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Co-presence: Overcoming the Challenge of Believing in an Intangible God

Jewish Potentiality- Teruma, 5783

Co-presence: Overcoming the Challenge of Believing in an Intangible God

What does it mean to be aware of the Divine presence in our lives? This is a question that has fascinated philosophers and theologians for centuries.

In Judaism, the idea of an infinite, intangible God has presented a particular challenge since ancient times.

The Meor Einayim’s commentary on Parashat Teruma offers a way to overcome this challenge.

By cultivating co-presence through humility. According to the Meor Einayim, when we offer our presence, God's presence (shekhina) is revealed. This article explores the concept of co-presence, the role of humility in cultivating awareness, and the importance of making space within ourselves for the divine.

Generosity and the art of co-presence

One of the biggest challenges of Judaism, in ancient times but also today, is its notion of an infinite intangible God. God, the source of life, in its essence, cannot be grasped. Yet we are asked to stay connected to Him beyond an experience of absence.

In ancient days, people had a hard time worshiping a God that had no tangible manifestation such as a sculpture.

In our Day and Age, many people also have a hard time believing in a being that is neither physical nor graspable, a being that is infinite, thus making it indefinable.

In his commentary on Parashat Teruma, The Meor Einayim suggests a way to overcome this fundamental challenge.

For him, the way to feel the presence of the Divine, even though it is invisible, is by cultivating something I like to refer to as co-presence.

Presence is mutual, when we offer our presence, through our awareness, God’s presence (shekhina) is revealed.

In a way, the divine source of life is everywhere, we just need to be aware of it, and look for Him.

Each plant, animal, and, of course, human being we encounter is Divine, we just need to bring our awareness to it.

How to Cultivate co-presence

We can cultivate co-presence by embodying awareness (daat), and one of the best ways to bring awareness to our lives, according to the Meor Einayim, is by embodying Humility.

Humility is the key mida (character trait) in the Jewish spiritual tradition, the one from which all other divine character traits flow.

It is also the character trait most associated with Moses, who represents (from a mystical perspective) our awareness (daat).

Humility can be described as the ethos of making space within.

As opposed to arrogance, which is associated with a self-centered inflated ego, humility is making space within.

According to the Meor Einayim, by making space for everything that is not our self, we enable our awareness to awaken.

This is the symbolic dimension of the mishkan (the tabernacle), built with our offerings.

The mishkan is more than a sacred object. It is a sacred reminder of the importance of co-presence.

Mishkan comes from the root SH-KH-N “dwelling”. This alludes to the divine presence (shekhina) who promises to dwell among us if we make space for it.

Indeed, as the Meor Einayim reminds us, God’s promise in this parasha seems clear: “And they shall make Me a sanctuary and I will dwell within them (Exod. 25:8)”

So when we build and hold space for it, the divine presence comes and dwells among us.

While these mystical teachings about building a portative temple in the desert seem to belong to another world, they are actually deeply relevant to our days.

They remind us that the art of co-presence happens when we bring our full presence to any encounter.

“Humility”, says the Meor Einayim, “ is the very opposite [of pride and idolatry]; “There, true awareness is hidden and buried”.

Maybe embodying humility like Moses’ is like building a mishkan: making space within.

When we make space in our consciousness for something other than ourselves, when we cultivate awareness enough so our ego does not take over the whole space, then we can receive wisdom, and the divine presence can dwell within.

This takes the courage of believing beyond absence, and the courage of making space, so that we can enjoy, through offering our own hearts, the gift of presence.

How will you make space within, today?

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