What Does God Require of Us?
I believe God requires me to respond to the world in such a way as to keep God’s commanding presence ever before me. With simple, everyday acts, I can keep alive the memory of our ancestors’ encounter with God and help perpetuate it into the future.
My acts must kelp me reach my God-like potential; they must also help to perfect God’s world. And when these two are in conflict, I must struggle to resolve the conflict. God requires that I struggle and exact a blessing.
I know what God wants by following the path of our ancestors. The ritual injunctions they instituted were to remind us of our moral obligations, written into the Torah because they tell us how humans and the world can best prosper. I commit myself to what they have taught the world, for their God is my God.
On my early morning walks, as I watch the sun rise and as I listen to a warblers’ choir, I am encouraged to do everything I can in my power to preserve the splendor or our environment. When I nourish my body, I must thank God for my bounty and make sure to bring provisions to the hungry in our midst.
For my everyday blessings of love and health, family and friendship, I must praise God and pledge myself to help others who are not so blessed. And I must believe that I can make a difference in their lives.
As a rabbi, when I listen to my congregants’ pain and doubt, I must not only comfort them, I must help them retain their faith in God’s purposeful world and help them understand that, as long as there is a breath in them, they have a meaningful part to play in a meaningful world.
When I teach, I must help my students not merely to acquire knowledge but to understand that they are part of the world of our ancestors who understood the meaning of life and their place in it.
When I bless a baby, I must convey to the loving family that this tiny human being is an affirmation of God, that he or she symbolizes hope for the future of our world.
When I bury the dead, I must convey to the bereaved that, in spite of death, all human beings share in God’s eternality.
When I lead my congregation in worship, I must help them connect to the highest aspirations of our ancestors. I must help them pray – not just recite prayers.
Every day God commands me to labor on behalf of all things that enhance life – to listen to all people, to learn from them.
Every day, in many ways, we praise God “…asher kideshanu bemitzvotav… Who has sanctifies us, made us holy by commanding us to perform mitzvoth. How blessed we are to be commanded by our God! And what an even greater blessing to know why we are so commanded.
This may very well be God’s greatest requirement of all.
Rabbi Helene Ferris is rabbi emerita of Temple Israel of Northern Westchester in Croton on Hudson, NY.