And on the seventh day the waters of the Flood came upon the earth. (Gen. 7:10)
I have to admit that when I come to the end of the week on a particular middah, I often feel like I barely got started on it. Some middot just seem to need long-term focus, and gratitude (from last week) is one of those. The Hebrew for gratitude is hakarat ha-tov, “recognizing the good,” and I’m thinking right now of a couple of incidents over the past week that were opportunities—missed opportunities, actually—for me to recognize the good. I need more time to start learning that response, but this new week wants me to focus on the middah of order, so perhaps I can combine the two. Maybe I can work on ordering my world by recognizing the good within it, finding within the chaotic flow of events and emotions that which is good, and highlighting that instead of bemoaning the rest.
Order begins within, but inevitably shows up on the outside. “External disorder may be a reflection of internal disarray,” as Alan Morinis reminds us.1 Now, as I’m writing this, I’m sitting at a rather cluttered desk in a study that’s not the neatest in the world either. So, what does this say about my internal order?
Moses said, “I must turn aside to look at this marvelous sight . . .” (Ex. 3:3).
All of the middot are practical, and order might contend to be the most practical of all. It entails things like putting the car keys back on their hook as soon as you walk in the door, setting your alarm so you get up early enough the next morning, and keeping your desk tidy to eliminate distractions. Like all the middot, however, order must be practiced in balance. Order out of balance can become petty and compulsive, but there’s an even bigger issue of balance, which appears in Parashat Shemot (Ex. 1:1–6:1).
“All your actions and possessions should be orderly – each and every one in a set place and set time. Let your thoughts always be free to deal with that which lies ahead of you.” – Rabbi M.M. Lefin of Satanov, Cheshbon Hanefesh
As a child I was diagnosed with Nonverbal Learning Disorder (NVLD). One of the clearest indicators of this learning difference was my early inability to process information out of sequence. If my mother told me to put on my shoes and socks I would stare at her blankly; I needed to be told to put on my socks and shoes.
There was an office sign that read “a clean desk is a sign of a disturbed mind.” Anyone who has ever battled with a cluttered desk could smile at that statement. Clutter is something that most people deal with at one point or another. Some people confine it to one room, while other people let it overtake every room in their house.
When I began to focus intently on the Shema earlier this year, I realized I’d have to make some changes to line up with what I was reading, three in particular: I’d have to really practice loving Hashem my God with all my heart, with all my soul, and with all my might. I’d have to start binding “these words” on my hand and forehead in the form of tefillin (more about that in a moment), and I’d have to recite the Shema morning and evening.
"Whatever sacrifice is offered more regularly than its fellow takes precedence over its fellow, and whatever sacrifice is more holy than its fellow takes precedence over its fellow" -- Mishnah Horayot 3:6.
Judaism's emphasis on order has its roots in the Torah and become a pervasive principle after the Hurban, the destruction of the Second Temple. For several centuries after the Hurban, the sages of early Judaism sought to establish a foundation for all of Jewish life. Unlike pre-Destruction Pharisees, who were tied to fixed traditions, this mixture of Pharisees, priests, and scribes knew that existing traditions were not enough to bring order to a society that had lost its central earthly point of orientation, the Temple, and was now under crushing foreign domination.
This week, in the order of the Jewish calendar, we have the first haftarah of admonition (Jeremiah 1:1─2:3). The Rabbis instituted the reading of special haftarot in the period between the 17th of Tammuz and Tisha b’Av. These are commonly referred to as the haftarot of admonition.