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Know before Whom you stand...

Tevet 24, 5769

Chagall Detail

Da Lifnei mi atah Omed

Humility and Awareness

by John J. Parsons

Know before whom you stand

KNOW BEFORE WHOM YOU STAND

BLAISE PASCAL ONCE SAID there are two kinds of people: saints who know they're sinners, and sinners who think they're saints. Pride is the deadliest sin because it fundamentally distorts reality. When we awaken to the truth of God's presence, we necessarily draw back in humility. The two go hand in hand. Despite the clamor of our egos, we are not the center of the universe, after all...

In many synagogues there's a powerful statement displayed on the doors of Aron Ha-Kodesh (the holy ark in which are kept the Torah scrolls) that says, da lifnei mi attah omed – "Know before whom you stand." Though not a direct quotation from the Scriptures, the idea comes from Moses' "burning bush" experience of the LORD in the wilderness of Midian (Exod. 3:5). In a synagogue setting, da lifnei mi attah omed reminds us to have a reverent and focused attitude while attending services. We should be filled with respectful awe over the presence of God, especially when we approach the Torah, the Word of God.

Note, however, that such a distinction between the sacred and the profane is somewhat artificial, since we are always in the presence of God (Acts 17:28) and the whole earth is filled with God's glory (Isa. 6:3). We should always be aware that everything we say, think, and do is before the divine audience of the Living God Himself (Acts 24:16). If we do not sense the Divine Presence in our lives, we must test ourselves: "God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble" (James 4:6).

Since the LORD is infinite, the distinctions we make (as finite creatures) in terms of time and space do not apply to Him. God infinitely transcends all of creation and He alone is holy (2 Chron. 2:6; 1 Kings 8:27; Isa. 55:8-9; Psalm 97:9). But God's infinite presence also means He "fills the heavens and the earth" (Isa. 6:3; Jer. 23:24). The whole earth is lit up with God's glory, and every bush is aflame before us -- if we have eyes to see.

Though God is infinitely above us, He is not "remote" from us, nor are the very angels in heaven any "closer" to Him than you are right now. As the Jesus said, "your Heavenly Father knows the number of hairs upon your head" (Matt. 10:30). We can "draw near" to God by humbling ourselves and opening our eyes to the truth about reality.

May God help us all awaken to His presence today.

Hebrew-English Transliteration:

Hebrew Transliteration

da lifnei mi attah omed

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