The beginning of this week’s Torah reading, Parshas Emor, discusses the revered status the Kohanim have. The Torah says that the people of this priestly tribe have distinct holiness and therefore they must abide by special laws pertaining to them exclusively, because they bring forth the “bread of God.”
The “bread of God” referred to in Parshas Emor is the sacrifices which were consumed by fire on the Altar. Only the Kohanim are privileged to perform this service. It would seem a bit queer to refer to sacrifices as the “bread of God.” After all, God does not exist in a physical form. He has no need for nourishment and He certainly does not ingest food. Why does the Torah refer to sacrifices as the “bread of God?”
In truth, there are many places throughout the Torah where we find the Torah describing God’s actions with terms which belong strictly to physical beings. Besides the fact that it would seem to make no sense to describe a spiritual being with physical characteristics, it is prohibited to attribute any physical aspects to God’s being. Why then do the verses describe God in such misleading terms?
Rabbi Avigdor Miller explains that these terminologies possess a fundamental principle in Torah philosophy. The Torah requires of us to retain a fine balance in perceiving God in our lives. On the one hand, we must not view God Himself as a physical being in any sense. On the other hand, we must nurture our minds to have a clear vision of God’s existence in the world, which is accomplished through imagination of physical attributes.
In order to create a vivid vision of God’s reality, we must employ our power of imagination in perceiving God’s involvement and interaction with our physical world. Since we are physical beings who cannot properly imagine a true spiritual existence, we must revert to imagining physical characteristics when connecting to God. All the while, this is done with the understanding that these terms are no more than metaphorical terms for a spiritual existence which is beyond our abilities to fully comprehend.
This is why the Torah itself uses such terms, as if God is “eating.” In order to create our interactions with God into a reality in our minds, we must envision ourselves as “feeding” God a “meal” of sacrifices. This is a difficult concept and requires a life-time worth of work to implement.
By nature, God’s existence is far removed from the physical dimensions of the world we live in. For this, we were granted a mighty tool – the power of imagination. Imagination has the power to create a new reality in our minds. While we are prohibited from painting in our minds an image of God Himself, we are certainly encouraged to envision God relating to us, and ourselves interacting with God. God’s existence must not remain a vague, abstract idea as if it’s just some nice concept to keep in the back of our minds. We must learn to envision God watching us, loving us and having expectations from us, as well as to envision ourselves reaching out to Him, pleasing Him, etc.
Rabbi Miller would relate an anecdote of inspiration he once experienced on a bus ride. As he was sitting on a bus on the way to his destination, he noticed that a little girl opposite him was staring at him. Rabbi Miller found himself instinctively straightening his tie. This made a big impression on him. Despite the fact that it was just a little girl who he didn’t know and would likely never see again, the mere fact that someone was gazing at him caused him instinctively to pay close attention to the way he presented himself.
Rabbi Miller used this experience as an analogy in envisioning how God, too, is gazing at him, at all times. Building on this concept, Rabbi Miller would recommend to imagine God peering at you from some place nearby, in any place you find yourself. It can be from a window across the street, a camera in the corner or simply from behind the wall in front of you. Imagining God looking at you will certainly make His presence more concrete in your mind and will influence the way you act. Living with God’s existence as a reality in our minds requires constant, conscious effort. Without routinely utilizing our imagination to perceive God’s presence in the world, the reality of God will slowly slip out of a person’s mind. There are constant opportunities to practice this concept in our lives. We should never underestimate the power of imagination. The more we utilize our imagination to perceive God’s presence in the world, the more we will succeed in filling our lives with the reality of His existence.
Parshas Emor By Rabbi Yitzchok Aryeh Strimber (firstname.lastname@example.org)