HOW DO YOU TALK TO GOD?

HOW DO YOU TALK TO GOD?

From Chicken Soup for the Jewish Soul

How Do You Talk to God?

God is near to all who call, to all who call in truth.

Psalms 145:18

When I was a little boy, I thought that my grandmother was God. You see, in Sunday school they taught us that God was very old, older than the whole world, and my grandma was the oldest person I knew. She would sit in a faded yellow, shellback chair in the corner of the room and gaze upon her visitors, and I would sit on the floor in front of her and wonder what she was thinking about up on her throne. The teacher taught us that no one knew what God looked like, but that was just because she hadn’t met my grandmother. God had quiet gray hair that was set in curlers and styled every Tuesday at 9:00 A.M., and thick glasses that allowed her all-knowing eyes to focus on you, and the softest cheeks that you always wanted to nuzzle when you hugged her. God always dressed frumpy, and she wore the same orthopedic shoes forever, probably since she walked across the desert with the twelve tribes. She walked with a cane that I always assumed was the one Moses had turned into that snake that ate Pharaoh’s snakes. That was Grandma’s style after all. No one argued with her because she was always right.

The rabbi taught us in Sunday school that God was wise and knew everything, and that God was respected by the entire world for his wisdom. Well, my grandma knew everything and everybody, even stuff like math, and my whole family came from all over just to seek her advice. She knew what was wrong with people’s marriages and the answer to every question on Jeopardy. No one was smarter than she was. They said God could create anything just by thinking about it. Well, every time we would visit her, I would start getting hungry for her famous meat loaf and blueberry pie. Please, I’d hope as the car moved along the highway, let there be meat loaf and pie at Grandma’s! Don’t you know the first thing she would say to me as I hugged her was, “Your meat loaf and blueberry pie are over on the table. Go eat it while it’s hot.” And I would look over and there it was, just like that! How did she know? To my child’s mind, there was no doubt; Grandma had to be God.

As I got older, I began to appreciate my grandma as a person and not just as God. She was a refined Southern lady who had been one of the founders of her synagogue. She was a pillar of the community, and everyone knew her. We would go to services on Friday night, and she always walked with great dignity to her seat on the third-row aisle. We would follow her down the center of the congregation as all of the folks rose to greet her. “Good Shabbos, Miz Aaron!” “How ya feelin’, Miz Aaron?” “Good to see your family with ya, Miz Aaron!” She would nod her head in greeting to everyone and address them by name. She was one of the oldest members of the shul, and she took great pride in her role there as a community matriarch. Even when she could no longer walk, I would wheel her down the aisle with her head held high and her jaw set firm. Sometimes when we followed Grandma down the big center aisle with everyone rising as we passed, I felt like I was following Moses through the Red Sea.

On one special occasion, though, I truly came to know how both holy and human my grandmother was. I was about six or seven, the age you start to learn the main Hebrew prayers in the Shabbat service. I was so excited to go to shul with my grandma and show her what I had learned in religious school! We took our seats in the congregation and when the services reached the Shema and v’ahavta (Deuteronomy 6:4–9), I excitedly started to sing along with everyone else. I turned to my grandma to show her what I knew and saw her smiling down at me very proudly. But then I also noticed that her lips were not moving; she was not singing along with us but rather humming!

“Grandma,” I whispered, “how come you are not singing along with us?”

“I don’t know the words, dear,” she replied and continued to hum. I was totally amazed. How could this be? How could my wise and all-knowing Grandma not know the words?

“But Grandma,” I said, “the words are right here on the page.”

She smiled at me, one of the few times I remember her smiling. “Dear,” she said, patiently, “I don’t know how to read Hebrew.”

Utter confusion. My little mind almost exploded as it tried to understand what she was saying. My grandma, my Jewish hero, was Jewishly illiterate?

What I did not know then was that women raised in the South in the early part of the century were often not given a Jewish education or taught any Hebrew. It was not a time where a woman’s mind was valued like a man’s, and this woman who founded a synagogue and kept Judaism alive in our family was never given a Jewish education. But as a kid, I couldn’t comprehend any of this; all I knew was that God couldn’t read Hebrew! I leaned over to her and tugged on her sleeve to interrupt her humming. “Grandma! Grandma!”

“Yes, dear?” she whispered.

“If you can’t read the Hebrew in synagogue, how do you talk to God?”

She looked at me with her all-knowing eyes as she reached down to take my face gently in both of her soft, aged hands. She bent down, kissed me on the cheek and whispered into my ear, “Don’t worry, sweetheart, God knows what I’m saying.”

Rabbi Scott Aaron

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