All of us are acutely aware that California is in a serious drought. It requires each of us to become very mindful of how we use water and make sure that we limit any wastefulness. That means changing habits in terms of when we turn on the faucet and mindfulness of not letting the tap run when washing hands, brushing teeth, doing dishes and any other times we turn on the water.
Such mindfulness brings to light the purpose of the mitzvah system not just as a way of consciousness to attend to needs in our world. Mitzvah involves moments to pause and utter thanks for small and large activities in our lives, whether welcoming special times such as the Shabbat or uttering thanks for a glass of water, cup of coffee, a tasty fruit and/or seeing special moments in our lives.
Considering the many blessings of appreciation for gifts we have in the course of our day, the function of mitzvah in such modes is to remind us to notice more of the details in our day, either that need our attention in timely fashion or that bring to light common moments that we are mindful not to take for granted.
One of my favorite blessings is appreciation after going to the bathroom that the “plumbing” is working reasonably well. When we utter a blessing over some kind of food, more than it being a rote prayer, it is an opportunity to notice the miracle of swallowing without choking on food, given that the same passage we use for eating is also used for breathing. The fact that we tend to swallow okay is thus a miracle not to be taken for granted.
So, if the mitzvah system serves to have us focus on daily repeating actions and situations and to appreciate that as many times as we have seen or done something, the reality is that it is a first time, every time, this kind of discipline can help us remember to not take life’s resources for granted.
With the drought bringing to consciousness that we are very low on water in this region of the country, measures are being put into place that restrict how we use water, with severe reductions in usage critically important to give us a chance to “weather this storm’’ of the lack of storms, i.e. rainfall.
Jewishly, this reminds us of the value and power of mitzvah as a means of ongoing consciousness of life’s blessings and concerns that we are mandated to give our attention every day, all the time.
How ironic that the drought is presenting us with such rules and regulations that do what mitzvah does, focuses on attention to detail and to change habits that allow us to take resources for granted and thereby be wasteful. When times are okay, we can get away with such habits and look at mitzvahs as noble ideas vs. necessities. The reality is that this world was given to us as a gift to watch over and to protect, through good times, as well as bad. With the drought being such a dramatic reality, we have to give attention to details of how we use/abuse water throughout every day and to rid ourselves of habits that allow us to overlook the preciousness of life’s blessings. So, as we each reexamine our usage of water, we can use this internal reflection and the actions we must take in response as a reminder that the mitzvah system is not in place to project ideals and good ideas. It is all about being mindful in good times and bad that no part of life is to be taken for granted, and that each mitzvah offers an opportunity to notice particular aspects of life that are amazing blessings if not miracles.
Whatever we do to make water conservation one of the mitzvahs we undertake to preserve our lives at this time, the important lesson to derive for the days when hopefully the rains return in abundance is that water will always remain one of many precious resources for us to treat with care, respect and ongoing attention to detail as to how we use it and how we attend to so many details in our lives without which life would not be sustainable. Like it or not, with the growing numbers of people in the world, water will never again be a resource we can squander, any more than we should squander the precious days of our lives.