Merrily Down the Drain
We are trying to get on with our lives and force normalcy onto a world that is everything but normal right now. And we are quite good at distracting ourselves: Netflix, Coin Master, Facebook, baking, online shopping. But we are fiddling while Rome burns, not just “Rome” figuratively speaking, but rather the entire globe. Humanity is under severe judgment right now for the Talmud teaches that there is no punishment without sin. And we have sinned. So while we are busy with flix and clicks, the streets of America are devolving into anarchy, Iran and China are forging a dangerous alliance, economies are hanging on by an ever-thinning thread, the virus is hardly abating and anti-Semitism is flourishing like a well-manured garden. But Netflix adds more than 10.1 million new paid subscribers. And poof all our troubles are gone? Hardly.
People hate to hear that G-d is a punishing G-d. They’d much prefer He’d be like the Wizard of Oz who takes requests and then gives you what you desire: a heart, a brain, courage, etc. Now that’s a G-d we can subscribe to; now that’s a G-d we can love. Well I’m sorry to disappoint you but in the Torah the commandment to love G-d is only written nine times, the commandment to fear Him is written 18 times.(1)
Why should we fear Him? What could He possibly do to us if we don't? That could best be answered by the Generation of the Flood who He killed with boiling water because of their sins, or the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah who He killed with sulfur and fire because of their sins, or the 24,000 Israelites who died from a plague, not because they forgot to wear their masks, but because of sin. In incident after incident throughout the Torah unrepentant sinners are punished. We are the ones who are hardly lovable and exhaust G-dly patience.
And now with the world as it is, do we really have the chutzpah to ask, “Where is G-d?” The only legitimate question to ask while we still can is: “Where am I in relation to G-d’s Will?” “What does He want from me that I’m not doing?” The sages teach us that sin sullies our souls and blocks us from being vessels for the godly light. We become so veiled and dirtied by sin that we can neither be, nor see, the light. Nothing beautiful can radiate in or out because we are so shamelessly mired in a swamp of our own creation. No amount of bathing in Purell can clean up our filth. But turning back to G-d and His Torah can; it is the only vaccine that makes us impervious to threat and that can save our souls and our lives.
We are the cleanup crew. G-d gave us the directives on how to clean our souls, fix the world and bring the light (sparks) out of the dark places if we follow His Torah and make it our Torah. Each of the 613 commandments cleanses us and elevates us and makes us worthy receptacles of G-d’s blessings and light. But unfortunately G-d’s chosen too often chose something else: Eating lobster is more important that keeping kosher; driving to the mall is more important than observing Shabbat; watching Amazon Prime is more important than watching a Torah lecture. We’ve done a great job at polluting our path and have become uninterested and too lazy to clean it up. The lazy cannot serve Hashem. So G-d has brought in the pressure hose and we can only pray that we, along with our sins, won’t be flushed into oblivion.
In this past week’s Torah reading we read of all the 42 encampments (and backtracking) the Israelites set up and broke down during their 40 years of wandering. Hardly a smoothly-paved road. But they created many of the bumps and hurdles by themselves by continually sinning and rebelling against G-d and Moses and failing the many tests G-d set before them. When we are haughty and happy we feel we don’t need G-d and when we suffer we don’t believe He is there. How foolish is mankind? The rabbinic sage, Sfas Emes, says that each hardship and encampment through which the Israelites journeyed was a cleansing and served as a preparation for the gift of the Land of Israel. Do you personally really want to figuratively wander for 40 years and wonder why your life and our world resemble a man-made disaster zone? Or would you prefer to take matters into your own hands? Start keeping kosher, lighting Sabbath candles, pick up a book of Judaism, stop sinning and spinning in circles like a misguided dog chasing its own tail, stop deceptively manipulating results and start trusting in G-d…people of all faiths, just start cleaning up somewhere in your spiritual house.
Further proof that G-d cleans what He loves is that the Israelites are not commanded to merely meander into the Promised Land and make friends with their new neighbors, but they are commanded to drive them all out of the land and destroy their structures of worship and idols. The filth had to be demolished before G-d’s holy nation with its holy mission could settle in. The Israelites are also warned, “And let the land not vomit you out for having defiled it, as it vomited out the nation that preceded you.” You can’t be holy and unholy at the same time. Which do you choose to be? Decide quickly for the world we knew is approaching its expiration date. For the whoosh you hear when Netflix is paused is our world spinning quickly down the drain.
(1) Via Rabbi Y. Mizrachi