We all remember the truism that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. We may not remember that this insight is the non-provable “given” in a geometric equation that leads to the “proving” of the existence of a table or any physical object, nor do I remember anything about how that equation is developed.
What I do know is that the existence of God, from Jewish perspective, is another such “postulate”, something not subject to “proof”, yet leads to all the values, principles and practices upon which Judaism is based. Another truism that has its Jewish equivalent is “what goes around comes around”. We state it differently: a mitzvah will generate another mitzvah; a wrong doing (avera) will likely generate another wrong doing.
The path during this period of fifty days between Passover and Shavuot, the holiday celebrating the Giving of the Torah (which we shall do on May 30 at 7PM and June 1 at 10 AM), is not a straight line but a spiral going upward. The rabbis, with the ongoing counting of the Omer, link Passover and Shavuot. Freedom from Mitzrayim, narrow confinement, i.e. Egypt, is not complete until you receive the guidance system through which to maintain and develop that freedom. That is the purpose and function of Torah. Each day of the count-up from Passover to Shavuot is understood to be an elevation of what is Kadosh, holiness i.e. all that is precious in life.
Life in all its repetitiveness often seems like going around in circles, doing the same things year after year in living each day as creatures of habit. Or, we can choose to see each day as a first, as unique, that it isn’t about circling in a rut as much as circling as in a parking garage, ascending to a new level.
The Jewish view of life is more about the circling upward than proceeding straight forward. The question is whether what we generate in our circles is good or not.
Another kind of circle manifests in dropping a pebble in a still pool of water; it creates ripples. Our actions each day create ripples, whether we notice or not. What we say and what we do have impacts beyond our awareness. The tradition emphasizes what not to do: Hillel teaches “what is hateful to you, do not render to another”. The Torah accentuates avoiding Lashon HaRa, bad talk that can more lastingly damage someone than breaking their arm. Wrong doing can energize more wrong doing. The teaching is to “keep one’s tongue from bad…to turn from bad and do good”. Our good words and actions can lead to better conditions in the lives of people around us.
Our task in moving from Passover to Shavuot is to generate positive ripples. The sages tell a story of one who asked a rabbi why bad talk is worse than a physical misstep. The rabbi in response instructed the questioner to tear up a pillow and scatter its feathers to the wind. Then he instructed him to gather up all the feathers and stuff them back into the pillow, a virtually impossible task. The point was that bad words, once uttered, cannot be taken back; they ripple out indefinitely. Yet, one can apply the same tale in a positive way. Scatter good doings to the wind; you may never know the good you do along the way.
These days between Passover and Shavuot offer choices in direction: we can rush forward, trampling over anything in the way that impedes our reaching the finish line first; or we can pause as we go and reflect on the teaching that more important than any finish line is noticing where we are at this moment, at every moment, in the cycle of life. Are we in a rush to be first, simply going around in circles, generating bad ripples along the way? Or are we conscious of growing and elevating each day in generating positive ripples changing our own lives and those around us for the better?
If all we do in going from point A to B as quickly as possible is in reality go around in circles, then all we will accomplish is what God strictly forbade us from doing: returning to Mitzrayim, where we came from. Instead we can choose to spiral onward and upward until we reach the metaphoric mountain of God to receive the gift of freedom that will forever abide among us. We can link points A and B and know that point A is Passover and point B is Shavuot, and we can know freedom in our hearts and in every facet of our lives, in bringing such gifts to each other and our world.