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    Dear God, as you read in today’s paper… – Va’et’channan

    What I am going to describe is unlikely to happen in a Jewish context, but it’s a problem just the same.

    It has really happened that, called upon to open a meeting with prayer, a (non-Jewish) minister feeling impelled to sound modern has started a prayer, “Dear God, as You read in the paper this morning…”.

    The nearest Jewish equivalent I can think of is an occasion when Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev called all the townspeople together to the town square and said, “There is an announcement I want to make!”.

    They all thought they were going to hear of some dramatic happening, hopefully good news… but who could tell?

    So they assembled at the appointed place at the appointed hour and the rabbi stood up before them and said, “There is an announcement I want to make! The announcement is… there is a God!”

    He didn’t need to tell God Himself or refer the Almighty to the daily paper; after all, God was well aware of His own existence, and in Berditchev they are not likely to have had any daily papers for God or anyone else to read.

    The Berditchevers were probably rather taken aback and even let down by what the rabbi did say, not because they were unbelievers but because belief in God was so natural that no-one needed to tell them what they already knew for certain. So why all the fuss and drama?

    Levi Yitzchak probably meant to say, “Don’t just rely on the Bible and the Siddur to tell you there is a God – look around and above, look into your own hearts, ponder on your own lives, and that way the Almighty will not only be the God of your fathers but your own God too!”

    Any modern rabbi would say the same, but with two differences – his audiences and his source references.

    His audiences are not going to be all religious people but people who often need persuading. His source references are not going to be what happens around and above us and in our own hearts and lives; the rabbi today will not tell God to read the paper but he will tell his audiences to watch the news and to study world events.

    They will discover ample bad news, but they will also see amazing evidence of God working directly and indirectly in human deeds and achievements. Heeding the rabbi’s advice, many will feel impelled to echo the words of the Shema in this week’s Torah reading and say, “Hear, O Israel! There is a God, one, unique God!”

    What does “Hear, O Israel” mean? It means, “Gather together: there is an announcement I want to make… There is a God!”

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