Heal its fractures because it is shaking. (60:4)
When there are fractures in a structure and it is agitated, the fractures will grow. This is true of both a piece of land and a community. Here is the Psalmist’s theology: The community which is fractured and unable to find stability in a relationship among the pieces will ignore its obligations to God, which will result in a destabilization of the land. Or perhaps, the community’s mistreatment of the environment will destabilize the land, angering God, and as a result the community will suffer and fracture. Either way, Torah teaches that a harmonious environment and a harmonious community are inextricably connected.
“The earth is Adonai’s and the fullness thereof.” (24:1)
We are temporary residents of a world entirely belonging to the Blessed Holy One. Perhaps because we don’t own the world, we treat it as poorly as many apartment dwellers treat their living space. Homeowners tend to take care of their property better than renters. Perhaps the Psalmist should have written, “The earth, and everything in it, belong to you. If you want your investment to increase in value, take care of it.” Instead, he suggests that we are guests in someone else’s home. Only those who show honor to their Host deserve standing in God’s world as recipients of God’s blessing.
“A tree planted beside streams of water …” (1:3)
A well-watered tree planted in good soil will flourish. Everything that goes into my body — the food I eat, the liquids I drink, the air I breathe, the sounds and words that I listen to and the images that I watch, will affect my physical and spiritual health. I like action movies but lately, at my wife’s urging, I have been averting my eyes during the most violent scenes. Negative speech, much the same as sugary, fat-laden junk food, creates an intoxicating buzz for a moment, followed by a general feeling of malaise. A healthy lifestyle which includes high doses of gossip is like a vegan diet with occasional splurges of bacon cheeseburgers.
Above the thunder of the mighty waters, more majestic than the breakers of the sea is Adonai, majestic on high. (93:4)
Creation is a thunderous presence. The sound of the big bang can still be hear by radio telescopes. I am fascinated by Stephen Hawking, by black holes, by the formation of matter into galaxies, galaxies into star systems, stars into planets, and planets into the materials that can support life. Time and matter and energy can be quantified and measured in a series of equations. Mostly.
Above and beyond and behind that thunderous presence is another Presence whose existence cannot be measured and determined by anything but the poetry of a religious text.
A spinning earth creates shifting tectonic plates and currents and waves and weather patterns. We’ve gotten pretty good at predicting the weather short term. As long as we can see the weather to the west of us, we know pretty much what we’re going to get. But the farther out we try to predict, the more vague and useless our predictions get. Can I count on good weather for a picnic the day after tomorrow? I’ll trust the meteorologist. Can I count on good weather on a Sunday afternoon two months from now? No one knows. The same goes for predicting shifts in tectonic plates. No one can warn us about earthquakes within anything close to useful precision.
Someday, maybe we’ll be able to predict the weather with pinpoint accuracy more than three to five days in advance. Exerting control over the weather? Science fiction loves that idea, but it is as far beyond my imagination as controlling the movement of the earth’s plates.
Those who believe in God assert that the Majestic Divine Presence is the animating force energizing our universe (as well as any and all parallel universes), above the thunder of the upper waters of the sky, behind the breakers of the lower waters of the oceans.
You take care of the earth and irrigate it; You enrich it greatly, with the channel of God full of water; You provide grain for men; for so do You prepare it. Saturating its furrows, leveling its ridges, You soften it with showers, You bless its growth. You crown the year with Your bounty; fatness is distilled in Your paths; the pasturelands distill it; the hills are girded with joy. The meadows are clothed with flocks, the valleys mantled with grain; they raise a shout, they break into song. (65:10-14)
Shopping at a large supermarket may not always feel like a joyful experience, beginning with finding a parking place, walking to the store, slogging through crowds of people to get a cart and negotiate the aisles, finding in which aisle the produce you are seeking is located, and waiting in line at the checkout. The hassle of shopping might in fact mask the absolute miracle of what you are able to buy. How many people’s livelihood depends on the produce that you are buying? How many hours, how much sweat and worry did they invest into growing it? So much of their living depends on factors out of their control, such as the quality and quantity of rain, the sun, the temperature.
In the mid-1940’s, Florida frozen orange juice concentrate began to be marketed as “liquid sunshine.” It takes a partnership of effort to transform the energy of the sun and a handful of materials and minerals into an orange, a sweet pepper, or a banana. And to take this one step further, walk down the bread aisle and imagine the additional set of people who took the raw grain and processed it into various flavors in a variety of shapes. The traditional berakha is “… who brings forth bread from the earth,” but we know that this, too, only happens in partnership with farmers and bakers (along with those who manage the transportation issues of getting the raw ingredients to the bakery and the finished produce to the store).
So next time you go to the supermarket, keep the Psalmist’s words in mind and think about the joyful pastures and hills singing their produce to life, and think about all of the people whose lives are dedicated to bringing you the song of the meadows and valleys.