mixed emotions, to take a moment to think about the role Israel plays in our own lives. Maimonides, in a collection of law, felt it important to inject a note of deep emotion. Great scholars kissed the stones of Israel and rolled in its dust.


“For most Jews, Israel is Zion. Zion has a special meaning for our people everywhere. Ultimately, it is the meaning of home. Israel is the Jewish home. As such it is a haven. But it is also a functioning enterprise with a future to fulfill and to look forward to.” These are the words of David Ben Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, in his memoirs. He did not want Israel to be an ephemeral idea but a reality that required constant work and effort. And he felt that Israel was not only a haven for Jews in need. “We are a busy, forward-looking nation with much more work to accomplish. Israel cannot just be a refuge. If it is to survive as a valid nation, it has to be much, much more.”


And it is. Because there is an Israel, Jews under distress in today’s Ukraine have somewhere to go, as do Jews world over. Israel is not just a refuge. It is a place where Jews express their national identity, creativity, scientific accomplishments and are active in international trade and politics. Torah emerges out of Zion, as the expression goes, in many different ways, as a locus of Jewish educational institutions that prepare rabbis and educators to share Jewish values across the globe and as a place that thousands of young adults visit to strengthen their commitments.


Can there be a Zionism without aliyah? This question has long been the subject of controversy among early and later Zionist thinkers. In Ben Gurion’s memoirs, Israel is both a geographic location and a metaphor for collective Jewish contributions on the world stage. It is about a particular type of character informed by years of history, destiny and sacred literature. Anyone who has been in Ben Gurion’s home in Tel Aviv and seen his library can appreciate that as a secular Jew, he was highly literate in Jewish life and believed that this should be the national standard.


“Outside Israel, the growth of secularism brings the Jewish communities of the world ever closer to assimilation. Secularism is a fact of our time and since I am not religious I have no reason to deplore it. But if I’m for secularism, I’m certainly not for the ignorance that comes in its wake. In areas where Jews are not persecuted, an increasingly high number vanish, not dramatically but passively, passing into an anonymity born of lack of conviction.”


Ben Gurion spoke like a true prophet. Our distinctiveness may vanish passively because of our lack of conviction. Zionism gave us a renewed sense of passion embedded in possibility. But we cannot let go of the knowledge that creates our distinctiveness.


For Ben Gurion, Israel represented the center of Jewish idealism: “You cannot reach for the higher virtue without being an idealist. The Jews are chronic idealists which makes me humbly glad to belong to this people and to have shared in their noble epic.”


How have you shared in this noble epic?


Shabbat Shalom