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).
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.
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.
Of all the biblical holidays, only Shavuot – the time of the giving of Torah – lacks a specific date. Instead of giving a month and a day as with other holidays, the Torah tells us to count forty-nine days from the offering of first fruits during Passover. Then on the fiftieth day we celebrate Shavuot.
It is no small thing that the middah associated with the beginning of Pesach this year is seder (order). Drawing from insights I have heard and read from great scholars of our tradition, the general irony of seder in the midst of Pesach has not escaped me.
Every system in the universe has many forces acting on it that have the potential to disrupt and disorganize the original intended order. In the beginning, God pulled His “light” into the universe as the energy of creation and good. Our job is to tap into that light and help be little mini-agents of creation. When we bring order back into our lives, we are actually acting in emulation of the First Agent Who facilitated this creation process. The sages teach us that the “Spirit of God / Ruach Elohim”, which hovered over the deepness of chaos, was the Spirit of Messiah.
G-d must be an engineer. Well, at least I try to tell myself this. We all look at Hashem through the lenses of our own experience. I like to build things, and have done so to varying degrees since I was a child. I know that one of the “hats” Hashem wears is that of Creator, Builder, and Thinker Upper of Stuff. The Torah is filled with stories and accountings of great detail. G-d is a G-d of order, we are all told. But you need only open up the first story to understand the order of creation and start to apply it to your own life.