In Moses’s farewell address to the Jewish people, he reviews their history and time together and offers them legal guidance for how life will change with a homeland. He also offers warnings lest the moral and spiritual fabric of the covenant become frayed with the temptations and distractions of land ownership.
Moses generally speaks about God as an active presence. It is stunning, therefore, that our verse discusses an elusive God, one who has to be sought out with heart and soul. The God who seems an ever-present barometer of good and bad behaviour suddenly becomes distant and remote.
In Isaiah, we find a similar sentiment: “Seek God where He can be found. Call to Him while He is near” (55:6). Is God far away or is God near? Do we call to God by traversing immense distances or by searching in very particular places “where God can be found”.
The Kotzker Rebbe, Rabbi Menchem Mendel Morgensztern (1787-1859), perhaps inadvertently resolved this theological dilemma with one sweep: “God is where you let Him in.”
Sometimes someone we love is right next to us but immeasurably far at the same time. We extend an invitation for intimacy or block advances with an icy dismissal. We make choices about who and how we let others into our lives. God can only live among us if we allow God to live among us. Many Jews don’t speak about God. In this climate of spiritual restraint, it is hard to find God.
Moses understood a long time ago that the same dilemma would present itself to his people. We still struggle with it today.