Starting With Human Nature
Adapted from Parasha U’Pishra by Rabbi Moshe Grylak
The Torah promises that if we follow the Almighty’s commandments we will enjoy extraordinary prosperity. “If you will follow My decrees and observe My commandments and perform them; then I will provide your rains in their time, and the land will give its produce and the tree of the field will give its fruit. Your threshing will last until the vintage, and the vintage will last until the sowing; you will eat your bread to satiety, and you will dwell securely in your land. I will provide peace in the land, and you will lie down with none to frighten you; I will cause wild beasts to withdraw from the land, and a sword will not cross your land. You will pursue your enemies; and they will fall before you by the sword. Five of you will pursue a hundred, and a hundred of you will pursue ten thousand; and your enemies will fall before you by the sword” (Leviticus 26:3-8)
But commentators on these verses say it gets even better:
“Rains in their time” – “At times when people are not accustomed to go out, like…Shabbos night.” (Rashi in the name of the Talmud)
“The land will give its produce” – “Not in the way it does now, but in the way it did during the days of Adam HaRishon (the first human being)…on the day she is implanted, that very day she bears fruit.” (Sifra)
“The tree of the field will give its fruit” – “Even fruitless trees are to become fruit-bearing.” (ibid)
“You will eat your bread to satiety” – “Even if a person eats a small amount, he is blessed in his intestines (i.e. he feels full).” (ibid)
It may be easier for us to understand how keeping the laws of the Torah would lead to spiritual benefits and the development of our moral character. Perhaps we can even believe in the World to Come, a life after death, more easily than this.
However, to our great consternation, the Torah comes and declares in plainest language that doing things like keeping Shabbos, eating kosher food, being careful in financial dealings, and not wearing any shatnez will make the rain fall and the crops sprout. The Torah claims that doing these things will give us a terrifying military prowess against our enemies! These promises lean hard against our rational conception of reality as conceived of by our physical senses.
But, surprising as it may sound, the Almighty is not asking us for an entirely blind leap of faith here. He also is not claiming to be some sort of heavenly pin-ball machine – just plink in the quarter and out comes a can of soda and whatever else you may need! Instead, through these promises, the Almighty is completing a picture He began painting at the dawn of creation. He is showing us who we are.
You see, at the time of the creation of humanity, the Almighty set out to create a being “in the image of G-d” (Genesis 1:27). Do you think He failed? We consider ourselves mere mortals, but we far underestimate ourselves. Into the essence of our very being was worked a spark of something infinitely more than “mere” or “mortal”. A seed of that which is infinitely beyond the limited, natural world is at the deepest core of our human being. Our true potential is a spark of the divine.
Koheles Rabba tells us the Almighty’s take on this: “At the time when the Holy One, Blessed Be He, created the first human being, He took him and brought him to every tree of the Garden of Eden and told him, ‘See My works, how pleasant and excellent they are, and everything I created, I created for you. Give your consideration that you do not break and destroy My world. For if you break it, there will be no one to fix it after you.’” (Koheles Rabba 7).
The Almighty seemed to be pointing out that man’s sphere of influence extended way beyond social circumstances. Nature itself is at the mercy of humanity. This is not only due to the disproportionate power man wields in the face of the natural world, but because physical nature parallels the spiritual nature of the choicest of its inhabitants – humanity. Our abusiveness destroys on every level.
We have free choice about how to wield our power – to destroy or to cherish. This choice, present in every situation and sphere of life, is what distinguishes us from any other creature in creation. But there is an important difference between choosing good and choosing evil. In choosing evil, we serve our selfish desires, a destructive self-interest that takes no other needs in to account.
In choosing good we do not behave selfishly. We overcome our burning natural desire to participate in the survival of the fittest, filling up our own egos or stomachs or wallets at the cost of another. We step outside of nature and into a realm that is not limited by natural law. We overcome nature itself. Isn’t that what they call a miracle?
In choosing to fulfill the Torah despite our animalistic drives and tendencies, we get in touch with our divine potential. We draw forth a miracle from the divine spark within ourselves.
Imagine changing your life. Imagine that such miraculous behavior became the normal day-to-day behavior of individuals, and eventually an entire nation… If, in every situation, this nation managed to function not out of thoughtless natural drives, but out of a choice to listen to the ethical light of their intellect – is it so great a surprise that the natural world, the universe itself, might also draw forth from within itself consequences for this nation that might be called, oh, miraculous?
Physical nature parallels spiritual nature. The Torah changes nature, starting with human nature. Yes, keeping mitzvos leads to real, concrete, physical blessings. Hard to believe? It’s not so hard to believe when we start to understand, to our great amazement, who we really are.