#BlogElul – Observe
So, it’s a double word. The first connects to yesterday’s “Hear”. The second, to what we do, as the word is often used to say we do religious ritual. We observe – or don’t observe – Shabbat. We observe – or don’t observe – Kashrut rules. Even more than whether someone is religious, we call people who follow the rules “observant”. We call those who follow the Mitzvot, Jewish commandments, observant Jews.
So, how does following a bunch of rules make you better able to pay attention to the universe? Well, some of the rules are smart and have paying attention built in. So, someone who observes Shabbat pays attention to the flow of a week, to periods of rest and work, to spiritual as well as physical needs. Someone who observes Kashrut has to think about each bite and so pays attention to what he eats, to the gifts of the world that feed him, to the cycle of life and death and consumption that we live in.
Not all observant Jews are observant, of course. It’s possible to lose that connection, and do things blindly, without thinking – without observing. It’s possible to be an observant person without following any of the rules, too. There’s nothing magical about Jewish rules – they’re just a method that people have chosen to help them be more aware, more connected to all that is and to God, more observant.
We all make decisions about which rules to observe and to what extent (and then, being human, we all fall short of the decisions we initially made – or at least I do). It’s easy to say “I will always light havdalla” – except I forget, and get busy and don’t and…
Ok, but I was going to talk about a song or prayer instead of just sharing thoughts…
So, “Al shlosha devarim ha-olam omed – all hatorah, all ha-avoda, all gemilut hasadim”
Al – upon; this is a dependence word and a relationship word. This rests upon that. This depends upon that. It is upon a person to do her best. What is upon me, today? How can I be more observant, and act it out?
Shlosha – three; heck, Judaism has lots of threes, this is just one of them. Numbers are cool, and three is a good one. For a long time, it’s been slightly unwelcome and a source of discomfort due to it having been claimed by the Christian faith. We reclaim the number three and celebrate it.
Devarim – goodness, I like Hebrew! Devarim are things, the way you end up saying “thing” when you can’t think of the word. Devarim are words too, though. They are speeches, sayings, sermons – all somewhat plausible definitions. So, “upon three paradigms…”
Ha-Olam – world, universe, infinity, eternity. All that is. What does it mean to say that the entirety of everything depends upon anything? Surely, that’s ridiculous. Why, even if people didn’t exist, the chance of the world being blown up with weapons, or being heated into a non-living desert, or being poisoned until no life can survive is exactly the…no, never mind…The world does seem to depend on us to some extent.
Omed – stand; survive? Exist? Persist? These are all lovely synonyms. The world stands because of these paradigms. Without them, something would be left perhaps – but could we still call it the world as we understand it? At one time, in a Terry Pratchet book, one character says to another something along the gist of, “I wasn’t exaggerating, the sun really wouldn’t rise tomorrow if you failed. Oh, a hot ball of burning gasses might be visible as a distant circle of light, but the sun wouldn’t rise.”
Torah – learning, education, the five books of Moses, the bible, the Talmud, the commentaries, the old testament, holy study, all discussion that’s for God’s sake – old languages pack more into each word.
Avodah – work; service; observance. Now, there’s a word to shed light on observance – it’s work, in the service of God and other people. I like that. When I am observant, I notice what needs to be done. When I do it, I’m doing the work, and through doing the work, I serve others. Which is the point and why the world depends on Avodah.
Gemilut Hasadim – good deeds; charity; acts of loving kindness – but more precisely, reciprocal acts of love. Relationships; connection; interconnectedness; what happens when the observer becomes part of what is being observed – ruins science experiments, but works for God-stuff.
So, my translation: On three paradigms does the universe as we know it depend: on the quality of our learning, on the depth of our observance and on the strength of our relationships. Let me serve all three paradigms today.