God’s Presence is Closer Than You Thought

Note: This article was originally published in 2010.

With four kids, ages seven and under, my husband and I have been exhausted for basically seven years straight. We’ve found that the best way to manage our sleep deprivation is by taking shifts and fortunately, the division of labor comes naturally in our house.

When darkness falls on nights that he has nothing in particular to do, the moment my husband stops moving – and this can literally be while he’s standing – the man will fall asleep. If left alone – and I must confess, I have a hard time leaving him alone if it’s before, say, 9pm – he will fall deeper and deeper asleep until he reaches a land that’s far, far away.

In other words, I take the night shift. This works out well, since the sound of a door opening or a kid coughing is enough to stir me. My nighttime duties these days involve nursing a newborn every couple hours, but also sometimes include rocking a toddler back to sleep, getting medicine for a sick five-year-old, and comforting a seven-year-old with a bad dream.

By the time morning comes, I dread wakefulness, so my dear husband takes over. The morning shift can start as early as 5AM at times. Nowadays it often begins something like this: “Daddy, Mommy, I need yaw help…Mommy, Daddy, I’m stuck.” My husband will then stumble down the hall and open our two-year-old son’s door at which point he’ll declare, “I wanna watch Dora.

During the periods that I’m nursing a baby, my morning sleep is almost always pierced by the distant sound of crying. At that point, I’ll call out to my husband to let him know that I’m awake and that he can bring me the baby.

Many times when this happens the baby is cold to the touch, and there’s nothing I love more than taking my cold, crying baby under my covers and enveloping him in the warmth and the comfort that is his mommy.

While nursing him in bed like this the other day, I started thinking about God’s feminine traits. In Judaism, we believe that God is gender-neutral, but has attributes that we can relate to from both genders.

We talk about God as a King when we try to conjure up images of power and majesty in our relationship with Him. But God has a feminine side as well which we refer to as the Shechinah. The Shechinah is the mother-like presence of God that is said to dwell upon us.

The wording used in conjunction with the Shechinah is usually resting “upon us” or being “spread over us,” which I used to picture as having God’s presence be above us like a ceiling. And to tell you the truth, such imagery has always been a bit disappointing to me.

Don’t get me wrong, to merit having God’s presence as close as my ceiling would be a huge deal, but having God’s presence rest only above me seems to lack the nuturing aspect that I assumed would come along with the maternal side of God.

When I brought my baby into bed the other day, though, I realized that my blankets were “spread over” him and “rested upon” him. Suddenly, my ceiling imagery came crashing down and turned into a warm, enveloping blanket.

The next time we are crying out from one of life’s challenges, may we feel God’s comfort and embrace, like a baby snuggling up close to his mother. And the next time a baby snuggles up close to his mother, may that baby let his mother sleep.

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  • Avatar photo Rebecca says on January 20, 2011

    Oye- you made me tear up- that is beautiful. I am going to share it with everyone!!!

  • Avatar photo Jana says on January 20, 2011

    This was such a lovely post. Thank you. 🙂

  • Avatar photo Elle says on January 20, 2011

    that was beautiful! I have totally teared up.

  • Avatar photo Simone Shapiro says on January 20, 2011

    Beautiful and very insightful.

  • Avatar photo Abby says on January 20, 2011

    That was beautiful and inspiring, thank you for that.

  • Avatar photo Sagol says on January 21, 2011

    Hmm good perspective to point out and remind us. I recently heard a Rabbi say that women are split from man. We came out of them. Your article reminds me if that. What I like and can so relate to is the wisdom that comes about casually in our daily duties of life when we are G-d focused. HE reveals things to us as HE lives in us!

  • Avatar photo Debi says on January 23, 2011

    beautiful! thank you!

  • Avatar photo Lauren says on January 23, 2011

    Amen! Beautiful post. We can totally relate!

  • Avatar photo flora says on October 22, 2012

    We have a chupah cover made for us by family and friends, with little squares contributed, some with images and words. I have been debating putting it on the wall like a tapestry or using it as a bedspread for the daytime. That settles it!

  • Avatar photo Batsheva says on May 19, 2013

    That was so beautiful.

    You should know that there is a specific name for God that relates to the maternal, nurturing aspect, besides Shechinah. El Shaddai is traditionally translated as God Almighty or God of the Mountains, but there is evidence that
    Shaddai was an attribute of a Semitic goddess, linking the name Shaddai with the Hebrew šad meaning “breast”, giving the meaning “the one of the Breast”, as Asherah at Ugarit is “the one of the Womb”. A similar theory is that the name Shaddai is connected to shadayim, the Hebrew word for “breasts”. It may thus be connected to the notion of God’s gifts of fertility to the human race. In several instances in the Torah the name is connected with fruitfulness: “May God Almighty [El Shaddai] bless you and make you fruitful and increase your numbers…” (Gen. 28:3). “I am God Almighty [El Shaddai]: be fruitful and increase in number” (Gen. 35:11). “By the Almighty [El Shaddai] who will bless you with blessings of heaven above, blessings of the deep that lies beneath, blessings of the breasts [shadayim] and of the womb [racham]” (Gen. 49:25).

  • Avatar photo Hannah says on May 26, 2013

    Why do you write out God and not G-d? My orthodox friends usually put g.d or g-d on facebook or email when they type. Just wondering what your take is on this. Thanks for your help 🙂

    • Avatar photo Allison says on May 26, 2013

      Because it’s in English there are those who say you don’t have to do a dash. And since I want the site to be accessible to all who come, regardless of their background, I spell in out. In Hebrew, I wouldn’t write out one of God’s names without a dash!

  • Avatar photo Hannah says on May 26, 2013

    I see. Thank you for your quick response!

  • Avatar photo Jade says on May 29, 2013

    Beautiful post. Thanks for sharing. Exactly what I needed today!

  • Avatar photo Stephanie says on April 25, 2015

    I noticed you were talking about nursing. I know Muslim women have a religious obligation to breastfeed for 2 years. Are Jewish women required to as well?

    • Avatar photo Rabbi Jack Abramowitz says on April 26, 2015

      There’s no obligation to nurse. A woman could choose to bottle-feed if that’s her preference.


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