Cantor Eyal Bitton shares a few thoughts on prayer and the parasha of the week.

Seeing the Face of God

2024-02-17 Parashat Terumah

My favorite musical is Les Misérables. The emotional journey of the characters has always tugged at my heartstrings. There’s a particularly powerful moment near the end that I find particularly stirring. Jean Valjean, Fantine, and Eponine harmonize in a way that feels almost like a prayer, echoing the words of Victor Hugo himself, “To love another person is to see the face of God.”

Consider the Friday evening prayer, Ahavat Olam. We express our appreciation for God’s timeless love for us, the people of Israel. “You have loved Your people, the house of Israel.” And what’s the very next thing we point to in order to demonstrate this love? Torah and mitzvot. “You have taught us Torah and mitzvot, statutes and laws.” How are laws and performing those laws expressions of love?

In Parashat Terumah, we learn about the construction of the tabernacle. Its purpose, as God states, is for God to dwell among the people. The haftarah delivers an even more potent message to King Solomon as he builds the Holy Temple – God’s active presence depends on the people’s adherence to God’s laws and commandments.

There’s a condition to God’s involvement in our lives. We have a role in bringing God into our lives. The Tanakh teaches us that it is our responsibility to actively invite God into this world. God is within us and our lives. Grand spectacles are not necessary to witness God. Sometimes, it’s a simple moment between two people. 

The narratives of this week’s parasha and haftarah, as well as the text of Ahavat Olam, collectively convey that God is not merely present but actively involved – contingent on our actions. Performing mitzvot, acts of loving-kindness, and other good deeds invites God’s presence among us. Our behavior towards one another creates holiness in our lives.

As Victor Hugo wisely states, “To love another person is to see the face of God.” Waiting for divine intervention might not reveal God’s face, but practicing kindness and love brings God into our lives. That is how God abides among us – through our actions and our hearts.