It’s orange season in Southern California and as it happens, my host Rabbi Bookstein has a backyard with two orange trees. This morning I put on my teffilin and recited my morning prayers (Five days in a row! Surely the angels are singing my name in heaven! Heh…). Afterwards, as I walked out of the guest house, I helped myself to one of the scrumptious oranges hanging from a tree. Taking the opportunity to commune with God once more, I thanked my number one deity for the yummy treat and recited the blessing for the fruit of the tree (Can you hear those angels??). That’s another thing I’ve been lax on. In Judaism, any food you eat, any meal you partake of, has a corresponding blessing wherein we basically offer our thanks to God for the grub. This, in tandem with the laws of kashrut, elevate the simple act of eating into a religious ritual. By bringing God into our snack time, we ought to contemplate why this is necessary.
Abraham Joshua Heschel was one of the preeminent Jewish Theologians of our time. His religious training and ordination was Orthodox and he was affiliated with both Reform Judaism’s Hebrew Union College and then Conservative Judaism’s Jewish Theological Seminary. I don’t think he was entirely comfortable in any of these places and his theology and approach to Judaism was criticized by many of his peers of all denominations (he must have been onto something then, huh?). In his book God in Search of Man: A Philosophy of Judaism he discusses an approach to Judaism that combines faith and spirituality with law and devotion, while eschewing extreme approaches that favor one over the other. Heschel, who as far as I am concerned, may as well have been Sephardic, once said:
Remember that there is a meaning beyond absurdity. Be sure that every little deed counts, that every word has power. Never forget that you can still do your share to redeem the world in spite of all absurdities and frustrations and disappointments.
That quickly uttered blessing over a modest piece of fruit, the name of God pressed into my flesh by my tefillin straps, these otherwise simple things bring to mind the meaning beyond absurdity that Heschel referred to. What will I do to redeem the world? What will you do? I don’t know. But it seems even the oranges are there to remind me, to remind us, to just keep trying.