The Landscape of Revelation

Shemot By :  Eitan Fishbane Associate Professor of Jewish Thought Posted On Jan 2, 2016 / 5776 | דבר אחר | A Different Perspective | Natural World

Our age is retrospective. It builds the sepulchres of the fathers. . .The foregoing generations beheld God and nature face to face; we, through their eyes. Why should not we also enjoy an original relation to the universe? Why should not we have a poetry and philosophy of insight and not of tradition, and a religion by revelation to us, and not the history of theirs?…

To go into solitude, a man needs to retire as much from his chamber as from society. I am not solitary whilst I read and write, though nobody is with me. But if a man would be alone, let him look at the stars. The rays that come from those heavenly worlds, will separate between him and what he touches. . .The stars awaken a certain reverence, because though always present, they are inaccessible…

Not the sun or the summer alone, but every hour and season yields its tribute of delight; for every hour and change corresponds to and authorizes a different state of the mind… Crossing a bare common, in snow puddles, at twilight, under a clouded sky, without having in my thoughts any occurrence of special good fortune, I have enjoyed a perfect exhilaration. . .In the woods, we return to reason and faith. . . .Standing on the bare ground—my head bathed by the blithe air, and uplifted into infinite space—all mean egotism vanishes. I become a transparent eye-ball; I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or particle of God.

 —R. W. Emerson, “Nature” (1836)

It is in the wilderness that the voice of God calls out to Moses—in the desert, in the vast expanse of nature’s simplicity: it is amid the solitude of the shepherd, the contemplative soul, the man haunted by the shadows of his past. The miraculous burning bush, unconsumed—mystery and marvel in that desert terrain, the supernatural wonder erupting within the ordinary. Here natural space is transfigured in revelation; the mundane recast as the Indwelling of Divinity.

“Remove your sandals from your feet,” God says to Moses, “for the place on which you stand is holy ground.” It is sacred as the place in which the Divine is first revealed to Moses, as the mountain to which he will return with the people of Israel to receive the Torah (har haElohim ḥorevah). The solitude of Moses’s wandering is not incidental to the mystical experience of the burning bush, and it is that aloneness within the mystery and wonder of Nature that frames the prophet’s opening into the sublime.

But the ethical urgency of his vocation is also inseparable from that powerful individual moment of revelation; for he is called to be God’s instrument of redemption, to alleviate the suffering of the Israelite slaves in Egypt. Spiritual cultivation is inextricable from moral application. Though he is initiated into the divine encounter in the spiritual solitude of nature, Moses must overcome his fear and insecurity in order to ease the suffering of the enslaved. I am the God of your fathers, God says to a frightened Moses. Each of us carry the blessings and burdens of our forbears, the commanding power of the past.

But God is also Ehyeh, as revealed to Moses—the Divine I Am / I Will Be of all existence; the God of Becoming who envelops all time—past, present, and future—into the One of all Being. In that moment, as Emerson put it, “the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or particle of God.” God as I Will Be is the immediacy of sacred Presence and the forward-looking hope of redemption and healing.