The Torah, like a child, begins its explorations with wonder.
I think the magic of that first light of the first ever day has never entirely dimmed in our souls. ‘Look’, says Nicky, ‘Come out in the garden’. The sun has sunk and clouds of red and orange illumine the pear trees from behind and even the high roads to the west are touched by transient, lucent beauty.
Day two is land and water. Every adult becomes part child again at the sea’s edge. Shells, stones smoothed by a thousand years of tides, rock pools like mini oceans with their strange anemones, tiny replicas of Shelley’s sea-blooms and oozy woods ‘which wear the sapless foliage of the ocean’, the mesmerising rhythm of falling waves which were before and shall be after: these mysteries beguile our complications, untwist our thoughts into the simplicities of wonder and of joy.
Day three is the creation of the grass and trees, meadowlands and forest. Late January is the time to walk in the early light among the oaks and beeches, to see the glory of their branch-work unveiled by the long-fallen leaves. April is the month to capture the day, when the grey twigs of the oak, as many as a quarter of a million on an ancient tree, reveal the tiny leaves, or when the sticky dark brown chestnut buds unfold their curious fingers to feel the new spring air. Give me a night walk through the forest when the deer race across the twilight path and the last birds chant their ragas to the night and I’ll be there.
The Torah is concerned with many matters: right and wrong, good and evil, family feuds, tyranny, injustice, bullying, peer pressure, and how to remain just and kind nonetheless. There’s nothing with which our lives are intertwined, our thoughts burdened, or our hearts weighed down about which the Torah and its commentators have nothing to say.
But the Torah begins with wonder; wonder comes first, and wonder is something we all need.
Day four is the moon and stars; day five are the fishes and the birds, the loud-mouthed wren, the nuthatch which feeds upside down; the morning of the sixth day brings the horses, foxes, hedgehogs, beavers, badgers, wolves.
Finally, we humans enter creation, in the image of God, capable of creating or destroying, of wonder or contempt. I didn’t ask for an easy life, Abraham Joshua Heschel once said, ‘I asked for wonder, and God gave it to me’. I believe the capacity for wonder exists in every child and in the child within every adult and remains with us lifelong as the secret wisdom of growing older without becoming old.
The philosophers and mystics debate which of the commandments comes first: to know God, love God or be filled with the awe of God. I don’t think the order matters very much. Rather, take them all together, apply them not to what we cannot know but to what lies before our eyes, that autumn chrysanthemum, that blackbird, that cloud which can’t quite catch up with the moon, – and they add up to a wonder, a reverence, a sheer, overwhelming joy which sometimes overtakes us with such power that we stop still, our thoughts still, our soul still, traversed by the mystery of endless life which has bestowed on us, briefly, temporarily, this unfathomable consciousness.
We need wonder. Where there is wonder, there is reverence and respect. How then can we ever seek to hurt or to destroy?