Making G-d a Verb
How do miracles happen? And what do they have to do with nouns and verbs? In this workshop we’ll look at how to make miracles in your own life by turning nouns into verbs and taking action! Jewishly, we’ll look at the big idea of G-d, and how and why to turn this very important noun into a verb too, inspired by Rabbi Harold Schulweis (z"l) of Valley Beth Shalom in Los Angeles. In the kitchen, you’ll learn the importance of taking matters into your own hands, rather than relying on someone or something else to bring you sustenance.
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TASTE OF THE STORY
What's the difference between a noun and a verb...and how does that actually affect our everyday lives?
What is a noun?
What is a verb?
How can we change a noun into a verb?
What changes about our experience of that word when it turns from a noun into a verb?
When we take action, we claim ownership of our lives.
Rabbi Schulweis (z"l) taught that rather than wait for G-d to make miracles, we need to take on that responsibility– Thus turning G-d from a noun to a verb. Essentially, becoming more G-d-like.
Before we can turn that noun into a verb, let’s take a look at the noun "G-d."
First, let’s touch base for a moment about how Judaism thinks about G-d. It’s important to keep in mind that G-d is such a huge, vast idea that in Judaism not everyone agrees exactly how to define G-d for themselves or each other, and different communities will talk about G-d in different ways.
Even in our ancient Jewish texts, G-d does not have one single name. In different circumstances, G-d has different names based on how G-d is teaching us, giving us something, helping us, or protecting us. We use these different names, faces, and metaphors to feel a deeper connection to a greater presence that’s really hard to define or name.
While this can certainly be confusing, it also is a wonderful example of how inclusive Judaism can be. There is even a story about an atheist who came up to his town’s rabbi and said, “I don’t believe in G-d.” The rabbi responded, “You know what, I don't believe in that G-d either.” The rabbi is telling the atheist in this story that G-d doesn’t have to look or be the way that the atheist is imagining. Instead, the rabbi is encouraging the atheist to think about other ways they may be connected to a greater power in their everyday life. So, what are some of the many ways that ancient Jewish texts talk about G-d?
Explore some of God's many names below. How does each of these metaphors help us feel more connected to the idea of God?
"Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh"
A midrashic text dated to the Talmudic era points out how G-d “appeared to Israel at the Red Sea as a mighty man waging war” and later, at Mount Sinai as a teacher, and “appears to them in the days of Daniel as an elder teaching Torah, and in the days of Solomon appeared to them as a young man.” This text concludes: “The fact is, Rabbi Chiyyah bar Abba said, that G-d appeared to them in a guise appropriate to each and every place and time.” (Pesikta de Rav Kahana (12:24)
“A guise appropriate to each and every place and time.” This midrash, or story, suggests that when we need someone to cheer us on, G-d will be that for us. When we need someone to tell us that we did something wrong and need to fix our mistake, G-d will be that for us. All of the support we need, in all its different forms, can be examples of G-d--a presence greater than ourselves.
So let’s go back to our question of how and why we would turn the noun G-d into a verb.
Rabbi Harold Schulweis says that rather than wait for G-d to make miracles, we need to take on that responsibility– in this way we can turn G-d into an action, a verb. He calls the act of turning G-d from a noun to a verb “Predicate Theology,” the practice which helps us become more “G-d like.”
When you turn something into a verb you add in that “-ing.” So, that means here that we are “G-ding.” What does that mean?! Rather than sitting around waiting for physical signs of G-d, Rabbi Schulweis prefers people take matters into their own hands. Miracles can and do occur every day and everywhere because G-d is within each one of us.
This means that all of these names and faces of G-d don’t just allow us to have a deeper understanding of G-d, they can also help us have a deeper understanding of ourselves and each other. No one human can represent all the aspects of the divine. Instead, different people can act like different aspects of the divine, and by giving G-d so many names, it allows us to recognize the different but equally divine sparks in each of us.
Can you think of any examples?
Can you think of a time when a friend showed you mercy or compassion? Maybe they offered you comfort when you were having a hard day, or forgave you for doing something wrong. In those moments, they were being G-d-like, by representing Rachamana, the Merciful One, in that moment.
What about when a camp counselor or a teacher helped you feel safe and secure by laying out clear rules and guidelines for a project or how to act in community? That's channeling Melech, or King, as someone who lays out rules to help us live our best lives.
Ok, so how can we “G-d”? What does making G-d a verb, or “G-d-ing” look like in our daily lives?
Whenever you step up and become part of the process of making the world a better place and inciting change, that’s when you are “G-d ing.”
Here’s a story that demonstrates the power of “G-d-ing”:
A family wakes up on Friday morning. They open the fridge, but they already know what they will find there… not much of anything. The caregivers in this family recently lost their jobs and are struggling to put food on the table. However, later in the afternoon, they are able to stop by a local Jewish food pantry called SOVA, that provides nutritious groceries and warm meals to those in need. On Friday night, they are able to celebrate their Shabbat as a family with challah, and soup, and a warm dinner.
What do you think they say? “It’s a ______!”
“It’s a miracle.” But did G-d look down from heaven and point a finger at their table and make that meal happen? No, just like the example of food on your table growing up being provided by your family, this food had to come from someone’s work. In this case, the people who donated money and food to SOVA and the SOVA staff supported this family and provided this meal when they otherwise would not have had food to eat. That’s making G-d a verb, that’s making the miracle.
So, miracles and “G-ding” can be big or small. Not just red seas splitting or even feeding a family. Just like you sometimes need support-- a teacher, a cheerleader, or a friend-- other people in your life do, too. We can make G-d into a verb in our everyday actions. If you see your friend is having a bad day, you choose to give them a hug, and that brings a smile to their face-- that’s a miracle! What if you see someone being bullied? You stand up to the bully and more importantly you make friends with the person being bullied. Because when they go home that night they’re going to say, “I have a friend tonight that I didn’t have this morning,” and you’re going to change someone’s life. That’s “G-ding,” that’s a miracle!
Jewishly, we have the opportunity to make G-d a verb both in our everyday lives and when celebrating holidays. Some of the most well-known Jewish values are tikkun olam and tzedakah (and we even dedicate entire workshops to each of these values to explore them more deeply!). Literally translated as “repair the world,” tikkun olam means looking around us and seeing what needs to be fixed--and then fixing it. Maybe that means the plants in your backyard that need watering. Maybe that means your friend that needs a hug. Tzedakah can include monetary donations, time volunteering, or other ways you bring justice into the world. In both cases, by integrating these Jewish values into your everyday life, you are turning G-d into a verb.
Even though many of our Jewish holidays celebrate something to do with our relationship with G-d, there is also room in our holiday celebrations to make G-d a verb! Let’s look at two examples where we learn about people who noticed something that wasn’t right and worked to make it right, making a miracle themselves in the process. In the story of Hanukkah, the Maccabees turned G-d into a verb and made their miracle of winning the war and rededicating the Temple to the Jewish people. And in the story of Purim, Esther turned G-d into a verb by making the miracle of saving the Jewish people of Shushan from destruction. And actually, Purim is one of the only stories, if not the only story, in the Tanakh that doesn’t ever explicitly refer to G-d, but G-d is still present through the actions of Esther as she saves her people.
So, If you’re ever given Tzedakah, donated food or clothing, or just helped to make someone else's life better, you’ve helped make the miracle! You’ve turned G-d into a verb in your everyday life. And next time you celebrate Hanukkah or Purim, you can also celebrate how the brave Maccabees and Esther made their own miracles, and then channel their energy into your life!
RECIPE: Sweet Potato Mac and Cheese
Connection to the Recipe:
We already know that cooking is all about taking action! Today’s recipe is the very first recipe that Chef Danny taught Chef Zoey that she could make on her own. Rather than waiting for dinner to magically happen, Chef Zoey, and now you, can make it happen by other means. This recipe is also really action-packed! Sometimes the way we show love and care is in the actions that we do, and this mac and cheese is full of loving actions--Rather than simply boiling water and stirring in a cheese powder, you’ll chop and caramelize sweet potatoes, mince garlic, whisk your cheese sauce together, and maybe even shred if you’re using fresh cheese!
- 1 large sweet potato, cut into small cubes
- 3 tablespoon - extra-virgin olive oil
- 4 cups elbow macaroni
- 2 cloves - garlic, finely minced
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 4 tablespoons - flour
- 1/2 teaspoon - salt
- 1/8 teaspoon - freshly ground black pepper
- 3 cups - half-and-half (*For a lower fat option, use regular/skim milk!!)
- 1 3/4 cups – shredded cheddar cheese (sharp or mild, your choice)
- 1/2 cup - Asiago cheese, shredded (can use Parmesan as well)
Optional topping ingredients (instructions below)
- 1- Tbsp Olive Oil
- ¼ Cup Panko breadcrumbs
- ¼ cup shredded cheddar cheese
- Add one Tbsp of salt to a large pot of water and bring it to a boil. Add macaroni (or whatever pasta you are using). Cook until al dente, drain and set aside.
- Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat; add sweet potatoes and cook, flipping occasionally, until they develop a caramelized crust (about 5 minutes).
- In the same pot as the sweet potatoes, over low heat, combine butter and the rest of the olive oil and then add the minced garlic.
- Add flour and stir to combine.
- Cook, stirring constantly for 2-3 minutes.
- Increase the heat to medium, add in salt and pepper, and, with a wooden spoon or wire whisk, gradually add the half & half or milk.
- Bring to a boil while continuously stirring.
- Reduce heat, and then simmer for 1 minute.
- Stir 1 3/4 cup Shredded Cheddar Cheese and 1/2 cup Asiago cheese until melted and smooth.
- Add in cooked pasta and stir, adding more liquid if needed. Once completely combined, serve hot with a parmesan garnish!
OR TAKE IT TO THE NEXT LEVEL BY FOLLOWING THE INSTRUCTIONS BELOW:
To go the extra mile (and it’s worth it, believe us), pour the mac and cheese mixture into a buttered (or sprayed) casserole dish, sprinkle a bread crumb topping (instructions below) on top and bake until golden brown, crunchy and bubbly!
To make topping: Combine 1 tablespoon olive oil, ¼ cup panko bread crumbs, 1/4 cup shredded Cheddar Cheese, and 1/4 cup Asiago cheese in a small mixing bowl. Stir until well combined. Sprinkle on top of mac and cheese. Bake for 25 min at 350 degrees, or until the cheese is bubbly and the topping is golden brown. Serves 8.