Moses at the Burning Bush by James Tissot
"Moses at the Burning Bush" by James Tissot, ca. 1900

Friending God: how we keep each other close

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The Torah column is supported by a generous donation from Eve Gordon-Ramek in memory of Kenneth Gordon.


Shoftim

Deuteronomy 16:18-21:9


Throughout all of nature, every atom of matter and every unit of energy is greatly affected by what is closest to it. In a sense, proximity is destiny.

Plants are shaped by the elements of the soil in which they grow. If the soil is rich in nutrients, they thrive and provide a bountiful harvest. If the soil is contaminated, they wither and die.

In chemistry, two entirely different elements can be combined to produce something that is dramatically different from either one. The whole can be radically different from the sum of its parts. Water, known in chemistry as H₂0, is a compound consisting of two atoms of hydrogen and one of oxygen, but the result is neither oxygen nor hydrogen. This “friendship” of two elements produces an entirely new substance.

Just as atoms, plants and compounds are greatly influenced by the presence of their “friends,” so, too, are people!

Indeed, the most transformative influences in life are friendships. They open the heart to the ideas, ideals and spiritual quality of another unique being, until we are influenced by every quality that the friend possesses. We are transformed and transform others in turn.

Understanding this connection, consider what friendship with God would mean in changing our life’s character and quality. It would be absolutely transformative. If we spent a few minutes in conversation with God every day — sincerely, heart to heart — if our prayers were genuine, it would make our whole life different.

We cultivate closeness with our friends through open, honest and vulnerable conversations. Likewise, meeting with God and spending quality time together, being vulnerable with Him, sharing your fears, your struggles and asking for His help, will cultivate a beautiful friendship.

The Torah records that God used to speak to Moses face to face, “as a friend.” Nothing fosters our intimacy with God more than spending time with Him alone — meeting Him face to face, so to speak. Each one of us can be a Moses, because all of us know what it means to be a friend.

Friendship with God is central to Jewish life. In this week’s Torah portion, we are called on to love God and walk in his ways. The Shema — Judaism’s greatest prayer — is wrapped in love and bookended with friendship. The blessing preceding the Shema concludes, “God who loves His people Israel.” The prayer following the Shema speaks of our love for God.

First you are loved, then you respond with love. A loving friendship is the meeting point where human beings touch the Divine. It is the catalyst for change. God is not just the Creator of the universe and Lawgiver. He is also a personal friend.

Perhaps the greatest consequence of prayer is the true friendship we create with God, which changes our lives. The Torah records that Moses came away from his heartfelt conversation with God “with a shining face” — so spiritually elevated that he radiated light, smiling with the joy that only friendship can bring.

That contact with the Divine is available to all of us if we make the space in our lives to genuinely converse with God. Like a true friend, God is always there. When Moses reached out, he experienced that firsthand.

If we follow his example, we will too.

Rabbi Dov Greenberg
Rabbi Dov Greenberg

Rabbi Dov Greenberg leads Stanford Chabad and lectures across the world.