Walking East of Eden

walkingA person who has trust in G-d will be free from bothersome thoughts. He will not worry about what will be tomorrow if he has enough for today. He does not cause himself needless pain and discomfort by worrying that perhaps he will be lacking something in the future. A person who has trust in G-d feels no need to flatter other people. He will not veer from his principles for the hope of financial gain. Questions of how he will make a living do not bother him since he knows with clarity that it is impossible for him to have more or less than what the Almighty has decreed for him.

Even if there is a world crisis, he will not worry about his personal situation. He has trust that any misfortune which was not decreed upon him will not affect him. He walks in this world completely free from worries and sadness. He takes pleasure in what he has and feels no lack of possessions.

In short, if a person has trust in G-d, he has everything.

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
“Today’s Daily Lift, #875”

In 1942, the first trainload of Jews in Holland were sent to concentration camps. A few years earlier, tens of thousands of Jews had fled from Germany to Holland, which maintained an open-door immigration policy. But soon after, the Nazis occupied Holland and proceeded to make it Judenrein (clean of Jews). Perhaps the most famous Dutch Jew was Anne Frank, a teenage girl whose diary has become the most widely-read account of life during the Holocaust. In 2005, Holland’s prime minister apologized for his country’s collaboration with the Nazis.

Day in Jewish History for Av 2

Does it seem odd that I post two such contradictory quotes side-by-side so to speak? That’s how they came to me yesterday (today, as I write this) by email from Aish. Thousands of Jews trusted in God. Thousands of Jews trusted in the Dutch to help them escape the Nazis. Things didn’t work out so well.

Yesterday, I wrote about how God provides everything we need including sufficient answers to our difficult questions. That isn’t to say He provides all the answers and we continue to struggle all our lives to draw closer to our Creator and to understand our place in the universe.

I’ve been a life-long “fan” of the NASA space program. I remember growing up hearing about the Mercury and Gemini projects. I used to long for the days when we’d have orbiting space stations, Moon bases, and manned rockets going to Mars. None of that really happened but I still follow the adventure. I’ve been recently following the news about Voyager 1 and whether or not it has left the solar system. My childhood fascination with space contributed to my early interest in science fiction and today, I’m reliving some of that by re-reading Arthur C. Clarke’s classic Rendezvous with Rama.

Exploring the universe tends to make one feel very small. But I never feel smaller than when I am confronted with human anger, hostility, and cruelty.

starry_night_7daysWe are still in the three weeks of mourning which started on Tammuz 17 and Tisha B’Av (Av 9) is rapidly approaching.

While I strive to maintain faith and trust in God, there are days when I get worn down. It’s not that God isn’t trustworthy and it’s not that He won’t fulfill all His promises, it’s just whether or not I’ll be able to hang on to that faith and trust long enough to see it through.

Peter said to Him, “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.” And He said, “Come!” And Peter got out of the boat, and walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But seeing the wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and took hold of him, and said to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”

Matthew 14:28-31 (NASB)

I suppose Jesus has the right to criticize Peter and the rest of us for our lack of faith, for even when Messiah’s own faith was tested, he endured.

And He came out and proceeded as was His custom to the Mount of Olives; and the disciples also followed Him. When He arrived at the place, He said to them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.” And He withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and He knelt down and began to pray, saying, “Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done.” Now an angel from heaven appeared to Him, strengthening Him. And being in agony He was praying very fervently; and His sweat became like drops of blood, falling down upon the ground.

Luke 22:39-44 (NASB)

I know that Jesus lived a human life and he suffered more than most. And yet, none of us are like Jesus, least of all me.

About a week ago, I posted another blog bringing into question the traditional Christian belief in the rapture. What will happen to the faithful should they suffer and not be rescued when they expect it?

It’s not my faith in God that’s being tested, it’s my faith in human beings. I know that God wants us to love one another even as we love Him (and even as He loves us), but He can never be faithless, cruel, mean, moody, disagreeable, hostile, frustrated, annoying, annoyed, and so on. Only we are like that and we are like that toward each other all the time.

No, this isn’t about being criticized on the Internet again. In fact, my little corner of the blogsophere has been pretty quiet these days. Not a lot of religious posturing is going on and it’s fairly easy to ignore what little is occurring.

And yet, the world of human beings keeps going on the same way it has since there have been human beings. It’s not just the petty slights of day-to-day living, but the whole panorama of human history that shows me human beings don’t change. In spite of the illusion of progressivism, the idea that we keep getting better and better as long as we keep becoming more and more socially and politically liberal, people die every day. There are wars every day. Women are assaulted, beaten, and raped every day. Human beings do cruel things every day, just like we always have.

No matter what I do, I’m not perfect even for one minute of any day, and no matter what I do, what mistakes I’ve made, how much I’ve tried to make amends, I’ll make another mistake, tomorrow, an hour from now, a minute from now.

alone-on-marsSometimes, looking back, I wonder if part of my interest in space exploration and science fiction is the desire to get away from it all. I think of the Mars One project actually working. What would it be like to stand on another planet, staring out into the distance, gazing into the vast desert of another world, one with very, very few human beings on it? What would it be like to be truly alone, where it’s quiet and peaceful and empty?

But all that is a fantasy, at least for me. I’m on Earth, where God has put all of us. I live in a broken world, and it spins and spins in a broken universe. And besides God, all we have is each other.

The souls are all one.
Only the bodies divide us.
Therefore, one who places the body before the spirit
can never experience true love or friendship.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“True Love”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe, Rabbi M. M. Schneerson

I don’t know if I buy that part about all souls being one but I do agree that we are divided. There’s a difference between studying, reading, and writing religion and the actual doing of religion. In my opinion, there’s a difference between wearing tzitzit or laying tefillin or lighting the Shabbos candles because they’re written down in a book and doing the same things because you are responding to God with devotion and love. There’s probably even a difference between giving to charity or donating to a food bank because you think you should do it and because you are acting out of compassion.

The one thing that shows everyone your true motivation is if you can take insults or abuse or worse and still remain loving toward other people and toward God in every word and deed.

We are divided. We are separated from God and from each other. We have been since before Adam and Eve walked east out of Eden. We’ve been walking away from paradise ever since, even as we keep trying to walk toward it.

Pessimism is a luxury that a Jew can never allow himself.

-Golda Meir

5 thoughts on “Walking East of Eden”

  1. You bring up a good and transparent point about yourself, James, regarding fascination with outer space and space exploration perhaps being a form of escape. My intense interest in the Holocaust may function in a certain way to answer a deep need or desire (who knows which?) to explore what makes the collective soul of humanity, as Rabbi Tzvi might say, tick.

    I certainly agree with the statement that we’ve been walking away from paradise ever since… one step forward, two steps, or more, back. It is my way to help us “remember” in order that we might shorten the stride of our steps backward.

    Thanks, as usual, for making me think.

  2. I think God “wires” each of us with some sort of talent or emphasis that is designed to be used in His service and to help repair the world. Your’s is obvious, my friend. Blessings.

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