The Bible Says What? ‘Getting close to God is a terrifying experience’

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The Bible Says What? ‘Getting close to God is a terrifying experience’

Rabbi Celia Surget takes a controversial topic from the Torah and looks at a Progressive Jewish response

Sephardi Torah scrolls
Sephardi Torah scrolls

Getting closer to God is a constant desire in our liturgy. We express how we want to get a glimpse into the world of spirituality.

Only once in our tradition have the Jewish people as a whole had the chance to come into direct contact with God – but it wasn’t the experience they might have hoped for or we might have expected.

The occasion was the revelation at Mount Sinai, where the Ten Commandments are bellowed out by the voice of God itself.

Not only do the people hear these famous words, but they also see quite the spectacle: “the thunder and lightning, the blare of the horn and the mountain smoking” are all in front of them.

The people are terrified, afraid they will surely die if they continue to be exposed to God’s voice directly. They plead with Moses that God’s instructions be mediated through him, so they don’t have to face this again.

This couldn’t be further from our modern conception of understanding God. Rabbi Lionel Blue wrote a beautiful piece, which has taken its place in the Reform liturgy for the High Holy Days giving advice on meeting God, where we are told we may not have heard from God because we keep filling the silence – “for God speaks in the silence”.

Meeting God must be good, not terrifying, surely? Trying to grapple with the entirety of godliness and spirituality is too much for us as humans – it is a genuinely scary task. We instead find our connection today in bitesize pieces as we learn and pray.

To rush to see it all at once is the direct path to being scared away. We should feel no pressure to understand everything at once. When we learn and teach, it is okay to take it one step at a time.

Rabbi Celia Surget serves Radlett Reform Synagogue


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