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Who are You, G-d?

Who are You, G-d?

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Who are You? I mean exactly who are You?

How big are You? Where do You reside?

Yes, yes, I already know. You are omnipresent and omnipotent. But that doesn't help me. That doesn't answer my question.

Who are You?

I mean, who are You when I pray to You? How big are You; how much space do You fill up? Where do I find You? Where do I imagine You are when I offer You my prayers?

Yes, yes, I know You surround and permeate everything. I know You fill all space and encompass everything there is. I know You are formless and faceless. But I already told You: that doesn't help me. These have become abstract concepts, empty words, intellectual exercises. And when I need You (and I do need You), I need to know who You are, where I can find You, the exact spot to which I can turn to offer You my prayers.

You.

Why am I asking? You ask. Isn't this chutzpah? You challenge.

I don't care. I need the answers. In our continuing relationship, it's come to the point where I need to know.

Okay, let's be perfectly honest, here. I mean, let me be perfectly honest. You're always honest. At least that's what they say about You.

You.

You have not answered all my prayers. Most importantly, You have not come through in some of the most important areas of my life. Don't get me wrong. You haven't done so bad. There's lots of good happening in my life, and as a person who stays on the alert for miracles, I can see Your Hand in much if not all of the good transpiring in my life. So, I don't want to take that away from You. In fact, let me stop right here and say thanks. Really, I mean it. Thanks. I'm very grateful.

But, there's some biggies hanging out there where I can't, but need to see Your Goodness. I need some tachlis — some up front mercy, kindness, salvation, what-have-you. And soon.

Yes, yes I know that You often act in hidden ways. I know that your Goodness, like You, is everywhere but often we can't see it. At least that's what they say about You.

But, You'll forgive me (I hope): I want to see it. I want the goodness right here in my life, in the life of my family, and I want to see it and feel it and know that it is good.

I want revealed goodness right at my own level.

Simply put, I want You to answer my prayers.

You.

And so, one night, lying in bed, in this frame of mind, I began to ask: Who are You? Who exactly am I praying to? Who is not answering my prayers?

Sometimes, I pray and it's like You're sitting across the table from me. It's me and You. I'm asking. You're listening. I'm speaking, You're nodding but making no commitments. Yet I feel if I can be urgent enough, convincing enough, You'll answer my prayers. Maybe not right now. But soon. Tomorrow maybe, when I wake up. Maybe the next day. But soon.

Sometimes, I've closed my eyes and imagine a point inside my head and focus all my concentration and pray to this point. My attention is like the wide end of a cone, and I attempt to focus and compress all of who I am to the narrow point, where it seems I imagine You reside.

Are You there?

Really, it's not that I think that You are there, but rather that if I can concentrate my being into this point, with no distractions, my prayers will reach You better, and that You will listen more attentively because of the sincerity and purity of my thoughts.

(They say that You are a jealous G‑d, and so, I think, that if I offer you the pure wholeness of who I am with total concentration, You will like this better. At least that's what I think about what they say about You.)

But, still, though I don't think that You reside in this point, I have nonetheless reduced You to manageable size, to a point of focus, to an individual, isolated being existing somewhere out there, listening, affected by my concentration, my desperation, my desire, my passion.

Is this true?

I didn't pray this way because of these reasons. Rather I discovered that I pray this way after I began asking: Who are You? Where do You live? How big are You? Where do I turn to find You?

You.

In the beginning I did not discover the answer to my question. Not right away, anyway. But I did learn how I pray. I discovered some unconscious assumptions behind my prayers. But, no, my question still remained. Who are You? It seems that in asking I learned more about myself than I learned about You.

You. Blessed are You. (Or at least that's what they say.) King of the Universe.

This questioning went on for many nights. Instead of asking for what I want, instead of offering my thanks or my complaints, I simply continued to ask: Who are You? Where do You live? How big are you and how much space do You fill up?

I don't know what this was like for You. Did You miss my old prayers? Did You find me ludicrous? Or did You just stand in curiosity, wondering where this would lead, or waiting for me to return to my senses?

Sometimes I would just repeat the word You, over and over again. You. You. You. And sometimes, deep emotions would arise. Not always nice, but deep. Sometimes I would not even question who You were anymore, but simply call You: You! You! You!

And sometimes I would just say: You. Blessed are You. And wonder what that means. And wonder how, why I could be blessing You when what I wanted was to be blessed by You.

Blessed are You, King of the Universe. (Or so they say.)

Or should I say: Blessed is this point of concentration. Blessed is this Being across the table, the room, the bed, from me, listening.

Blessed You, Bless me. Please!

And suddenly, one night, don't ask me how or why, the point widened. You were not across the table, room, bed. It was not my concentration You sought. Nor my passion and desperation. Nor my pleas and complaints.

Suddenly You were everywhere, too many places for me to reach at once, for me to contain. Suddenly I was the point of the cone and You the wide space whose width had no end (or so it seemed).

And in this awareness, hallucination, discovery, instead of focusing my thoughts with concentration and desperation, I spread my arms, for there was no place that You were not and only by spreading my arms, offering myself as I twirled, slowly, round, slowly, from side to side, back and forth, could I hope to find You.

Or so it seemed, or so it dreamed.

And I understood why trees have so many branches, and wished I had more arms to upraise and spread out. I understood why flowers have surrounding, soft petals reaching up and beyond in praise of You, and I wished for such ability to reach up and beyond, in and within, to find You, to praise You. To be a part of You.

You. Blessed are You.

King, who rules from law implanted within each living thing. For whom loyalty is the simple act of being one's deepest self in touch with the law that guides us and the world.

You. Blessed are You Who is All things who are blessed each time I say, Blessed are You, creator of this tree. Blessed are You, creator of this fruit. Blessed are You who takes the slumber from my eyelids. Blessed are You who created and placed Himself within each creation for ever to be found by those who search and, yes, question.

And in this moment, as my self and all its requests and needs, complaints and praises, dissolved in the vastness of who You are, I returned to lying on my bed, praying for my health and that of my family, for wellbeing and peace of mind, for all things large and small. And I no less wanted my prayers to be answered than before.

But I saw, this night, that this was the answer to my prayers: To be a part of this All, to be one of this One. That the very act of prayer could be the answer to prayer. And that the only real question is: Who are You?

You.

You.

You.

Blessed are You.

Jay Litvin was born in Chicago in 1944. He moved to Israel in 1993 to serve as medical liaison for Chabad’s Children of Chernobyl program, and took a leading role in airlifting children from the areas contaminated by the Chernobyl nuclear disaster; he also founded and directed Chabad’s Terror Victims program in Israel. Jay passed away in April of 2004 after a valiant four-year battle with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and is survived by his wife, Sharon, and their seven children. He was a frequent contributor to the Jewish website Chabad.org.
Artwork by Sarah Kranz.
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Orah Delray Beach, FL July 13, 2016

In G-ds hands.... Bless your soul, Jay Litvin. Bless your struggles, your family, your visions, your sharing, your kindness, your memory. You gave me just what I needed when I needed it, and it was through you that I felt my re-connection to One. The One you speak of lead me to this page with a click. So much we don't understand in life, especially when it comes to pain, and why G-d permits such things (I was feeling pain, sadness, and loss...then reading this and reading you left too early, too, like my mother after a long battle with cancer in the same month). I guess we are not meant to know some things, but what we can hope to feel (and help others feel) is not alone. That even if we don't see it, like it, or understand it, we are always in G-d's hands. Reply

Tena Valenti GILROY July 12, 2016

Wow! That is beautiful! Thank you! This touched my heart and blessed me. Reply

slj OK June 27, 2015

Grateful I am so grateful to be led here - to this very article - on this day. Widowed 7 years ago, much of my praying has been filled with bitter tears and frustration trying to learn the lessons while I walk through this wilderness experience. And yes, many blessings have been found here as well. Thank you Jay Litvin, and Baruch Atah Adonai Elohenu Melech Ha-olam. Reply

Anonymous June 5, 2014

Amein A kindred spirit.Very deep heartfelt article,brought tears to my eyes.May G-d bless Mr.Litvin posthumously and his family.He loved his fellows. Reply

Anonymous leeds, UK via judaismlive.com June 14, 2013

you Prayer is many things and has been debated about almost exhaustively, because we are human we have a need to talk the the supreme creator IE G-D, in fact we are praying to ourselves by digging deep into our psych or soul if you like, that is what makes real prayer so exhausting,we all hope that what we are praying for is good for us and G-D in his mercy answers our prayers. Reply

Anonymous February 24, 2012

i use your words and ideas and the emotions it brings me: today.
i feel some of what you wrote,i could not write it. I don't have the words. But now I do. I save and read them. Thank you so very much, Reply

Charlotte Gainesville, FL,USA March 17, 2010

You Catholics who are elderly now learned that prayer is "turning the mind and heart to God." Often in my old age when I begin to pray I am ready to turn - but in what direction? This essay was most heartening as a sharing by someone with a similar experience. How G-d must have welcomed him when he left our earth! Thank you for giving us a glimpse of his holy heart. Reply

Nomi NJ June 9, 2009

Jay's prayer As I read Jay's heartfelt essay, I felt oddly as though the words were coming from my own heart. And his journey allowed me to glimpse for just that moment the possibility of discovering what he did. Then, reading of what he did in his life, how much he gave, and how he died, I can only imagine that his soul is now with G-d, at peace, and maybe nudging him still to keep his family self. I pray for him and his family, too. How much difference one life can make! Thank you, Jay. And thank You, too. Reply

Faylei April 3, 2008

Thank you Beautiful. Thank you for helping me with my own prayer. Reply

Carole Staten Island, NY/USA July 18, 2007

Prayer As I was reading, and being deeply touched by, Jay Litvin's essay on prayer I thought about how much I would like to talk with him. How tragic that he died three years ago! Just from reading his essays, it is clear that he had so much to offer. If I could talk to Mr. Litvin I would offer him one facet of my belief: He wrote about his disappoinment that G'd had not answered his prayers. I would tell him that G'd does indeed hear AND answer all prayers. Sometimes the answer is "yes", sometimes the answer in "no" and sometimes the answer is "not quite yet." This helps me to believe in the power of my own prayers along with patience and acceptance. I also offer my thanks to G'd for the big and little things, like health and love, along with a cool breeze in summer, or the chance to receive the random kindness of a stranger. I have offered this to my children in the hope that it will help anchor them in our hopelessly chaotic world. Reply

Fesek London, UK via KabbalahUK.com July 7, 2005

I, too, have been praying. I shouted the other day, Send me a sign. Show me that you listen. I need just one small sign to see that you hear.

Yesterday, I almost missed it as the colours blended in so well. I came back from the shopping: there it was, on the front door, a large, beautiful moth, earth colours and a delicate pattern on its wings, marked in black. I dropped the bags (no eggs!), scooped up the moth and took it into the garden. It sat on my hand for a little while, quivering, then I stroked it with a touch as light as air and it relaxed and grew still before flying off. Reply

Anonymous October 26, 2004

Thank you's Hours ago I thought about my prayers these days. They consist of words, sentences and paragraphs which are, more than anything else, sleep-inducing. I've begun to add a PS of apology to each prayer. An apology filled with embarrassment and shame because of the poverty I've 'sent' to G-d.

Oddly enough, my apology - that PS to G-d - is a deeply-felt thing.

When I prayed for guidance (this, hours ago), I was sent here. To a place of riches. I've been here before, but what I needed this time was mainly your: "You - You - You - Blessed are You." Said over and over again.

And then I read Kahlil Gibran's 'On Prayer.'

"...I cannot teach you how to pray in words.

God listens not to your words save when He Himself utters them through your lips..."

I'm now going to pray, and I don't think there will be a PS tonight.

Thank you, Jay. Thank you, Kahlil Gibran. Most of all, thank you, G-d.

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Anonymous July 31, 2004

Re " strangers " I've always believed that there are no such people as strangers, not really. I've never met you, and yet you wrote about the way I've prayed and the way I've experienced.

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