"There is always a philosophy for lack of courage."—Albert Camus

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Wilma, Meet Solomon

There is a longstanding Jewish tradition that the standardized cycle of Bible readings throughout the year is somehow prophetically attuned to feeding you the appropriate information at just the right moment.

With Hurricane Wilma bearing down on us here in South Florida, I bestirred myself to the synagogue today to hear the once-a-year reading of Ecclesiastes, always done on the Sabbath which falls during the nine-day holiday of Tabernacles (which began last Monday night and ends this Wednesday night).

I was struck by the timeliness of the following verse (11:5): "Just as you do not know what is the path of the wind, like the enclosure of the full womb, so you cannot foretell the actions of the Lord, Who makes all." (My translation, radically unlike King James: "As thou knowest not what is the ways of the spirit..." The word ruach in Hebrew sometimes means "wind" and sometimes "spirit".)

The classic commentator, Rashi (1035-1105), explains: "There are times that you think you can recognize in the clouds that the windstorm is coming, but it does not arrive there because it passes by and heads to a different land... as you do not know the things that are closed and sealed in the full womb, and despite the fact that you can see the outward bulge you do not know what is in the womb... so, too, the decrees of the Omnipresent concerning poverty and wealth are hidden from you. Therefore you should not hold back from charity for worry of losing assets and becoming poor; you should not say 'I cannot take time from work to study the Torah or I will become poor'; you should not say 'I cannot get married and have children because they are too expensive'."

How's that for a lesson from the uncertain path of the hurricane?

1 comment:

Tom Van Dyke said...

Man proposes, God disposes, or as I prefer it, Man plans, God laughs.

I did especially like the latter half of the reb's quote, Jay. The dynamic of "be fruitful and multiply" is one that is alien to modern philosophy, I'm afraid. It's a perfect example of "subversive wisdom."

That would be in contradistinction to conventional wisdom, which is about the nuts and bolts of everyday life. But Malthus' quite reasonable theory turned out to be wrong, eh?

Thrift is a conventional virtue, and nobody could dispute that when contrasting it to waste, it surely is virtuous.

But what shall we say in praise of Scrooge? He is quite a reasonable man. Cruel, but fair. He keeps himself as cold as he keeps Cratchit.

There was a guy some 1000 years before Rashi who opined:
"Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?

And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?"

(Almost as good a piece of literature as Dickens. A pity it's not taught anymore.)

This of course is the idea behind the Catholic Church's pro-life position. The moral condemnation part is not applicable here, except in the gentle tweak of those of little faith.

What indeed is so important in your life more important than the life of your own child?

What in your life has brought you more joy than the smile of your own child?

Some of us have made certain decisions about such things. An old Spanish proverb: Take what you want, God says, and pay for it.

I would add that the riches of life are bought cheaply, but still one must pay something. It's been proven that there's no such thing as spontaneous generation. You could look it up.