Once when I was speaking about Rav Kook’s propensity to see God’s light in everything, I was asked such a thing is possible in view of all the evil and ugliness in the world. I agreed that it was not easy, which is why we are not all Rav Kook. But I believe it came from two things – a true and constant awareness of God’s existence, and a conscious decision to live one’s life according to that awareness.
This week’s parsha evokes at least two examples of classical commentators teaching the rest of us how to do this a little more. The first is from Seforno. He notes that the reason the first thing the Jews were to do when they entered the Land of Israel was to stand at Mount Gerizim and Mount Eval to hear about blessing and curse, was so that they could understand that existence in Israel would never be about just getting by – it would be about living either in a state of blessing or of curse. Another way to say that is that even without miracles happening, the Jews in Israel would have a greater sense of God’s presence in thei
This is a situation which we can actually sometimes see again in our own times now that we have returned to Zion. Accordingly, I cannot help but notice the possibility that Coronavirus statistics here in Israel echo Seforno’s words. In the spring, Israel invoked policies that put it near the top of international success stories. After a bit of bragging about how well “we” had done, however, the virus came back with a vengeance, quickly moving us towards the other extreme of least successful countries. (Granted, God has been kind and. even at the worst of times, our mortality rate was still comparatively very low.)
This is far from the only example. We have thankfully known incredible blessing in this country, from the land’s stunningly productive agricultural yields to this relatively new country’s rock-solid economy that has actually brought immigrants from wealthy countries in the West hoping to improve themselves financially. But we have also known curse. The worst of our wars seem to be in the past, but we have seen too many casualties of war and terror. And, as in ancient times, we need not look too far to see powerful enemies happy to do God’s bidding, should He decide that our behavior require a harsher hand.
If Seforno was able to more intuitively see God’s hand in variance from the usual natural order, Netziv was able to dig deeper and see God in that order itself: He observes the connection between the redemption of the Jewish people from Egypt and the springtime. The idea of regeneration of plant life as symbolic of the spiritual regeneration of the Jewish people is well-known. However, Netziv takes it one step further and finds God’s hand in the inner workings of plant life. He notes how the pit is what assures the regeneration and – ultimately – the survival of plant life. Nevertheless, people pay more attention to and delight in the fruit – even though it is eventually eaten or rots on the ground – and throw away the pit. Says Netziv, though the nations seem more impressed by the temporal greatness of the great empires, it is the spiritual “gifts of the Jews” that allows the world to survive and regenerate.
What Netziv saw was obviously not the only way to look at fruit trees. But for the person who sees God in all existence, it is an approach that comes quite readily. To such a person, the same intricate design that we can find in the Torah can also be found in God’s other masterpiece, nature. And so, it would make sense that the way fruits are structured not just be “how things are,” but rather intended to reflect other intelligent patterns. When one comes with such an approach, he doesn’t only find instruction, he sees God’s fingerprint more clearly.
Whether in its variation or in its norms, the world around us provides countless ways to see God. But that will only happen to someone who is looking for them. In other words if we really want to see God, we must also seek God.
And don’t forget to listen to this week’s related podcast, Seeing God in Nehama Liebowitz‘ British Hound Dogs!