“In God We Trust” Engraved in Stone

After much politicking by the Congressional Prayer Caucus, the words “In God We Trust” are now engraved in big gold … Continued

After much politicking by the Congressional Prayer Caucus, the words “In God We Trust” are now engraved in big gold letters at the Capitol Visitor Center. Good or bad, it got me thinking about what it is we supposedly trust God for. As far as I can tell, historically the term refers to our trust in God’s protection of our nation. But what does it mean for a nation to be protected by God?

The upcoming Jewish holiday of Sukkot, a week-long celebration beginning at sundown this Friday, is quite instructive in answering that question. The holiday, known to many Christians as Tabernacles, goes all the way back to the Hebrew Bible. Exodus 23:16 and Deuteronomy 16:13 describe it as an Israelite Thanksgiving (but without the turkey), while Leviticus 23:42-43 describes it as an exercise in collective memory — telling all future generations to spend a week living in sukkot, huts, to remember how their ancestors lived in huts as they made the 40 year journey from slavery in Egypt to freedom in the Promised Land.

The sukkah itself is temporary structure, usually constructed with wooden or soft fiber walls, and is traditionally used for all meals during the week of the holiday. In warm climates, many people even sleep in their sukkot, making it their home as much as possible for the week.

But how does any of that help us understand what it means for a nation to be protected by God? The answer depends upon how one understands what it means to sit in a sukkah.

According to the Talmud, there are two distinct possibilities. One view is that Jews recreate today a version of the actual huts in which the Israelites lived long ago. On this view, the holiday celebrates that we can always find some protection along the way and that, even if the journey is long, we will eventually get there. The second understanding in the Talmud says that the huts of today recall the “Clouds of Glory” (think Spielberg’s “Prince of Egypt” or DeMille’s “Ten Commandments”) in which the Israelites lived — that God actually housed people in the protective presence of God’s self.

Amazingly, or perhaps not, it is this mystical understanding which is recorded as the normative view and is the one which guides how contemporary sukkot are built. The Sukkah of today is a vision brought to life, of what it means to experience Divine protection. And the defining feature of this construction is that it must have a leaky roof!

That’s right, according to the laws of sukkah-building as recorded in the Jewish legal codes, for a sukkah to be a sukkah its roof must be able to allow rain in and those inside to see the stars above. In other words, Divine protection is many things, but it does not insulate us from every undesirable thing in the world, nor does it blind us to the beauty of those things which lie beyond it.

The sukkah celebrates being protected but not behind impenetrable walls. It reminds us that permeability is actually a good thing as long as there is not too much vulnerability. Even a divinely protected nation will have its rainy days, and even if God is providing the cover, its citizens are going to get wet from time to time. I wonder if those who lobbied so hard for the new inscription at the Capitol Visitor Center think of trust in Divine protection that way.


Brad Hirschfield An acclaimed author, lecturer, rabbi, and commentator on religion, society and pop culture, Brad Hirschfield offers a unique perspective on the American spiritual landscape and political and social trends to audiences nationwide.
  • Carstonio

    The phrase does not belong on the Capitol Visitor Center in the first place, because it amounts to an unconstitutional endorsement of one-god religions over other religions. It also does not belong on our money, and “one nation under God” does not belong in the Pledge of Allegiance. Our government must take no position on whether gods exist and how many gods may exist.

  • ccnl1

    Replacing the word god with the words Mother/Father Nature would be a better choice. Or one could view the word god as simply words for Mother/Father Nature. Problem solved!!!

  • cyber-man

    Mr. B. H.:Interesting. If “AMERICAN” (or is “IT” English?) the International Lingofrcatina/o of ‘BUSINESS’ on S.S. Earth; THENthe word “G-D” (not with “O”, but an Underscore or hyphen instead) is or should be Internationally comprehended. YETthe word “IT” ; i.e., “IN IT WE TRUST” makes the best to appease ALL, EVEERY & ANY Faith. The current (Chissled) spelling “GOD” was is a waist & Un-SECULAR! Atleast SECULARist Nationals can agree to “IT”.- Have a nice ShaBIZ!

  • Carstonio

    “Replacing the word god with the words Mother/Father Nature would be a better choice. Or one could view the word god as simply words for Mother/Father Nature.”What good would that do? It would simply replace one religious concept with another. Hirschfield seems to assume that nations or societies have relationships with deities. That goes against the principle of individual religious conscience – whatever religious beliefs you hold shouldn’t be the concern of your society or your government.

  • cyber-man

    Oooooppss. The, “G-D is an “IT” Revolution is comming.WE [i] the “IT” generations , aka “HUe{MATE”s art the “FUTURE-BOUND” & “SPACE-FORTH” thinker & inheriters of S.S. Earth & Beyond; not Jerusalem; not Mecca, Rome, Delhi… But via the A-M-E-R-i-C-A-N New Song {OUR Cosmic Religion]!Note; “IT” Means “G-D”Almighty, Lord, Hashem.. by manymanymany names & nomore by 99 names or 1000 names is&was never a “HE” nor a “SHE”]. THIS (Awareness/Thinking) is OUR real “MANNA-KARMA/UMMA not just some magical mushrooms” & fantacy Pre-Electric & JINN stories growing out of deserts!WE [i] Despise JEALOUS god(s) & their Fearing JEALOUS People; WE fight against World APATHY, Local hyper/stag-flation etc..! WE are not godly Jealous nor fear such tent-dwellers SuperStupidStitious stories via their biblio Characters” [Dead or Alive]. Living in tents w/GODs & their ANGELs stories. [Zero genuine SCIENCE; zero OUR-REALITY].A long long time ago; as a Holiday, “SUKKOT” turned Us-All-Off [We are JOK{TANian EBERU's not PELEGians] because it always reminds the World of a Fugitive-People (of mixed-Multitudes; aka mostly NON-JEWS) via their Stories. Another Example: “PASSOVER” turns Us-Off because it reveals to the World that a ‘fugitive’ people (w/out a Nation) rejoice thier (not OUR) MASS-1st-Born-BABY-MURDERES Celebrations! The Religious should respect Us “SECUALR”ists on S.S. Earth; Because PRE-APOCALYPTIC celebrations [Born in the PISCES-AGE; Not Fit for this AquariUS-age] ; Being proud of a “Terrorist” invader of CANNites (aka Low Lifes From Low Lands; aka Pali’s now), but excused via some god’s wish/command/Scary Miracle acts..; is soo so Mishiganah! So PRE-Apocalyptic instead of APOCALYPTIC like Us! PS: Modernizing Ye WAR-BLESSINGs CHUMASH or the other Jealous copy cat’s BIBLE & copy cat QURAN & Modernizing Ye GEETA or other jealous copy cat’d KAGYUR & TANGYURS.. Will never be fit for the up-coming Holy-COSMIC AQUARIOUS-AGE! Note: most of these religo folks are Wikipediaing their Evil but Jealous way to make thir Philosophy better than the Others; or as if same? SoFrom OLD, commeth NEW! Behold; The “Religion of Everything before the Science of everything” is OUR PROPHECY coming TRUE (opposite MYTH)!Ooooppss. REALITY: WE [i] art “NATURALLY SELECTion’d” and no longer as if “god(s) Chosen People” via the most Evil Story ever told: the Drunkin [Racist] NOAH Storie of the PANTHEON of god-Players; Includes; Rabbi MOSES, Rabbi JESUS, Immam MUHAMMAD, Swami VYASA, Guru GAUTAMA… Stories desquised as philosophy & as if Truth (opposite Myth)!

  • US-conscience

    there is also another meaning one can and should glean for the feast of tabernacles ( or sukkah ) 1. Gods people are sojourners, aliens, pilgrims, visitors… not citizens of this world but citizens of another. Like someone taking a trip to Hawaii, but the plane has a stop in LAX. LA is a nice place to visit, but its not the final destination. To the true people of God, we are not at our final destination, we are living in temporary tents (sukkah’s)I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes–I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me! JOB 19:25-27

  • CalSailor

    The courts have said that because of the history of its use in the US, “in God we trust” is so devoid of actual meaning that it is essentially no longer religious. That is why it is not unconstitutional to display it on our currency, etc. That being said, the members of Congress who have demanded it be placed in the visitors center do NOT accept this judgment. They fully intend it to mean the Christian God, because they believe that ours is a Christian nation, and that only as a Christian nation can we justify the hyper-patriotism that is coming to the surface.So, for the rest of us: Is it an artifact of our history, and therefore non-offensive to anyone? Or, is it a defiant slap at the non-Christians who have come to this country: You are welcome, but please, leave your religion at the door. How you understand this question is how you deal with this issue. Unfortunately, from the verbage of the last few years, I’d guess it’s the latter. In which case, how do we who are Christian, respond?Pr Chris

  • ccnl1

    Hmmm, how about “In the USA Taxpayer We Trust”?? Where would we be without us???

  • PSolus

    It is as meaningless as saying “god bless you” after a person sneezes.

  • Carstonio

    “The courts have said that because of the history of its use in the US, ‘in God we trust’ is so devoid of actual meaning that it is essentially no longer religious.”Can you provide a citation? I would say that the courts are wrong in that case, because the concept of gods is a religious one and “God” is a proper name.

  • cyber-man

    US-CONSCIENCE:As a PRE-APOCALYPTARi-ON, Did you really say, “GODs people” (who pray to their Judeo-Abe or Judeo-Vedic gods) are … “not citizens of this world but citizens of another”? Please do-not include Us APOCALYPTARI-ON Nationals.Note: WE [i] EKLAHTi-ON(s) (not HUMAN anymore, but HUe{MATE(s) now) hath the “RELIGION OF EVERYTHING” already, given to US by the “PHOTON LIGHT BRINGER Of THe APOCALYPSE” in AMERICA, N.Y., and art ALL & each Unique but ALL are “Automatic Born CITIZEN’s/DENiZENs” of blesseth S.pace S.hip Earth(s) of manymanymany! And Unlike ye PRE-Apocalyptarian Nationals, that WE APOCALYPT-arians, was Never Created nor can WE [Us Eklahti-ON's] ever be destroyed. “IT”s Justly to be GOOD, not unjustly BAD! Very Simple; nothing Complicated. WE WORSHIP REALITY; not the After-Life like ye! REALiTY check via SENSES faculty’s: OUR blesseth ,NEBULA-Built, Holyi Cosmic SUN & Solar System , OUR miracle in Motion (not Yours) is thee H-E-A-V-E-N’s WORLD! Not HELL World, not [biblio] Heaven WORLD. Is ye GODs really a “HE” or a “HIM” (instead of now being, as Miracle awareness, as OUR “IT” for ALL to Enjoy while , seeing “IT” here now lasts)? Are You talking about Seeing, Touching & living with HIM or HE? in the After Life via PERGATORY? Why don’t you come-out and say your “HE” Don’t be Ambiguous or sneakily omitting HIM = JESUS (Ye Polytheo gods of many) or HIM = FATHER or SHE = MOTHER or HOLY GHOST = as if Them All?!So, when Ye are redeemed; who will you see besides Us physical-Born Aliens [BIO-FINITE(s)], THEM invisibles ghosts? Note: WE art, a ‘For Profit” yet for Prophet RELIGION/ORG! LIFE (aka LOVE; not sex) is too too precious to waist. Secret (opposite REVELation): When WE [i] EKLAHTi-ON’s, briefly get turned OFF, that [i] again will “PLASMATRICULATE” towards the “NON-GRAVITY-PLACE” again, waiting what is almost Eternity but for another Holy Cosmic DUE-TO-BE placement (on other Planets) Miracle/Momentuum via the MAGMAPERCOLATUION EFFECt & then, pre-blessethly, Crawling out of “IT”s [EKLAHTi's Song] Holyi OCEANIC-MEGAPLUME-WOMB Reality. Hint: We appear, in Miracle, never via Sin! Hence Why VEDICs & ABRAHAMIC folks want to Escape their sineth/curseth Birth/Realitys; but want to take our blesseth reality & Philosophy , rehashing them as if be their own now improved religion, away from Us NATURALLY SELECTED (not gods Chosen people) via someone elses godly Jealousy & godly Fears. Important: we appear in the miraculous 4th Dimention of 9-Holyi ones via our Immortal-Holyi-TEMPerature-FREQUENCies as We ALL Carbon-basely TRANS{FINIZE in “IT”s elegence ! So LIFE to LIVE = LOVE (not Sex as if be LOVE)!UN-CONSCIENCE sound more like you “HIM” or “HE” or “SHE” gods Lovers; instead of Us “IT” Lovers of TRUTH (opposite MYTH) aka RELITY on a Holyi Cosmic Move, a miracle in holy (unstoppable) motion! Can Ye F-E-E-L “IT”?

  • ccnl1

    May the gods bless the USA taxpayers!!!!

  • CalSailor

    Carstonio:The court that said the phrase that “in God we trust” is basically a cultural phrase that has been so stripped of meaning over the years was, I believe, in the 9th Circuit, over the issue of the man a year or two ago who sued to get “under God” removed from the Pledge of Allegiance. There have been several attempts to get the phrase “in God we trust” from money, etc., in the phrase in the Pledge have both failed as being less religious than cultural artifacts of history. In other words, sort of a “familiarity breeds contempt” sort of thing.If anyone with more legal education than I can find the citation(s), I’d appreciate it.This is the sort of debate we’ve had in a variety of guises over the last decade and more. How far do we go down the “lowest common denominator” in prayer and other religious expressions, before the denominator is so low as to be meaningless.In my own opinion, in the controversy over the visitors center in the Capitol it is another manifestation of the “we are a Christian nation” “no, we’re not, we are a secular nation, founded under Enlightenment concepts of western thought” sort of battle. The advocates of the visitors center placard are trying to “prove” the former…but I find it either an ignorance, or a rejection of the meaning of America in history: a refuge for anyone who wants to become part of it, regardless of religion, creed or ethnic heritage. Pr Chris

  • Carstonio

    CalSailor,Thanks for the background. My view is that the artifact of history argument is BS, and that you’re right that it’s really a proxy for the “Christian nation” argument. Saying that any nation is a “(any religion) nation” wrongly confuses patriotism and religious belief. It effectively says that people belong to other religions aren’t full citizens or are committing treason.”a rejection of the meaning of America in history: a refuge for anyone who wants to become part of it, regardless of religion, creed or ethnic heritage.”Well said. America is no more a Christian nation than it is a Buddhist nation.

  • ccnl1

    The USA is a nation of taxpayers. May the gods of Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Bahaism and Paganism bless us all!!!!

  • Freestinker

    “In god(s) Some Trust” … would be much more accurate and honest but far be it from me to keep the religion-on-their-sleeves Christians from bearing false witness in order to use the power of government prop up their weakling god.It’s really kind of sad if you ask me. I do find it ironic though, that in their zeal to promote religion they have watered down the concept of god so much that it is now meaningless in a court of law.The Supreme Court says the word “god” is now essentially meaningless.Now that is priceless!

  • coloradodog

    The small and shallow God of Abraham, of course!

  • Carstonio

    “I do find it ironic though, that in their zeal to promote religion they have watered down the concept of god so much that it is now meaningless in a court of law.”Yes. The church/state separation protects not only freedom but also religion. A civil religion is inevitably a bland ecumenical gruel, with no real theology behind it. Over time the religion becomes a civic obligation.

  • nikosd99

    (Continued)So, Rabbi Hirschfield, you are right. It’s been a very long journey and God’s protection has sustained a remnant of your people. And they will eventually get there. I hope that you are going to be amongst them.

  • nikosd99

    Brad Hirschfield, in speaking on the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, said, “On this view, the holiday celebrates that we can always find some protection along the way and that, even if the journey is long, we will eventually get there”.(To be continued)

  • Freestinker

    I’m beginning to think that the concept of gods cannot survive without aid, support, and promotion by the U.S. Government.At least that’s what the proponents of such endorsements seem to think.Any god that needs government support to survive, must be a pretty wimpy little god in the first place.

  • nikosd99

    If you can’t debate intellectually, Hirschfield, you can always censor and/or not print posts in their entirety. That’s the coward’s way of doing things.

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