Once, I saw G‑d.
It was on the holy day of Rosh Hashanah, but I wasn’t in the synagogue. I was in a hospital on that very wet morning, in a sterile and depressing geriatrics rehab ward, where a few old bubbies had gathered to hear the sounding of the shofar (the ram’s horn sounded on the Jewish New Year).
Every year I do this—blow shofar in the hospitals. Every year, at least one person cries.
This year there was a bubbeh who didn’t seem so old. She was very with-it. The sight of a shofar filled her with excitement. She poured out to me memories of her childhood; it seemed the past had just come awake for her. She had grown up steeped in chassidic warmth and soul, and even here in Vancouver it had never left her.
She recited the blessing, and I began to blow the shofar softly but clearly. The tears began to come. I’m used to that already; I just keep going. But when I finished, that’s when it was obvious that G‑d was there in the room. Because she was talking to Him.
“Oy, zisseh G‑tt! Tayereh, zisseh G‑tt! Mein zisseh G‑tt!”
She was crying and she was holding G‑d in her hands. The hands of an old bubbeh holding an infinite, timeless G‑d.
She called Him “ziss.” I had never heard that before. “Ziss” I had heard applied to desserts and to grandchildren. The Psalms of David and the Song of Songs talked about the Almighty in that way. But this was an old bubbeh. Her voice had that tone of love and compassion, yet she was filled with awe. She was crying wth sorrow, with joy, with pain, with longing . . . yet her words were sweet ecstasy.
I can’t translate those words she said. It doesn’t work in English. “My dear sweet G‑d.” It just doesn’t happen.
Because in English you don’t talk to G‑d the way a wife talks to her beloved husband, a husband who went away on a distant journey and you never knew if he would return, and now you’re suddenly in his arms. Like a mother talks to her small, sweet children, and like a daughter talks to her father who she knows will never abandon her. All in one. In English there is no such thing. But in the Yiddish of her childhood, she could say it.
For me, her cries smashed through the most profound journeys of the philosophers, popping them like a child pops bubbles in the air, like shadows disappear in the sunshine. They had no meaning here. They are ideas. This is G‑d. The real thing. This was revelation. Something the old bubbies had back there, back then. Something we had lost. Almost.
I had to leave to go to the synagogue. She was still in tears. I discovered I was smiling. You’ll think I’m insensitive, but I was helpless before this deep, uplifting joy that just arose from inside.
She cried. I was full of joy. Why shouldn’t I be? I had just seen G‑d face to face. Unzer zisseh G-tt.