Time is running out to avoid disaster.
This is the refrain that emerges from even a cursory glance at the media’s portrayal of such pressing issues as global climate change, world peace, and economics. In an ever rapidly changing world, in which it seems we have very little control and very little understanding of how we arrived here, disaster seems all but a foregone conclusion. It is unfortunate that the global narrative that is being woven, for the most part, lacks a comprehensive framework within which to take steps to avoid the doom and gloom scenarios. What saddens me most however, is that there seems to be a pervading sense that things do not, cannot, and will not change. Are we condemned to a self-fulfilling prophecy because we lack imagination and an appropriate framework within which we can build solutions to the challenges we face?
The answer is…absolutely not! Examples abound of sustainable frameworks within which we can begin taking active, systemic steps to changing the ways we meet our existential needs. Three such frameworks I have had experience with so far are permaculture design, the Natural Step, and Torah.
In future posts I will discuss permaculture and the Natural Step frameworks. Herein, however, I will begin to explore what the Torah teaches us about creation and our place in it, something I call the Torah’s Deep Ecology. The Torah’s Deep Ecology is a framework that empowers us to develop our awareness, relationship with, and understanding of the following: self (in relation to creation); system (as in provision of material needs); and time (through the moadim [Jewish festivals], literally, a rendezvous with the Creator in time). These are only three of the many branches of the Eitz Chaiim, the Tree of Life known as the Torah, but they are essential to transforming the narrative of doom to one of hope and restoration…to one of Tikkun olam, the fixing of this world.
For the purposes of this specific post, let’s begin with awareness at the individual level. I will be using Abraham as our principle lens. The Rambam in his Mishne Torah relates the following (emphasis mine):
When this giant (Abraham) was weaned, he began to roam around in his mind, while he was still small, and began to think by day and by night, and he would wonder, “How is it possible that this sphere moves constantly without there being a mover, or one to turn it, for it is impossible that it turns itself?” And he had no teacher or source of knowledge but he was sunk among senseless idol worshippers in Ur of the Chaldeans; his parents and the whole people worshipped idols and he worshipped with them. But his mind roamed in search of understanding till he achieved the true way and understood out of his own natural intelligence. He knew there is one God who moves the spheres, who created everything, there is none beside Him. He knew that the whole world was in error and that the cause of their error was that they worshipped idols and images, so that they had lost the truth. Abraham was forty years old when he recognized his Creator…Avodah Zara 1:3
And in a more practical manner:
And what is the way in which one can come to love Him and fear Him? When a person contemplates His great and wondrous actions and creations, and they will see from them His wisdom, and that there isn’t any length or end to it, immediately he will come to love, praise, and laud, and desire and great desire to know the great name, as David said: My soul thirsts for the living God. Yesodei HaTorah 2:2
What strikes me from these passages is that Abraham was not an aesthetic, he was not even a prophet when he first intuited that there is a Creator, and neither do we need to be such! Avraham was simply seeking the truth, he was “roaming”, he was questioning in his mind. But why? What motivated him to search, what was Abraham seeking? I think, in some ways, the following passage, from Thomas Mann’s Joseph and His Brothers expresses in a literary style what the Rambam expressed above. Please read the passage carefully as the nuances I think provide us with powerful insights into Avraham’s experience (emphasis mine):
God’s powerful attributes were, to be sure, a given reality outside of Abraham, but at the same time they were also in him and from him…. Here lay the origin of the covenant that the Lord made with Abraham and that was merely the explicit confirmation of an inner reality; this was also, however, the origin of the peculiar quality of Abraham’s fear of God. For since God’s greatness was indeed something terrible and real outside him and yet at the same time coincided in some sense with his own souland was indeed its product, Abraham’s fear of God was not fear alone in the true sense of the word-it was not only trembling and quaking but also attachment, intimacy, and friendship, all in one….He was called makom, space, because He was the space of the world, but the world was not His space. He was also in Abraham, who knew Him thanks to His power in him. But this very fact strengthened and fulfilled the first father’s sense of saying “I,” for in no way was this God-filled and courageous “I” inclined to vanish in to God, to be one with Him and no longer be Abraham. Instead he very alertly and clearly held himself erect opposite Him-at a vast distance, to be sure, for Abraham was only a man, a clod earth, but bound to Him by that knowledge and made holy by God’s sublime there-ness and Thou-ness. (p.346-349)
Avraham looked into the creation and saw beyond it to the One who created all. Yet, as part of that experience, of using his mind to peer through the veil of the world to its Creator, perhaps we can say, in some small (but grand) way that what he saw in the world, was also what he saw in himself. Who created me? Who created all that I see? The answer, the same one God.
How powerful, how beautiful, how humbling, we are not just nameless cogs in the great industrial machine, we are all expressions of the Creator, but in no way should this make us feel small and insignificant, in fact, just the opposite! What we learn here, is that the Torah’s Deep Ecology adjures us that awareness on the most primal level of self is by essence in a relationship with the entire universe, its Creator, and that relationship is awe-some.
To be continued…