Who Changes the Water?

The Bible, like the American Declaration of Independence, is an account of a covenanted people. Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks, the former Chief Rabbi of Great Britain, said that the covenant is the conscious decision to create a society in the light of shared ideals. A covenant is born when free people seek to create a better society. It is a collective moral undertaking, on the part of “we the people,” who declare individually and collectively our vision and actions.    At the heart of the covenant, there is the profound vision on the values by which the society wants to live. Thus — in the midst of pagan societies — an agrarian, Jewish biblical society integrated into its covenant and everyday life revolutionary ideas for the time, ideals of social justice and moral behavior. These ideas later inspired revolutions against injustice and for the creation of great nations. And these ideas were later spread by Christianity, which inherited and carried these initially Jewish ideals throughout the world.

Have you ever heard the story of the two little goldfish swimming in a bowl. One fish says to the other: “Do you believe in God?” And the other little fish replies: “Of course! Who do you think changes our water every day?”

But to be Jewish, it is not enough to believe that God changes our water. To be Jewish, you have to do. You have to live by the covenant and perform the commandments. The Ten Commandments, which we find in the Torah portion, Yitro, Exodus 20: 1-14 are the initial basis of the covenant of the Jewish people in the Bible. Later these commandments were elaborated by more specific rules in Leviticus, intended to help the ancient Israelites morally and practically apply the ten commandments of the covenant to living conditions in the wilderness for forty years — and then to the land of Israel.

After the destruction of the Second Temple, the Rabbis expanded these 10 rules into 613 very detailed rules, 248 positive commandments (thou shalt) and 365 negative commandments (thou shalt not). Each commandment was an extension of the initial ten in application to the minutiae of daily life – and intended to help the Jewish people keep the initial 10 commandments set forth in Exodus 20  — but in strange lands surrounded by people with different customs.

In Leviticus 26:3-4, God makes this promise which reflects the the Bible’s respect for nature in its imagery: If you follow my laws and faithfully observe my commandments, I will grant your rains in their season, so that the earth shall yield its produce and the trees of the field their fruit. And in Ezekiel 34: 26-27, God echoes this promise: “I will make these and the environs of My hill a blessing: I will send down the rain in its season, rains that bring blessing. The trees of the field shall yield their fruit and the land shall yield its produce. [My people] shall continue secure on its own soil.”

In California, in 2015, in the midst of drought, this is an important promise, still very relevant. We need rain for our produce to grow. So let’s welcome El Nino with gratitude. Its coming is indeed a seasonal greeting!

Wishing one and all the very best of years in 2016!