It has been a very rainy few weeks. And I have had the pleasure of finding myself in several amazing thunder storms. While sometimes extreme storms and weather are concerning and dangerous, sometimes they are awe inspiring. As it turns out, there is a special blessing (if you had a penny for every time I said that!) to be said upon experiencing lightning, thunder and big storms: "בָּרוּךְ שֶׁכֹּחוֹ וּגְבוּרָתוֹ מָלֵא עוֹלָם / Blessed is the One whose strength and power fill the world."
In this week's parsha, we get to spend time with this powerful Divine presence. In Parashat Beha'alotecha, we read about the astonishing Divine presence as a cloud that is fire:
"On the day that the Tabernacle was set up, the cloud covered the Tabernacle, the Tent of the Pact; and in the evening it rested over the Tabernacle in the likeness of fire until morning. It would always be so: the cloud covered it, appearing as fire by night" (Numbers 9:15-16).
Pointing to this divine contradiction, the Talmud asks: "Mai shamayim, what are the heavens?" regarding the second day of Creation when earth and heavens came to be separate entities (Ta'anit 12a). "An old teaching answers: esh u'mayim, fire and water. The Holy Blessed One scrambled them together each in the other and made from them the firmament." אש ומים becomes שמים, the letters themselves combining to make something new out of these essential elements.
Rabbi Emma Kippley-Ogman explains, "We imagine that mixing fire and water should eliminate one of the elements—fire should evaporate water or water should quench fire—but instead we learn that the coexistence of these apparent opposites is essential to Divine creation."
We live in a world of multiple truths. It can be uncomfortable to accept. This Torah portion reminds us that the practice of making space within ourselves for complexity and contradictions will also increase our capacity to experience the holy within and around us.
Blessed is the Source of Life whose powerful presence fills us up.
Wishing you all a shabbat shalom!
Rabbi Ari Lev
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Rabbi Ari Lev Fornari brings Torat Hayyim, a living tradition, to Kol Tzedek through thoughts about prayer, justice, and community.