Monday, August 12, 2013
"Can you send up an order to the clouds for an abundance of water to cover you? Can you dispatch the lightning on a mission and have it answer you, 'I am ready'? Who put wisdom in the hidden parts? Who gave understanding to the rooster? Who is wise enough to give an account of the heavens? Who can tilt the bottles of the sky, whereupon the earth melts into a mass, and its clods stick together?" - Job 38: 34-38
In the previous post, I described the the unexpected blessings that have accompanied my now lengthened Shabbat walk to shul. I'd like to continue the theme and share some of my recent Shabbat morning experience.
First, though, its worthwhile to add a few words about topic choice. There are many "sexy" issues that ignite impassioned discussion and draw heightened readership and blog views (if Google Blogger's stats are even remotely accurate). The reason I'm focusing on other issues now isn't out of any sense that such issues aren't important, or out of a fear to be honest on controversial issues (I've done that before, and will continue to do so). Rather, my professional duties as a congregational Rabbi have led me to the conclusion that, since certain issues excite us so, and since there's rarely a dry news day, we spend a disproportionate amount of time focusing on the latest headlines and neglect or ignore altogether important issues of religious practice. Discussing them more often and being more mindful of the practices we actually do is vital to the survival and growth of a meaningful Judaism with a relevant mesorah (tradition). Personally, the issue which consumes most of my attention currently is intention and meaning before, during, and after the recitation of brachot, blessings.
Normally, there's not a whole lot of time to contemplate the various blessings that form the very beginning of the daily morning service. By contrast, the long walk on Saturday mornings has provided me with an opportunity to recite the birkot hashachar (preliminary morning blessings) during my walk, spending my time inhabiting the worlds created by the words.
The Talmud (Berachot 60b) states that we should recite a blessing each morning upon waking up and hearing the rooster crow: "Blessed are You, O Lord our God, King of the universe, who gave understanding to the rooster to distinguish between day and night." In modern times, since many of us wake up to the alarm clock rather than the rooster, the practice has evolved so that the blessing is recited in Synagogue just before the morning prayers.
Now, it's a fact that roosters are rather awkward looking creatures, and don't immediately evoke associations with wisdom. As I recite this blessing on my walk to shul, my mind turns from the rooster and moves naturally to the broader theme:
God's response to Job (from which the words of the blessing are derived) is a description of the awesomeness and unfathomable vastness of God's own creation and the relatively and inherently limited perspective of man to appreciate such. Still, with the progression of time, humanity has collectively built up an incredible understanding of the natural universe and our place in it. We are privileged, more than Job and the sages of his generation, to appreciate God as Creator and Sustainer of the universe. From the smallest particles to the outer reaches of the universe and beyond (the multiverse?), from the nature of time (spacetime actually) to the biological workings of that funny looking rooster, the blessing encourages us to loose ourselves in a sense of awe and appreciation for all that is. The more our minds drift and imagine what is, the more we understand, the greater our praise and appreciation.
Of course, we shouldn't forget the rooster's role as ancient alarm clock. The blessing isn't merely a call to contemplate the wonders of creation, but man's relation to it. Despite the vastness of the universe, the blessing is also a praise of God for our important role as intelligent beings (too) created in the image of God. Our response to the clarion call of the rooster is to wake up; our response to the vastness and wonder of God's creation is to fill the void and embody the elegance.
Next week, Naomi and I will be spending an unusual Shabbat on an alpaca farm in Connecticut. Personally, I'm eagerly looking forward to the experience. One of the most exciting parts . . . getting woken at dawn the old fashioned way!