On Divine Exile and the Sacred Act of Welcoming (Part I)

This is the first part of a two-part post.

In “Man’s Quest for God”, a series of essays on prayer, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel writes: “The Shechinah [Divine Presence] is in exile, the world is corrupt, and the universe itself is not at home. To pray, then, means to bring God back into the world, to establish His kingship, to let His glory prevail.” (p. 61). What are we to make of the notion that to pray is to bring God and Godliness back into the world? Isn’t it often said of Judaism that ours is a religion of deed, not creed, that how one acts is more important than how one thinks or what one believes? There is an oft-repeated assertion in much of Hassidic thought that our job is to make the physical world a dwelling place for the Shechinah. Rather than retreating to focus on our religious lives and our own spiritual maturation at the expense of the real-life concerns of the mundane world, we are to work tirelessly to create a world in which the Shechinah would wish to dwell amongst us. Indeed, this notion that the outgrowth of spiritual concerns ought to be the transformation of the physical world is something that I found and still find to be deeply attractive about Judaism. Tikkun Olam—repairing of the world— now a catchphrase which, I fear, has been devoid of much of its meaning and resonance, is a term that I find still hold great power, if we but take it, and Heschel’s assertion, seriously.

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