“Pray as if everything depended on G-d and act as if everything depended on man.”
-Francis Cardinal Spellman
The news went out around town: a huge flood was coming! Immediate evacuation was ordered, and people began leaving town as quickly as possible. At the local temple, there was a honking noise; outside was the head of the Sunday School, in a van full of congregants.
“Rabbi,” said the head of the Sunday School, “we have an extra seat. Come with us!”
“No,” said the Rabbi. “Drive safely, and lead these people well. I shall remain here; I have faith that G-d will save me.”
The van left and the waters continued to rise. Soon the streets were impassable, The Rabbi moved to the second floor of the temple, water lapping at his ankles. There was a knocking at the window; outside was the Cantor, in a motorboat full of refugees.
“Rabbi,” said the Cantor, “we have an extra seat. Come with us!”
“No,” said the Rabbi. “Sail safely, and lead these people well. I shall remain here; I have faith that G-d will save me.”
The motorboat left and the waters continued to rise. Soon the building was flooded. The Rabbi moved to the roof of the temple, water lapping at his ankles. There was a great noise and a rush of wind; above was the President of the Congregation, in a helicopter full of rescue workers.
“Rabbi,” said the President, “we have an extra seat. Come with us!”
“No,” said the Rabbi. “Fly safely, and lead these people well. I shall remain here; I have faith that G-d will save me.”
The helicopter left and the waters continued to rise. Soon they rose above the Rabbi’s head. He swam until he could no longer move, and then the waters covered him and he drowned. He awoke in Heaven, facing the Great Judge.
“Adonai,” said the Rabbi, “I had faith in you. How could you let me drown?”
“But Rabbi,” said HaShem, “I sent you a van, a motorboat, and a helicopter; how much more did you need?”
So why does this story remind me of Tu B’shvat?
The harvest holidays present an interesting quandary to my mind; we gather to pray and thank G-d for the plentiful harvest, or to ask for a good crop to come. We learn that all things come from G-d, the creator of ha-kol ha-olam, the entire world. Well if that’s so, why do the farmers have to work so hard?
The community that casts seeds upon the earth and then waits, as the Rabbi in the story, for G-d to provide bountiful harvest will soon perish, starving to death with prayers on their lips. Praying for wisdom will not help you pass a test if you neglect your studies. And an ever increasing body of research shows that people that fall ill and pray for health will quickly grow worse if they do not also petition a doctor. In fact, not since the Exodus from Egypt has a community fed itself literally on their prayers to Heaven.
What then is the role of prayer?
It is a sort of reverse blasphemy to say motzi before eating, thanking G-d for “bringing forth bread from the ground” while completely neglecting the farmer, the miller, the baker, and – in our modern world – all the truckers, grocery store employees, FDA inspectors, tractor manufacturers, and entrepreneurs without whom the bread that G-d brought forth from the ground would never reach our table.
The Old Shul answer would be something along the lines of, “Yes, but it is only through HaShem that they are able to do so!” I don’t like that one; feels like a cop out. Rather, think of it as a reminder; before you plant, before you harvest, before you cook, before you eat, remember. There is a way to do this, to feed the people while living in harmony with the world. To feed your family while caring for the community.
My Catholic friend uses a grace that I have come to deeply appreciate. It says, allowing for misquotation, “bless the hands that prepared this food, and bless this food that we may use it in thy service.” Smoothly invoking, recognizing, and thanking the involvement of G-d in the process, while reminding and recommitting us to our duty as ethical human beings.
We pray for inspiration and dedication, but the action is all on us.
Happy Tu B’shvat; let’s go hug a tree!