The news these days is so heavy. It fills our lives with negativity and prevents us from noticing the blessings that do surround us. In this way, while we are not living under the crushing power of Pharaoh, we are much like the ancient Israelites we read about in the Torah this Shabbat.
The Israelites, so overwhelmed by years of oppression in Egypt, have lost the ability to see beyond their own pain. They fail to see that God, manifested in the power of nature, remains a part of their lives. And so, God does not free the Israelites from slavery by sending just one plague to undermine Pharaoh and his armies. God sends ten plagues, hardening Pharoah’s heart whenever a plague weakens the Egyptian leader’s resolve to keep the Israelites enslaved. God could have insured the Israelites freedom a lot more quickly, but realized that our ancestors needed a miraculous, divine show – ten plagues – to reignite the Israelites’ ability to be amazed by this world.
Today, as a result of all of the chaos in the world, many of us have lost the ability to see the good stuff in life. Like the Israelites, we need a miraculous, divine show to reignite our ability to be amazed by this world – to refocus our attention away from all that is broken and toward things that remind us that the world is still filled with beauty. Fortunately for us and the people around us, we don’t need ten plagues to open up our eyes to the miracles that surround us. However, we do need a wake-up call – because many of the miracles that surround us are in danger of disappearing if we fail to appreciate them.
An article in yesterday’s USA Today (http://goo.gl/Anc3tz) highlighted seven of the world’s natural wonders – one of them being right in our own back yard – the Everglades and another being in Israel – the Dead Sea. Stressing the fact that we are, like the Israelites, incapable of appreciating these wonders, the article describes how modern plagues that have been brought about by our own hands are threatening the existence of these wonders. Urban development, limited water flow, illegal/industrial logging, deforestation, illegal wildlife trade, war, changes in the global climate, agricultural and industrial pollution are just some of the plagues that could obliterate spectacular beauty from our midst.
Tu B’Shevat – our celebration of nature – falls on February 4th. It serves as the annual Jewish wake-up call – imploring us to focus on the world’s beauty, reminding us that we are responsible for maintaining this beauty. If we don’t stop to appreciate and pay attention to the natural wonders around us, if we allow ourselves to focus only on the negative stuff that pervades our life, we will lose these treasures and, in turn, lose important reminders that, despite the chaos in this world, God still dwells among us.
This Shabbat, I hope each of us finds the time to go outside, look up at the sky, appreciate the trees, the birds, the sunshine and appreciate how amazing it all is. May we be inspired by the world around us and may we prepare for Tu B’Shevat by doing what we can to protect what inspires us.