Sunday, June 26, 2011

Thwack !

It’s a Jewish spiritual teaching that all events in our lives are caused by the Creator. He alone decides and understands what’s best for our soul’s journey. Often people think that their fates are in the hands of parents, teachers, siblings, spouses, genetics, financial markets, health specialists, governments, etc. The list of these kinds of attributed causes can be exhaustive. Truthfully, there is only one cause behind every event, the Creator. All the other causes that people often attribute to the events in their lives are really just tools used by the Creator to reshape human destiny. He has many tools in his vast toolbox.

However, people often confuse the Creator with His tools. This reminds me of a story that happened to me in the early 1990’s. At the time I was living in South Florida and enjoyed exploring the local Native American culture.

It was a bright and sunny Florida mid-winter season, the kind that beckons people from colder climates to drop by and warm their bones. A friend of mine visited me from New York. Wanting to showcase for him the lovely unique natural beauty of South Florida, I took him along on several different outings over the course of a few days. One of these outings was to the Seminole reservation in Hollywood, Florida.

We arrived at the Seminole reservation on time for an alligator wrestling show. The show was held in a large enclosed area. An assortment of alligators and crocodiles were sunning themselves behind a fence.

Out came the wrestler. He began the show by comparing and contrasting the nature of the alligators to crocodiles. He explained that the American alligator has a relatively docile nature in contrast to the aggressive Nile crocodile. He then picked up a long pole and lifted it high in the air. It whistled as it came down and struck an American alligator on his leathery muscular back with a loud "thwack". The alligator barely moved. His repose continued undisturbed, as he lounged in the sun.

Next, the wrestler again lifted his long pole high in the air. This time the pole "thwacked" the back of a Nile crocodile. The crocodile hissed and growled at the pole. His snout reared with anger. His jaws opened wide revealing deadly teeth. Aggressively, he kept snapping at the pole, again and again and again and …. 

Having just passed Passover, this story possibly sheds light on the second plague that the Creator had sent the Ancient Egyptians just before the Exodus. The popular, and certainly the main, tradition is that the Hebrew word for the second plague tzeh-far-de’ah means “frogs”. However, there is a minor tradition that the word tzeh-far-de’ah means “Nile crocodiles”. Indeed a famous renaissance traveler to Egypt, Rabbi Obadiah of Bartenura, reported in his travel diary that he saw the Biblical tzeh-far-de’ah and then proceeded to describe Nile crocodiles.

If this plague was indeed a communal infestation of Nile crocodiles then it’s easy to see how this plague fit the Ancient Egyptian psyche; a psyche that just grabs at the nearest tangible cause of joy or suffering without seeking a more underlying cause.

The Ancient Egyptian worshipped a system of cosmic forces. They perceived these force as so spiritual that they mistakenly thought that they reached the upper end point of reality. In their imaginations there could be nothing beyond. What they missed was that the Creator is beyond their whole cosmic pantheon of forces. These spiritual forces are merely the Creator’s tools. As mere tools, they are not really responsible for the pattern and flow of human life. It’s best to appeal to the One who wields the tools – the Creator. 

Watching this scene I mused to myself, “He thinks the pole is attacking him and so he’s battling the pole. He absolutely has no clue who’s wielding that pole; who is his real attacker. He just grabs at the nearest tangible symbol of his suffering and deals with it reactively. Isn’t this so similar to what happens with humans? Humans think that their suffering or pleasures come from immediately tangible sources, not realizing that these sources are mere tools being wielded by the Creator and it’s best to appeal to the real Source.”

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