I write these words in honor of my second grandson, who was born on 5 Adar Rishon (February 10, 2019), the week Parashat Tetzaveh is read, and in honor of my first grandson Noam Yair, who was born on 12 Adar 5777 (March 10, 2017), also the week Parashat Tetzaveh was read. Noam’s middle name, Yair, was given in memory of my father Irving Cooper z”l, whose Bar Mitzvah parasha was also Tetzaveh.
There is a story that is told about the Ba’al Shem Tov, the Polish Jewish mystical rabbi and founder of Hasidism, who one day asked his followers to come to the town square at noon the next day for a big announcement he planned to make. The townspeople wondered what their revered rabbi could possibly have to say. Was he ill? Was he moving to another town? At the appointed time, the rabbi appeared in the center of a huge crowd of people that suddenly grew silent to hear him speak. After a moment, the rabbi said, “My fellow Jews, I have asked you to interrupt what you were doing to come here today so I could tell you…that there is as a God.” The townspeople were dumbfounded. This was the grand message their rabbi wanted to convey? There is a God? How absurd…of course, there is a God! But as they contemplated the rabbi’s message, they began to realize how utterly profound it was. Most of the time, they practiced the rituals of Jewish life without really connecting their behavior to the reality of God in a mindful way. Their rabbi had simply reminded them of the most basic assertion of Judaism- there is a God.
I would expect that for most of us, the same is true. We experience the routines of Jewish living without thinking much about God. Rarely do we think about the nature of God, let alone have the feeling that we are connecting with God when we pray. And then something remarkable and miraculous happens to us, and our thoughts turn to the contemplation of the Divine. For me and my family, this week brought such a miraculous and remarkable moment. Our second grandson was born, a second child to Eitan and Dita. For now, he’s “Baby Boy Cooper,” as he will receive his name at his bris this Sunday morning. As I did for my grandson Noam (and three of my five sons), I will serve as Mohel at the Brit Milah ceremony in which we will welcome this new child into our family and into the family of the Jewish People. I couldn’t be prouder or more overflowing with joy.
The birth of my grandson is a miraculous moment that causes me to say, as did the Ba’al Shem Tov, that there is a God. A baby’s bris is a time to affirm that there are some things that happen in this world, not because of human ingenuity and ability. A great many things happen in this world because human beings are clever and able to make or build anything. But the truth is that some things we can’t make or build by ourselves, and the birth of a baby is at the top of such a list. In order to bring a child into the world, we need to forge a partnership with the Divine source of life. The birth of a baby brings us face-to-face, in a way that is vivid and exciting, with the creation of life in all its mysterious and miraculous glory. In the face of my grandson, I see the image and presence of God.
Here, I want to connect this idea to our weekly parasha, Tetzaveh. In the opening verses of the portion, we read: “You shall further instruct the Israelites to bring you clear oil of beaten olives for lighting, for kindling lamps regularly” (Exodus 27:20). This verse is the source for the Ner Tamid, the Eternal Light that hangs above every ark in synagogues around the world. The commentary in the Etz Hayim Humash (pg. 503) notes that light has always been a powerful symbol for God. Why? As the commentary tells us, “Because light itself cannot be seen. We become aware of its presence when it enables us to see other things. Similarly, we cannot see God, but we become aware of God’s presence when we see the beauty of the world when we experience love and the goodness of our fellow human beings.”
God cannot be seen, but there is a God. I see God in the miraculous Divine power to create and sustain life. I see God in my grandson Noam, growing and learning new things every day. I see God in my new grandchild, perfect and beautiful as he is. They are the light by which I am aware of God’s presence in the world. They are the miracles that cause me to affirm what the Ba’al Shem Tov mythically said…there is a God!