'The kindnesses of the Lord I shall sing forever; to generation after generation I shall make known Your faithfulness, with my mouth. For I said, "Forever will it be built with kindness; as the heavens, with which You will establish Your faithfulness."' -- Psalms 89:2-3
The lessons of kindness coming from the scriptures are as boundless as the kindness Hashem used when He formed Creation. The midrash teaches us that the Torah begins with kindness (the clothing of Adam and Eve) and ends with kindness (the burial of Moses). It seems that chesed is a fundamental force of the universe.
Infinity. Philosophers, mathematicians, physicists and theologians have tried for centuries to wrap their minds around this idea. Symbolically represented as ∞, the definition of infinity is "unboundedness", or something without end. In Hebrew, it is called Ain Sof and has been the topic of many rabbinical discourses - all in reference to the Holy One. What is it about infinity, or ain sof, that captivates us? And how is it that mathematicians are able to pull this symbol into equations of relevance? How is it they and countless others harness this concept, dance with it, and return with something tangible? Whether we realize it or not, the Torah addresses this exact dance through Bris Milah, the Yoveil(Jubilee year), Shemini Atzeret, Chanukah, and the counting of the Omer into Shavuot. Through these special times, we experience what humans have been driving towards since the dawn of time: a taste of the Divine as we slip into the intangible, sublime realm of infinity and back.
In the world in which we live today, grandeur and wealth continue to be a means to power and influence. Despite this trend throughout history, it is important for us to recall a time when one person, and then a nation, made a remarkable transformation in a time akin to today. We see Moshe unravel the greatest illusion and break through the arrogance of a leader whose kingdom was built on the sand. We also see our people receive the first mitzvah, the key for a return journey, which would not only bring redemption, but lead them on the path back to Gan Eden.
When we think about taking a holiday, we imagine pristine beaches with white sand, blue water, blue skies. Or perhaps it is that mountain vista with ice cold streams bubbling down river rock dotted beds, deer crossing the forest laden roads and the clean quiet. But how many of us imagine a hut topped with branches so we can see the stars, walls for protection from the wind and sun, and a chance to eat and sleep in the outdoors during one of the more unsettling times of the year? Most of us probably don't conjure up such images in the autumn, but it is precisely at this time when we read Kohelet (Ecclesiastes), enter the outdoors, and contemplate our true purpose and the meaning of life: outside the safety and comfort of our home.
After G-d's creation was finished at the conclusion of six days, everything was in perfect balance. The seventh day represented the paragon of wholeness. The earth, nature, and humanity were in perfect relationship with their counterparts. When we ate from the Tree of Knowledge in Gan Eden with the wrong intention, we suddenly plunged ourselves into a world where we fail to understand anything in a pure and simple state. There would be no single pure moment or action. There was always a mixture of pain, or suffering, or sorrow which opposed the good in life. We would know the joy of bringing a child into the world, but not without the pain of labor. We would enjoy the fruit of the earth, but not without toil and tremendous work. We would witness a marriage ceremony, but not without the breaking of the glass and remembering our forlorn Jerusalem. We would strive to create the perfect energy source, but always find the means to produce it are far too costly or toxic. Once we were forced to leave Gan Eden, a place of plenty and goodness, we lost the ability to find anything in a pure and simple state.
(this commentary was written in response to hurricane Katrina.)
As we continue through Devarim, we see the bulk of the commandments are revisited again in this week's Parashat R'eh. The parasha begins by presenting the choice to follow the mitzvot and receive blessing. If we should choose not to, we are left open to the negative consequences. Given that the concept of blessing is presented to us first, there is no mistaking the way in which Hashem wishes us to be motivated. The Children of Yisrael have the incredible option to "have it all" and be the winners of a physically and spiritually rich land - all by simply adhering to the mitzvot laid out by Moshe.
"We like to continue to believe what we have been accustomed to accept as true, and the resentment aroused when doubt is cast upon any of our assumptions leads us to seek every manner of excuse for clinging to them. The result is that most of our so-called reasoning consists in finding arguments for going on believing as we already do." James Harvey Robinson, American historian (1863-1936)
A quote like the one above succinctly sums up the tone and the troubles of the Children of Israel throughout the book of Bamidbar. The continuing struggle for a past reality, the misconception that all that there was and is now is all that will be, and the struggle to step forward in faith. As we see all around the world, society is becoming disgruntled over the price of fuel. Not one of us wants to pay more for the substance, but neither does anyone wish to run completely out of petrol on the highway or byway. But perhaps the solution coming our way is quite contrary to what we might expect or desire. Indeed, what we might need is to come to the verge of running out completely in order to spur on a true change and a new hope. As B'nei Yisrael needed to enter the vast desert to run out all of their adverse ways, the future of transportation and our own lives is very much dependent on one thing for change: an empty tank.