June 2015 – From Rabbi Siemers
I’m writing this note in the middle of May, and we’ve just taken the bold step of putting the regular tires back on the car. This past winter was quite an introduction to Bangor! As we turn to June we are grateful for the rising temperatures and the greening lawns and trees. We will in July mark our first year at Beth Israel and time has passed quickly, as it always does when you are having fun. We are thankful for the warm welcome you have given us this year, and we look forward to our second year together.
The awakening of the earth brings to mind a verse from the Song of Songs, one which is brought in the Zohar’s account of creation.
The blossoms have appeared on the earth,
the time of pruning has arrived;
the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land.
(Song of Songs 2:12)
This isn’t exactly what comes to mind when we think of the Jewish narrative of creation. The official story in Genesis emphasizes the divine mastery of nature – God speaks and nature jumps! It is this control of nature that we celebrate and pray for at the High Holidays. But in the mystical version, the emphasis is on the giving up of control. God steps back and things flow under their own direction. This verse from Song of Songs describes a world that unfolds and reveals itself to be teeming with life that knows what to do and how to grow without divine supervision. The generative ability is built-in and the miracle of spring is that no miracles are needed. The disorder that we often see in nature is not a bug but a feature – it is the absence of heavenly direction that allows the beauty of the blossoming world around us.
There is a seasonal aspect to these contrasting views of creation. When we see the world start to run down in the fall, we cry out for God to step forward. But in the spring and into the summer, we marvel at what grows without a heavy hand on the tiller. But these differing perspectives also speak to the differing religious needs of humanity throughout the year. We accept the tension between them because we recognize that the need for many paths by which we can experience the divine. For the rationally inclined, the contemplation of order in the world and of the laws of nature permit the intellect to grasp however fleetingly an idea that is behind the universe. Beneath the sensory surface there are hints of deep and beautiful organization. But the sensual disorder of creation speaks to us Jewishly as well, summoning both wonder for the potential of growth and the heavy responsibility of stewardship. It is the wonder of Judaism that the mystical and scientific perspectives dwell, however uneasily, in the same tent. May the renewal of the world around us renew our connections to the Creator and to our tradition.
Wishing all a wonderful summer, and look forward to our encounters both inside and outside.
Rabbi Bill Siemers