Where is God?
A Hasidic story adapted by Debra Orenstein. This story can also be found in From Generation To Generation by Debra Orenstein and Israel Mowshowitz, page 158. (scroll down to book listing)
A man was going from village to village, from rabbi to rabbi, asking the same question: "Where can I find God?" he was never satisfied with the answers he received, so he would pack his bag and move on to the next village.
Some of the rabbis told him, "Pray, my son, and you'll find God." But the man had tried to pray and he could not.
And some replied, "Study, my child, and you shall find God." But the studies seemed dry and irrelevant. The more he read, the more confused hen became -- and the further removed from God he seemed to be.
And some rabbis said, "Forget your quest, my child. God is within you." But the man had tried to find God within himself, and failed.
One day, the man arrived, weary and discouraged, at a very small village set in the middle of a forest. He went up to a woman who was minding some chickens. She asked whom he could be looking for in such an isolated place, but she did not seem surprised when he told her he was looking for God. She quickly finished her chores and escorted him to the rabbi's house.
When he went in, the rabbi was studying. The man waited a moment, but he was impatient to be off to the next village if he could not be satisfied. So, he interrupted: "Rabbi! How do I find God?"
The rabbi paused, and the man wondered which of the many answers he had already heard the rabbi would give. But the rabbi said simply, "You've come to the right place, my child. God is in this village. Why don't you stay for a few days? You might meet God." The man was puzzled. He did not understand what the rabbi could mean. But the answer was unusual. It intrigued him enough to stay.
For two or three days he explored every corner of the tiny village. He would ask the villagers where God was that day, but they would only smile and invite him to have a meal with them.
Gradually, he got to know them and even helped with some of the village work. Every now and then, by chance, he would see the rabbi, and the rabbi would ask him, "Have you met God yet, my son?" And the man would smile and sometimes he understood, and sometimes he did not understand.
For months he stayed in the village, and then for years. He became part of the village life and shared in all the activities. He went to the synagogue on Friday and prayed with the rest of the community, and sometimes he knew why he prayed and sometimes he did not. And sometimes he really said the prayers and sometimes only the words.
And he would join one of the families for a Friday night meal, and when they talked about God, he was always assured that God was in the village, though no one was quite sure where or when God could be found. Gradually, he, too, began to believe that God was in the village, though he wasn't quite sure where. He knew, though, that sometimes he had met God.
One day, for the first time, the rabbi sought him out, and said, "You have met God now, have you not?" And the man said, "Thank you, Rabbi, I think I have. But I'm not sure why I met God or how or when. And why is God only in this village?"
The rabbi replied: "God is not a person, my child, or a thing. You cannot meet God in that way. You were so caught up in the question that you could not hear the answers. Now that you can find God, you can return to your village, if you wish."
So the man went back to his town, and God went with him.
And the man prayed and studied, and knew that God was within him and within other people. And others sensed that, and sometimes they would ask him, "Where can we find God?" And the man would always answer, "You have come to the right spot. God is in this place."
This is a version of a Hasidic story by Jeffrey Newman which appears in The Assembly of Rabbis of the Reform Synagogues of Great Britain, Forms of Prayers for Jewish Worship: High Holidays. England: Reform Synagogues of great Britain, 1985, p. 16.