January 30, 2015 admin

Clusters of snowdrops

Because this is Shabbat Shirah, the Sabbath of Song; because the week brings Tu Bishevat ‘The Birthday of the Trees’; and because the snowdrops are clustered in their green and white beauty and even the first January-flowering daffodils are brightening the winter day, (and after all the painful memorials of the previous weeks), I want to write about wonder and joy.
Wonder at the natural world and consciousness of the spiritual world are deeply interconnected. They both have their roots in yirat shamayim, awe before God, which is shorthand for a lived and experienced feeling of reverence for all life, both in its particularity, in tree, bird and deer, and in its vital unity as a constant manifestation of the ‘one motion and one spirit…that rolls through all things.’ (Wordsworth: Lines Written above Tintern Abbey)
The Talmud (Shabbat 31) discusses whether yirat shamayim, awe before God, is the gateway towards which the study and practice of Torah guides us, or the gateway through which we must pass in order to find the true essence of Torah. Maybe it depends on one’s mood at the time, but right now I think of awe and wonder as marking the entranceway to the place from which all teaching derives, all reverence, respect and love of life, everything for which the word ‘God’ serves as indicator, whom the kabbalists call Ein Sof, the unending and inexhaustible source, as it becomes the wellspring of being and beauty.
That is why it matters to look out for the clusters of snowdrops in hedgerows and to stand still in the winter woodlands at night, because their living presence speaks of God as surely as the words of the Kaddish meditation and quietly expresses the wordless equivalent of ‘May God’s name be sanctified and glorified and praised’.
Wonder is a kind of kinship and connection entails responsibility. Therefore each person ‘has an infinite sphere of responsibility, of responsibility before the infinite’ (Buber: My Way to Hasidism). If I seek the spiritual companionship of oaks and beeches, and the birds which roost in them, then I must care about the forests and their wellbeing too.
Hence wonder leads to action. The goal of this action is always Tikkun, reparation, motivated by the longing for the world to be as God wants it, or dreams it. It constitutes our response to what Hans Jonas called ‘the mutely insistent appeal of [God’s] unfulfilled goal’.
Such Tikkun or reparation calls us to dedicate ourselves in two mutually necessary and inter-dependent ways. On the one hand we are required to act. Here, the possibilities are endless. One might apply the Mishnah’s words ‘for my sake the world was created,’ to mean that there are specific aspects of life which call out to me and you especially, because of who we are, because of our particular character and aptitudes, so that we care for them, work with them and seek their healing.
On the other hand, we are required to sensitise our mind and spirit so that we are alert enough and pure enough to hear the speech which is latent in all things, both powerful and inaudible at once, as in the lines of Yehudah Halevi’s poem, based on the nineteenth Psalm:
      Behold the heavens and their hosts proclaim the awe of you, 
      yet their voice is not heard at all
That half-heard, almost silent cry is God’s call.

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