Hello Rabbi,

Here I am facing a wall, or the back of some other congregant, or just a row of empty chairs, and I’m talking to someone. Who? An Infinite Being I cannot see, nor hear, nor touch, nor fathom, or even shake His hand. And I’m supposed to relate to this Being with all my heart. Can you give me a handle on this?

—B. Wildered

Hello B,

The short story is, you’re starting from the wrong end. You’ve got a wall, a chair and a self and all that is all very concrete, occupying real, hi-definition space. Then you’ve got this infinite, invisible G‑d. And you’ve got to fit Him somewhere in there. But, of course, He doesn’t fit.

The truth is the opposite way around. G‑d is all that’s real. To pray demands that you first step out of your highly limited context into a much greater reality.

Try this meditation: Imagine you’re in a cramped hotel room in Manhattan. Rain is beating down on the window, sirens are heard in the distance. Too distant. Your beloved lies on the floor before you, gasping her last breaths. Your knees shiver as you kneel to hold her cold, limp hand. You have words to say, but they just can’t come out.

You pause. Then you stand up and yell, “Cut the lights!”

At which point, the hotel room is no longer a hotel room, the sirens are silenced and the beloved on the floor is no longer dying (nor beloved). An entirely reality dissolves. You turn to the director.

“Look,” you say, “I really respect you as a director and I know it’s your script and your movie. But these lines, this whole scene—it’s really not working. Can we try something a little more hopeful?”

If you’re a real actor you can do that. Because a real actor is capable of living in two realities at once. He’s totally invested in his part in this story. And at the same time, he remembers that he is an actor, and this is a story.

There’s a lot of parallels there with our world. It’s a story. There’s a director. You need to play your part as best you can. But at the same time, you need to be ready to step out of that story at any time into a much wider context, into the realm of the Grand Director, and from there see things as they really are.

Someone once pounced on Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotz and demanded, “Rebbe, where is G‑d?”

To which the rabbi calmly answered, “Wherever you let him in.”

If you’re playing your part in a movie, where is the director/writer/producer in the movie? He’s not a character. He’s not the background. He’s not a prop, or the theme, or the plot. He’s present in all those things. But if you want to speak to him, he’s wherever you let him in.

Now take three steps back, three steps forward, put your feet together, and say the Amidah prayer.1