By Braha Bender
What your life would be like if you knew, really knew, that you were being taken care of? Torah teaches a radical spiritual principle that flies in the face of everything our five senses take for granted: nothing happens automatically, and nothing happens by accident. Throw a rock at a window and see it shatter. Think the pressure of the rock smashed the glass?
Think again. Torah explains that God didn’t just create the world over 5,000 years ago. He re-creates the world every moment of existence. Visualize throwing the rock in slow motion. You lift your hand, slowly open your fist, wrist sliding forward…
The picture speeds up as the rock whisks through the air headed straight for the window and then – freeze-frame! The rock stops short one millisecond before touching the glass.
Take a look at the picture in your mind. The rock is hanging in midair. Take a walk around it. Look at it. The glass, vulnerable and empty, shimmers a fraction of an inch away. What will happen?
Everything you have ever experienced leads you to believe that the rock will hit the glass and that in all likelihood the glass will shatter. But Torah peels open the moment like a fresh fruit and squeezes out the secrets inside: God created time, God created matter, and God created everything else. He does whatever He wants! If He wants the rock to hit the glass, it will. If He doesn’t want it to, it won’t, no matter how strange that seems.
Now press play again for the movie in your mind. SMASH! The glass shatters, the rock flies through the window, but you realize that nothing is ever as it seems.
The Reason Behind All Reasons
God is compelled by nothing. He is the reason behind all reasons. “Why” doesn’t apply to Him – He created “why”. The purpose of human existence is for every one of us to become like God. This world is a 3-D playscape designed to allow us the ultimate rush: independent self-actualization. A spark of Godliness within allows us the miraculous ability to exercise genuine free choice in the face of moral issues. Nothing compels us to actualize the heroic and beautiful potentials we have waiting inside of us like so many golden eggs. Nothing forces our hands. We create our own destinies.
It is an opportunity only God could give, and He doesn’t like to ruin it for us. That’s why miracles are scarce. Sure, they happen when we really need them, but He doesn’t like to show His hand very often. He hides behind the veil of “nature” (His creation) in order to make free choice just challenging enough. Amazing modern discoveries in cosmology, neuroscience, and quantum physics notwithstanding.
What we perceive as reality is all just a game, but He provides us with some rules to make playing it a little easier. Call it “the Divine cheat-sheet”. The commandments of the Torah show us how to exercise our spiritual muscles in such a way that eventually, with enough practice, we can break through the illusion. One of those exercises is called Shemitah.
Letting Go of “Nature”
Shemitah asks us to suspend our soporous obsession with nature just long enough to feel our way around it. At first glance, it appears daunting:
“For six years you may sow your field and for six years you may prune your vineyard; and you may gather in its crop. But the seventh year shall be a complete rest for the land, a Sabbath for Hashem; your field you shall not sow and your vineyard you shall not prune…it shall be a year of rest for the land.” (VaYikra-Leviticus 25:3-5)
Nervous? God is ten steps ahead of you:
“If you will say: What will we eat in the seventh year? – behold! We will not sow and not gather in our crops! I will ordain My blessing for you in the sixth year and it will yield a crop sufficient for the three-year period.”
And just to make sure that you don’t miss the point, He adds:
“You will sow in the eighth year, but you will eat from the old crop; until the ninth year, until the arrival of its crop, you will eat the old.” (ibid 19-22)
When farmers and vintners in Israel followed the laws of Shemitah, they knew beyond a doubt what Torah had promised all along: nature is not “natural”. Nature is just of much an expression of His personal attention to us as miracles are. What we call nature is just a series of miracles taking place over and over again.
Another hint on the “cheat-sheet” is that it’s a good idea to live in Israel. One of the many benefits of living in Israel is, whether during Shemitah or not, in Israel it is always easier to see God’s Hand in your life. Rain doesn’t pour out of the sky on a predictable basis like in the Brazilian Amazon or in Mobile, Alabama. You have to pray for it:
“For the Land to which you come, to possess it – it is not like the land of Egypt that you left, where you would plant your seed and water it on foot like a vegetable garden. But the Land to which you cross over it is a land of mountains and valleys; from the rain of heaven it drinks water; a Land that Hashem, your God, seeks out; the eyes of Hashem, your God, are always upon it…” (Devarim-Deuteronomy 11:10-12)
Which leads into another important detail. Did you think having an on-going, meaningful relationship with God was easy? C’mon, easy is for wimps. Real love, and real happiness, take time and effort.
Having an on-going, meaningful relationship with anyone is challenging, and God is no exception. The trick is that living in Israel provides a context for your spiritual efforts. You have to pray for rain because water is scarce. You have to pray for money because employment is scarce. You have to pray for a cool breeze because air conditioning is scarce.
Living in Israel isn’t easy, but just like any great relationship, it’s exciting and joyful. Rain isn’t just rain – it’s bracha, blessing, pouring out of the sky on to your windows in living color. The bus pulls up at just the right moment and you step on knowing that, against all odds, you will make it to work on time. Your two-year-old falls down and everyone on the street rushes over to make sure that she didn’t scrape her knee. Nobody walks on by. Manhattan is far, far away from Jerusalem. Israel is a place of warmth, caring – and special attention.
But even outside of Israel, God’s attention to you at every moment is there to be seen. You just might have to open your eyes and your heart a little more. Stretch… Is it worth it? It’s worth everything.
Imagine the world moving around you like a dance choreographed just for you. The people you meet, the cars whizzing by, even the leaves drifting slowly from the trees… It’s you, Him, and the rest of your life. What are you waiting for?