If I sound a little muffled, it’s because I’m writing from beneath a huge cloud of dust.
On Tuesday we awoke to yellow skies. This is not too unusual for the transitional seasons, but usually the dust storm lasts maybe a day, and then the heat “breaks” with a muddy rainfall, and the weather moves on with its topsy-turvy unpredictable transitional-season self.
Not this week, though. It’s Thursday, and though the skies are more gray than yellow now, the sand is still here. And it’s hot as all heck out there. This weather is dangerous for people with breathing difficulties, so they are advised to stay inside, and the Ministry of Education issued a directive to keep kids indoors during the school day. We’ve had the windows closed and the A/C on pretty much all day since Tuesday.
I have a habit of looking for God in the weather. I dunno; the weather is one of those things that is so beyond our control, something that feels like the direct result of His will. Therefore, when we have unusual weather, I tend to feel that God is speaking to me through it somehow. So I find myself asking, what’s with this dust, so soon before Rosh Hashana–which begins on Sunday night?
I thought about dust, and references to dust in the Rosh Hashana prayer services. It is mentioned in the context of our humility before God; “I am like dust in my lifetime…” And then it occurred to me: in Genesis 2:7, the Torah describes the creation of Man. “The Lord God created man, dust from the earth, and He blew into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living soul.” (The Hebrew word for “man” or “human” is Adam–אדם–which comes from the word adama, אדמה, which means “earth.”)
According to our tradition, Rosh Hashana is the birthday of the first man, Adam. The story described in Genesis is not necessarily meant to be taken literally, but I think what it is showing us is that as humans, we are a synthesis between the most tangible of matter–“dust of the earth”–and the highest of “spiritual matter”, “the breath of God.” This tension also represents what I am always saying is one of the most important tasks the Torah assigns: to take the material and elevate it into something spiritual.
In the previous chapter of Genesis, 1:26, we find a passage that is curious in its use of the plural: “God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image…'” Us? Our?
The Bible critics would jump on this and say it proves that whoever wrote the Bible believed in multiple gods, or something. The traditional commentaries would roll their eyes and say, “Sit down, you pretentious cynics. It’s a ‘royal we’.” Others say He was speaking to the angels, to teach us the lesson of humility, that we should always consult with those “lesser” than us and not see ourselves above asking their advice.
But there is one interpretation of the use of the plural form in this passage that I have always found particularly inspiring. [And I can’t find its source, so if anyone reading knows it, please tell me!]
God isn’t speaking to the angels or to other gods or to Himself with the royal ‘we’.
He is speaking to you.
He is saying, “Let us make man–you and Me. I’ll give you the raw materials–the dust–and you will breathe in My spirit. I’ll give you a body and free will, and you will use those to make good choices, to refine yourself and become all that you can be, and to elevate My world to its fullest spiritual potential.”
And that’s what Rosh Hashana is all about. What are we doing with our dust? Are we simply clumps of dust, coming from dust, returning to dust? Or are we drawing in God’s spirit with every breath we take, infusing our dust with Divinity?
So obviously, I have no idea why God kicked up this epic sandstorm at this particular point in time. But there is something that feels appropriate about it, being surrounded by these metaphorical particles that form what we are in this life, that create the veil of this material world behind which the infinite spiritual universe resides.
And those are my dusty thoughts for the day. 😉 I will take this opportunity to wish you a sweet and happy new year, full of new beginnings, and personal fulfillment, and love, and joy, and everything your heart desires. May we all be written and sealed in the Book of Life.