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God Who Emerged from the Color of a Burkha

God Who Emerged from the Color of a Burkha

First Response

Amidst the chase to catch the commuter train into NYC and the funk of waking early and without yet imbibing my first gulp of boldly brewed Starbuck's, it was a day like any other. Stepping from the platform onto the train, for no particular reason I turned back just in time to see a passenger trip and begin to fall forward. I reached out my hands and caught her before she fell. Steadying and rearranging her olive colored burkha and hijab (head covering), my fellow traveler expressed her profuse thanks; I didn't really understand why. I had done nothing to deserve the shower of gratitude that I received. Perhaps it was the outward signs of my being Jewish and kippah donning husband that prompted her surprise at my quick assistance. I would like to think that anyone would have reached out to help if the opportunity presents itself. It is what we humans do when trying to look out for one another.

Being Consciously Present

From that point forward, whenever my fellow traveler and I would see one another on the platform, we exchanged hellos in a neighborly way. A few years later I noticed that my commuting friend began to consistently wear a black garment. Quietly I wondered if perhaps she had become more observant or religious. Not wishing to appear ignorant, I consulted with a Muslim colleague at work about what could be inferred symbolically from the change of color of ones burkha. After considering the possibilities and finding no clear answer, my work colleague suggested a way to frame the question to my commuting acquaintance and be perceived appropriately. At the next opportunity, upon asking, I learned that my fellow traveler was wearing black in mourning the death of her father. During that conversation I learned about the prominent role played by her father in guiding her toward her life's work. She works at the United Nations with the goal of fostering understanding among the people of the world. By taking the time to observe a change in garb it led to a moment of human consolation and connection.

Being Open to God Speak

One morning between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur 5771 my commute to NYC was solo; my husband was out of town. This time I happened upon my commuting friend in the elevator ascending to the overpass at the train station. Our conversation was genial and because I was traveling alone we sat together on the train. She inquired about my husband, noting his absence. When I explained that he was serving a congregation for the High Holidays as their Rabbi it opened the floodgates of a conversation ranging from her experiences with college friends who were Jewish to commonalities we shared in our beliefs about God. We were able to identify certain ways that our beliefs differed philosophically - but overwhelmingly our sharing that day was uplifting. Her eyes glistened in excitement as the depth of her spirit and abiding belief in God poured out in words forging between us a shared genuine spiritual connection. For the first time in eight years that we have trained together we exchanged names. Her name is Tahereh - which means pure. I noted the similarity to the Biblical Hebrew word Tahor that shares the same meaning, pure. Such is the case when we read of the details in the construction of the Tabernacle. We read in Leviticus 25:10-11, "They shall make an ark of acacia wood...... overlay it with pure gold, inside and out." Zahav Tahor - pure gold, references physical purity. Gold can be scientifically assessed for its weight, its density of the physical element AU. A second Biblical word construct, Lev Tahor - a pure heart, bespeaks a purity that only God can assess or measure. Our outward acts can show glimmers of our intentionality, but they only reveal that which we allow to be seen to others. That morning Tahereh, my commuting friend, showed me glimpses of the purity of her heart. Our conversation was a pure delight that morning. By the time we arrived to Grand Central Station I left with a spring in my step and an abiding knowledge that God was present with us that morning.

Published: 4/07/2011

Categories: Jewish Life, Spirituality, Jewish Journeys, Reform Judaism
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