Excerpted from In the Narrow Places: Daily Inspiration for the Three Weeks, by Erica Brown
Day One: 17 Tammuz
FAST OF SHIVA ASAR B’TAMMUZ
Do we achieve holiness, kedusha, through seeking God or through finding God? To answer this question, we turn to one of our sacred texts. The haftara for Minha, the afternoon service, on a fast day is an excerpt from Isaiah 55. It begins mid-chapter, at verse six and closes in the next chapter, verse eight. It contains some of the most religiously inspiring language in all of prophetic literature.
“Seek God where He can be found. Call to Him while He is near” (Isaiah 55:6). Isaiah offers wise, spiritual advice that is no less applicable to God than it is to all of our relationships. Reach out to God in a place where holiness can be found, when God feels near. Use the fast day as a mechanism for the contraction of the material and physical to create a greater space for the Shekhina, the Divine Presence. The tone of the day invites greater awareness of God. But Isaiah did not utter these words for a fast day; its incorporation into the service was a later adaptation of a text to enhance the day’s emotional demands.
What did the prophet mean when he pronounced these words? Perhaps Isaiah spoke from his awareness that God’s presence was not always apparent during the average working day of an Israelite. Busy with harvesting fields, winnowing on the threshing floor or finding a fertile place to graze sheep, our ancestors could have spent their days preoccupied with the demands of family and making a living, not making a place for God. If this was a challenge for those who worked outside in nature every day, imagine how much greater an obstacle today’s work environment presents to those of us who sit in offices all day. Without creating a clearing for God, a time and place for thinking above and beyond life’s prosaic cares, how can we expect to find Him? If we are not searching, then that which we do not look for can hardly be expected to make itself known. It is like playing hide-and-seek and then not looking. The Kotzker Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Morgensztern (1787–1859) once poignantly remarked, “God is where you let Him in.”
Kavana for the Day:
Seeking is about discovery. Isaiah tells us to seek God where God is to be found. Think about where you might find God. People have a custom to pray and study in a “makom kavua,” a fixed location or place, every day. The idea is that we create spaces that are receptive to spiritual activities, where we have all that we need: the right light, the right balance of privacy and companionship, the right amount of noise or silence to induce spiritual behaviors. Think hard. Where does God seem most apparent in your life? What times and places seem more open and receptive to spiritual seeking and finding? Recreate those times and spaces and make your own makom kavua.
To read the full chapter, see pages 27 through 31 in ‘The Narrow Places’.