——– The experience welled out of me.
To answer our question, we need to read a captivating memoir from Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik. He describes his emotions upon seeing the Baltic Sea for the first time in his life:
I was born in Russia and never saw a major body of water in my youth… I remember that the water was blue, deeply blue. From afar it looked like a blue forest…
When I came close and realized it was the Baltic Sea, I was overwhelmed by its beauty. Spontaneously, I began to recite the Tehillim (Psalm 104), “Barchi Nafshi es Hashem (Bless my soul, God…).”
I did not plan to do this. Yet the words flowed from my lips… “There is the sea, vast and wide.” It was a religious reaction to viewing the majesty of God’s creation.
When I recited the blessing upon seeing the sea, I did so with emotion and deep feeling. I deeply experienced the words of the blessing: “Oseh Maaseh Bereishis” (Blessed is He who wrought creation). Not all the blessings that I recite are said with such concentration.
It was more than simply a blessing; it was an encounter with the Creator. I felt that the Divine Presence was hidden in the darkness and vastness of the sea. The experience welled out of me.
Rabbi Soloveitchik expresses the difference between believing in God on an intellectual level and experiencing the emotional state of “awe of Heaven.” The danger of pure intellectual belief is that it can become cold and academic. The belief can just sit in one’s head, and not have any influence on a person’s life. Ideally, belief is meant to influence our entire lives.
In the experience he shared with us, the Rabbi was blessed with an integrated intellectual and emotional experience. He clearly knew that God existed, and he felt God when experiencing His majestic and mysterious world.