Every night at bedtime we recite the Sh’ma with the children.
(The Sh’ma is a verse from Deuteronomy that expresses the central tenet of Judaism: “Hear, o Israel, Adonai is our God, Adonai is One.” When we recite it, we cover our eyes with our hand so that we are not distracted from our declaration of faith (although I’ve heard it said in some Liberal Jewish congregations that since the first word of the declaration is “hear”, covering our eyes allows us to focus our senses on hearing about the oneness of God.))
So there we were last night, reciting Sh’ma, Mr. December with K on her bed and I in the rocking chair with N. As I sang the words (eyes covered, of course) I heard N begin to giggle. The giggle turned into a chortle. When I finished reciting and uncovered my eyes, his whole face lit up in glee.
What on earth was that about? Is my baby boy just so happy to hear that there’s only one God? Of course not. It only took me a second to realize: he thinks I’m playing peek-a-boo with him.
And that got me thinking, in my non-linear way, about covering our eyes during the Sh’ma. I get (and agree with) the traditional reason for doing it. But what if there’s another message there?
In a literal sense, when we close our eyes, we can’t see. We’re reciting a statement of faith, and reinforcing the fact that it’s faith and not something visible. We can’t see God, and yet we affirm God’s oneness. In a broader sense, there are plenty of people who have professed that they can’t see God’s work in our world anymore. “Where is God? Where was God?” become mantras when disaster and tragedy strike.
The Baal Shem Tov (google him if you must) is credited with saying, “The world is full of wonders and miracles, but man takes his little hand and covers his eyes and sees nothing.”
I love that quotation (or at least the sentiment behind it), and it feels somehow related to my musings on the Sh’ma. Perhaps all of life is a game of Cosmic peek-a-boo. When we were really new to the universe, God stood revealed to us pretty much all the time. Prophecy was alive and well. But as we become a bit older and wiser, and God begins to hide for a time, we become disoriented and despondent. We don’t understand how object permanence applies to God – so if we can’t see God, God must not exist. Then God is revealed again, and we coo and giggle with delight: we’re not alone after all! But the game continues, with God hiding and then being revealed. Perhaps one day, everyone will have learned what my baby already knows about peek-a-boo: The one who is hiding still exists. And maybe we’ll even learn, as N has, to anticipate God’s unveiling with joy and laughter.
Until that time, I’ll have our bedtime ritual to remind me – thanks to a ten-month-old baby.