There are many metaphors you could apply to affix meaning to your life. At the heart of the teaching of the “birds and the bees” is the truth that procreation involves, in every case, a “winner” against millions to 1 odds. From that perspective, if you are alive, it means you won the Big Lottery.
Look at where you are: tucked away in a part of the world that itself is tucked away on the edge of a galaxy that itself is a tiny player in the cosmos of physicality, space and time. So little we know!
Yet we do know that this miraculous speck of life, dwelling alone, to this point, in the seemingly eternal Universe, is governed by cycles and natural interplay, i.e. as rain and clouds and earth and heaven interact, with water recycled through evaporation into the atmosphere. We must know that to manipulate that Balance of nature’s Power is to generate hurtful consequences.
There is a story of a man on a boat who caught the attention of a fellow passenger, seeing him begin to dig under his cabin. The passenger stopped him at once, to which he protested, “It’s my cabin and I can do what I want!”, to which the other responded with the obvious: doing so would sink the boat.
As I write this, we still have little idea, and great fear, that the hole dug in the cabin, located in the Gulf of Mexico , is risking the safety of the planet, as if we weren’t already mired in so many other challenges to the safety and health of the world.
Lacking guiding principles beyond self-interest, of individuals, families, businesses and corporations, people make decisions with harmful consequences.
The words that follow the Shema, the acclamation of God and the Oneness of God, i.e inclusive of the Universe and this world, in particular, are words pertaining to choices for us to make: to open to God out of love and passion for doing mitzvah, as your driving energy…or to reach out to God out of fear, overwhelm, if not despair. Either way, you have access. The latter, however, is traumatic, exhausting and painful. What makes it possible is Teshuvah, that people can see the damage done and change direction.
In my reflection on Shavuot day, which we celebrated with over 35 people, I had an “AHA”, another understanding of why the holiday of the Giving of Torah, in contrast to mitzvah-filled Sukkot and Passover, had no unique mitzvah associated with it beyond the normal ways of prayer and ritual observance for a holiday. It occurred to me that the key that unlocked the door to Sinai, the modest size mountain where Moses and God met, was the people’s counter-intuitive response to the call to accept Torah: Na-aseh v’Nishma “We will jump right in and do “it”, and some time later figure out what we have gotten ourselves into”. The understanding would come in the process of doing and experiencing. By turning that key and accessing the Teaching that was communicated according to each person’s ability to absorb the information (even better tuned than the UN translation systems), the commitment to “doing mitzvah” turned “sinah”, which means “hatred” to “Sinai”, the mountain of revelation. It turned “Cherev”, “sword” into “Chorev”, another name for Sinai, associated with God’s teachings that would “turn swords into plowshares”.
Shavuot has no specific mitzvot associated with it because, even as Judaism is governed by its founding principle and key, to “do the mitzvah”, and then understand more of what it and life means, this holiday is focused on “Nishma”, time to “Listen i.e. Understand”, that we do mitzvah as a response and response-ability to a teaching that does not allow digging under ones cabin, when it affects others.
The custom on Shavuot, beyond the mitzvah of prayer and praises, is to devote the night to study and reflection on varieties of ways to learn to connect or reconnect with U KNOW HU and to re-order priorities in ways to serve God in repairing the world, one barrel at a time in the Gulf, and in every other way we can.
Out of it all we must learn and never forget that what any one may do, on his or her own, may have a significant impact on life far beyond one’s own hearth. Nature’s cycles in this miraculous speck in the Cosmos must remind us to find our way in this cycle and treat life delicately, both one another, and the place where we live.