There was once a young boy who would wander in the woods. His father became concerned as he went deeper and deeper into the forest each time, so one day he said to the boy, “I notice that every day you walk into the woods. Why do you go there?”
The boy replied, “I go there to find God.”
“That’s wonderful. But don’t you know that God is the same everywhere?”
“Yes,” the boy answered, “but I am not.”*
In a handful of words, this Hasidic tale captures one essential key to the great quest for God—that while God is everywhere, God is best encountered in a particular place. The master teachers of prayer usually direct us to return to the same place, every day. The same chair by the window, the same mat on the floor, or as in the case of the boy, the same path in the woods. God may be everywhere, the boy realizes, “but I am not.” He must be faithful to one particular spot, and for him the woods work.
The crucial thing is to find that one particular place. It seems incongruous that Israel’s everywhere-God nevertheless chooses to dwell first in a tabernacle, then a temple. Here, Yahweh says, here is where I will meet you. And every Christmas, Christians are astonished that the God of galaxies should choose this woman’s womb, should become one peculiar man.
Once we are onto this divine penchant, our search narrows. Now we’re looking in plain places, small corners, for unremarkable things. If Jacob, on the morning after his ladder dream, can point to the nameless spot on which he slept, head pillowed on a rock, and say, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven” (Gen. 28:17), then every patch of Earth, every stone is sanctified.
And now we are back to where we began. Everywhere is the gate of heaven, but you and I must find the one place that somehow calls to us, and go there day after day.
*Thanks to my colleague Rabbi Geoffrey A. Mitelman for this story. Sinai and Synapses, “The Space in Between,” February 23, 2023.
Question for Today:
How can I find God?
Where have I felt God’s presence at some point in my life, and what keeps me from returning there today?
Question #6 “How Can We Get Beyond the Bitterness and Division In Our World?” comes Tuesday March 7.