1 Nissan 5765
The Lesson Spring Teaches
by Rav Shmalo, Michlalah
Spring has returned to Israel after the harshest winter in my memory.
For several months now we have all been suffering through an unending series of national and global upheavals. War dragged on in one continent, genocide raged in another. In Israel brothers and sisters debated politics with the threat of civil violence articulated openly and ominously. Scandals rocked the rabbinate and ugly controversies spread through yeshivas. Questions of faith mutated into a full-blown crisis of authority. Respect gave way to mockery. Cynicism eclipsed reverence. Even the forces of nature seemed to turn against each other: tectonic plates crashed, the earth shook, the waves rose, and thousands were suddenly washed out to sea. From where I sat, I witnessed not the destructive force of one group or another – be it eleven highjackers or even an army – but the relentless unraveling of society in general.
A chilly winter indeed.
Although Israel received a below than average rainfall, the Jerusalem area got more than its share, so the wildflowers here are truly spectacular. Red anemones are everywhere, mixed in among the purple irises and the golden crowns of the giant fennel. The plants, at least, haven’t lost their heads. Their beautiful variety is a welcome reminder of the chessed of Hashem – His constant desire to give, seemingly without reason.
My teacher once pointed out that for many years all television programs were produced in black and white and that worked just fine. We humans could have lived and operated in a world of black and white, and many color-blind people do. Why then did Hashem give us a world of color?
Because He loves us, and wants to give to us.
When Hashem cares for our needs, we see His power and his mercy; but because He is then reacting to our wants, we are less aware of His spontaneous desire to just give – what we call chessed. For example, an orange has vitamin C that we need to survive, and in that aspect of the orange we see Hashem’s wisdom and mercy. But the flavors of the orange, the beauty of the orange tree are almost gratuitous little gifts, and so in them we see Hashem’s chessed.
The month of Nissan, the month of spring, is a blessed reminder of this divine kindness. The distinction between Hashem’s mercy and his kindness is crucial, and symbolized in the Exodus itself. Moshe emphasized that we were led out of Egypt in the spring: “Today you have set out, in the month of spring” (Shemos 13 :4) On this verse Rashi comments: “note the kindness (chessed) that you were given, that He took you out in a month that was fitting: not too hot, not too cold, and no rain…” We have to wonder if the Jews really cared so much about the weather. They had suffered centuries of cruel slavery, infanticide, blood baths. Wouldn’t they have welcomed an Exodus in December?
Rav Chaim Goldwicht zt”l pointed out that the very fact that the good weather was almost gratuitous highlights that chessed drove the redemption. Hashem was not just giving what we needed or what we deserved; He was simply giving. And when Hashem gives with chessed the gifts are abundant, both large and small. Had He given what we deserved we probably never would have left Egypt. Had we been given was we needed – based on divine mercy – we might have been redeemed even in the heat of the summer, but we certainly wouldn’t have been marched through fields of wildflowers. Instead, the redemption was based on chessed, Hashem’s desire to give graciously and freely, and so we traveled first class, in the best of weather, in the season of growth both bountiful and beautiful.
Jewish society is in a terrible mess right now. I certainly pray that Hashem is not looking to see what we deserve. Fortunately we were redeemed in the month of chessed and we will be redeemed in the month of chessed, based less on what we deserve and more on Hashem’s abundant flow of kindness. This kindness is already all around us. If you have any doubts and you are anywhere near the Judean hills, just step outside.
We must never be complacent, and this holds true today more than ever. We must steel ourselves against cynicism and mockery. We must redouble our efforts to confront challenges with respect and tolerance. Most of all, we must do what we can to invigorate divine kindness by acting towards other with a kindness that approaches the divine.
In the end, we can all take comfort in the lesson that the spring teaches. Even as we feel drained by trauma from within and without, we can take comfort in the knowledge that Hashem loves us with a graciousness that is both absolute and inexhaustible.