Face & Being (Why We Don’t Live-Stream Ceremony)

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On account of the snow storm and the frigid New York temperatures, we will not meet in the flesh tonight, for the first Shabbat of the year, instead The New Shul will host our first ever live-stream Shabbat jam “here” at 630pm. As “new” as we are though, we don’t live-stream our services on account of spiritual principles – the tenets of presence. I meditated on ‘presence’ last night, from the Latin praesse, to be before, at hand.
 

What is presence? What are its tenets? Can one be present digitally?
 

Hebrew is often a map to spiritual truths; secrets of being hidden away in the language, its antiquity a storehouse of human experience. My mind’s searching did not yield a word for ‘presence,’ rather two – panim [face] and heyut [being]. What is presence? Presence is face and being.

 

We begin a new book of the Torah this week – Exodus; this week’s portion tells the story of the first encounter between God and Moses. Coincidentally, or not, ‘face’ and ‘being’ are the centerpiece of their first exchange. When God appears to Moses at the burning bush, Moses hides his face away, because he is afraid of seeing God’s face. Later, when Moses asks after God’s name, God answers, “I will be.”

 
The commentators diverge in their interpretation of the story. Some say Moses behaved with respect, and because he did not look, one day he would speak with God ‘face to face.’ Others say, because of his rudeness Moses was told, ‘I wanted to be with you, but you didn’t wish to be with me. Now you wish to see me, but I don’t wish to be seen – No human being shall see my face and live.’

 

Realized together, the variations in this story compose the tenets of presence, physical or digital, with human beings and God.

 

Being present with other human beings necessitates a convergence of physicality and desire. Not only do we need to be in the same place at the same time, both parties must also wish to be seen. When one wishes to be seen and the other does not, we have being but not face, or we have face but not being – both are necessary. And though some of the commentators give these words to God, they are far more reflective of human-to-human exchanges. We are the supreme temperamental creature. (The lesson … be mindful of when you wish to be seen.)

 

In fact, presence with God, abides by dissimilar principles. The rabbis ask, what does it mean, “I will be?” They answer, “If you come and visit my house, I will visit your house. Wherever you call my name, I will come to you and bless you.” In the language of the master Christian mystic Meister Eckhart, when we create spaciousness within ourselves, God’s presence cannot help from rushing to fill that hallowed vacuum. If we show God face and being, God will always return the favor. (The lesson … to have a spiritual experience one must take the time to visit God’s house, bearing Bundt cake, face and being).

 

For this reason, aside from tonight, we don’t live-stream. The medium is incapable of conveying the whole of both face and being. Live-streaming a ceremony then, conveys the unspoken message that ceremony is possible even with grave lapses in face and being – this is not the case. This ain’t show business, it’s ceremony! Nonetheless, we’ll test the limits of the medium tonight; see you at 630pm (or so).

 

Shabbat Shalom,
 
Rabbi Zach Fredman

 

ps – I am thrilled to announce the release of The Epichorus’ second studio album, NAJARA, to be released by Sawdust Records, on February 1st. Check out the story behind the record, get an advance copy, or bring the band to your living room …
 

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