We have just come down from the high of the holiday of Shavuot, when we receive the 10 commandments at Mt. Sinai. At Mt. Sinai, we are taught, God was face to face with us.
How can we ever replicate, or come close to the feeling of being face to face with God? In this week’s Torah portion, Nasso, we receive the instruction that “if a man or woman sins against another human being, thus being untrue to God, the sin must be confessed and restitution made.” The message here is clear: harm done to another person is also harm done to God. Not only are we made in the image of God, but we also have the power to affect our Creator through our treatment of each other.
I invite you to envision that our sense of who God is, and how we imagine God’s face, must come in part through our interactions with each other. And if you don’t believe in God, per se, hear the sentence another way: I invite you to envision that our sense of holiness and meaning, must come in part through our interactions with each other. Through our friendships, our communities, and through a deepening of the relationship with self.
In our daily lives, we see many different sides of the face of God. When we look at the faces of those who surround us, we are seeing a tiny bit, we are getting a sense of, the face of God – and even if it’s not a favorable side, we are still encountering the holy. Face to face, God gave us the commandments and face to face – amongst our fellow human beings – we choose to embrace or disregard them.
This holy lesson, learning to encounter the face of God, unmistakably happens through the journey of our lives.
There is a prayer which may be said whenever someone starts out traveling on their journey. It is called Tefilat Haderech – Translated as “A Prayer for the Way.” It asks for peace. It asks to be safeguarded on one’s way, and to be able to contribute to the world.
My hope and my blessing for all of us, as summer begins, is a prayer of journeying. May you each have the confidence to deliver your full self to others. May you always be open to the unknown. May you have the gumption to question. May you always find a home wherever your path may take you. And when you meet someone face to face, may you be able to seek out the goodness that lies within no matter how hidden – because therein lies the face of God.
Rabbi Elyssa Joy Austerklein is rabbi at Beth El Congregation in Akron.