Rosh Hashanah: How is God Found?
Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim
“Seek out God [in a manner that] He is found; call to Him when He is near” (Isaiah 55:6)
This verse commences our Torah reading on fast days. At first glance, it implies that God is not “always” approachable. However, that is impossible, for the Ashray prayer teaches us, “God is close to all who call Him, to all who call Him in truth. The will of those who fear Him He fulfills; and their cries, He hears and saves them.” These two “traits” of God are not conditional on certain times. So if God is readily accessible at all times, what does our verse above mean?
Radak cites three explanations on “call to Him when He is near.” He first quotes his father: “This means when one seeks out God with his “entire” heart, as it says, “God is close to all who call Him, to all who call Him in truth.”
Notice, that verse does not mention any idea of an “entire heart.” Rather, it refers to our need to call Him in “truth.” Radak’s father clearly equates “all one’s heart” and “truth.” Meaning, only when one seeks God earnestly, and exclusively, is he inline with truth. For when one relies on God alone, he agrees with what is true in the universe: God is the only one who can respond. To be clear, this explains “when He is near” to mean, when we call to God and no other. God is close to such a person and performs their will, as this will endorse the truth God wishes spread in the world: God alone answers man. This happens always. But if one does not feel convinced God alone can respond, and he relies on anything else, God will not respond, since that would endorse that falsehood.
If we do not value our relationship with God over all else, with our “entire heart,” then we have the wrong view of God. He must play a central role in our lives, for He created our lives, and maintains them. How can anything else take precedence? So the command to love God with all our hearts is simply stating what the facts demand. Shima says this as well: “And you shall love your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your might” (Deut. 30:6, 4:29) and Selichos repeats this crucial message.
We see from this that it’s not just New Year’s or fast days, but this concept of approaching God with our entire heart is applicable always.
Radak then quotes the Rabbis who explain “Call to Him when He is near” as referring to “before our decree.” This means before Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Our fate is decided at this time, so we are admonished to seek out God, establish a relationship, and repent, before our decree is written.
And lastly, Radak quotes Yonasan ben Uzziel as referring to prior to death: “For one can only call to God while alive, and not after he dies. For in the grave, there are no actions, knowledge or wisdom.” On this, King Solomon said, “At all times, let your clothes be white [clean]…” (Koheles 9:8). This refers to the need to be without sin at all times (clean garments) since we do not know when God will call us to the next world. So be always ready in case it is now, in order that we are without sin as we enter the Afterlife, to escape punishment.
In fact, there is no argument among these three views. Radak’s father is advising us of what the Torah says in so many places: we can only truly relate to God when our ideas of His omnipotent and omniscient nature are obtained. For if our ideas of God are false, we are not relating to God, but to an imaginary thing, and no imaginary thing can help us. So we must strive to be accurate in our Torah understanding of what God is and what He is not. Then we will realize He alone must be the sole recipient of our prayers. This is what it means to “call to Him when He is near.” God is not physical, so one cannot be “near” God. “Near” means when we have an accurate understanding of Him, and we express it by calling Him alone.
The Rabbis, Rashi, and Yonasan ben Uzziel teach that before our decree, we are wise to act. These views focus on the “gravity” of what is at hand: our lives. They address the absolute nature of God’s decrees, not the “method of approach” described by Radak’s father.
In our verse, Isaiah is addressing this time of year, when our fate will be written. He is concerned for us all, so let us be concerned, and review our ways. Make amends with those you have wronged, ask God’s forgiveness for sins between you and Him and resign never to repeat such actions and earnestly seek an ever-growing understanding of what God is, so your prayers reach the One who can help.
With so many conflicting views today concerning Judaism’s fundamentals, we must follow only to that which our minds see clearly. Anything less, means our mind does not agree with a notion, so what use is it to parrot the words “I agree” when we do not?
In Halacha—Jewish Law—we must follow the Rabbis of old, and of today. But in philosophy, Hashkafa, there is no such thing as a psak, a ruling (Rabbi Chait). We cannot be told by any Rabbi, or anyone, that we believe what we truly do not.
God gave us each a mind. Why? He wants each one of us to use it. If you do not use it, but follow the crowd, even the religious crowd, or Rabbis, then you violate God’s will.
I mention this, since we are discussing the need to call God “when He is near,” meaning, calling Him accurately. The most fundamental thing you can do, now before your fate is written, is to first insure you have the right idea of God. Many schools never teach this. Most adults cannot answer, “What is God?.” Many pop-Jewish groups talk about sefirot, parts of God inside man, and other inconceivable and dangerous notions. Who is correct? How do we know? Reason, our great rabbis, and Torah will tell you. Moses’ words and all the prophets never spoke of mysticism, or nonsense. Just the opposite is the case: Moses told the Jews not to forget what their eyes saw. He asked no belief whatsoever, but that each Jew accept reason to determine what is true, and what God is. No prophet ever endorsed amulets, segulas, praying to the dead, or any of today’s popular falsehoods. Moses and the prophets endorsed reason, and abiding by God’s commands, “Do not add or subtract from the Torah.” They added no new practices, and they never ran to others to bless them. They sought God “with their entire heart.” They sought God alone, and nothing else.
Go back to the source, to the Torah. If you cannot find it there, don’t follow it.