In a famous Hasidic saying, the Kotzker Rebbe was once asked: “Where does God dwell?” to which he replied, “Wherever you let God in.”
This past month I have wondered a lot about the places where people let God into their lives, and the places where they keep God out. I’ve thought a lot about a conversation I had with eleven-year-old Alex when his father was still lying in a coma in the hospital after a massive heart attack left him with little chance of recovery. Alex looked up at me through tear-filled eyes and had a message for God: “It sucks! And it isn’t fair.”
And yet as we talked for awhile about life and death, the apparent capriciousness of life’s twists and turns and the challenge that every one of us faces as we struggle to find some meaning and purpose to it all in spite of death and suffering, Alex started to laugh. “What’s so funny?” I asked. “Chocolate chip cookies,” he answered. “And so much soup we can’t possibly eat it all, and at least half a cow that you can take home with you if you want.”
He was referring to the home-made cookies in the middle of the table in front of us, the endless bowls of soup that well-meaning friends had been dropping off at their doorstep all week along with all the pot roasts and briskets that had piled up in the refrigerator.
“Maybe God is in the chocolate chip cookies,” I said, matching his smile and his laugh. And maybe God is. For Judaism has always sought and found God in the simple everyday miracles of life, like the loving care of family, the hug of a friend, and the silent shared moments of grief and sadness.
“He chose ‘A,’” Alex told me with a resigned sigh. “He told us what he wanted to happen.” When I turned to him with a puzzled expression on my face, he explained in a calm, even voice how his father had circled “A” when given a number of choices on a “Durable Power of Attorney” form that let his family know what he wanted done to his body in the event he was unable to talk or make a decision himself.
“He didn’t want his body to just be kept going if he couldn’t be the same any more,” Alex explained. “He didn’t want us to suffer even more.” And because his father had taken the time to make his wishes known in advance and shared his decisions with his family, they were spared the additional emotional pain of having to make life and death decisions for him based on mere speculation.
Each of us should do the same. Have a conversation with your loved ones about your own mortality and the choices you want made for you should the time ever come when you can’t make them yourself. It was the precious gift of peace of mind for Alex and his mother, and I urge every one of us to give that gift to our loved ones this month, no matter how young or healthy we might be.
When we began our conversation, Alex had announced he was angry with God and didn’t want to step foot in the temple again. By the time we finished, he said he was willing to come back to the temple, and that when he got upset, he would just come to my study and sit and talk with me and see if we could figure out what it all means together. I extend the same invitation to every one of you.
“Where does God dwell?” “Wherever and whenever you let God in.”