Sunday, July 15, 2012

On rainfall and creating vessels for the "divine outpouring"

There are many places in the Hebrew Scriptures which compare God's blessings to rain, such as:

For I (God) will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams in the dry ground.  I will pour out my Spirit on your offspring, and My blessing on your descendants.  (Isaiah 44:3)

Raindrops photo by Linda F. Palmer,
courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
There are also many references in kabbalah and Hasidic philosophy about creating vessels (kaylim) to hold the divine blessings.  These are, of course, symbolic -- the "vessels" being things like daily prayer times, giving charity,  doing mitzvot, etc.  But symbols usually have some basis in the natural world.  Last week, that point was brought home to me in very physical way.

On Thursday afternoon, our water pump went out.  I had just finished watering the animals and the container gardens, turned off the faucet, then came inside to wash the eggs. When I turned on the inside faucet, nothing came out.  Did we blow a fuse?  I went downstairs, checked the circuit breakers -- even flipped the one for the pump on and off again -- still nothing.

So I shut off the circuit to the pump in case there was a short or bad connection (did not want to risk a fire), then came back upstairs and began figuring out how we were going to cope with having no water in a heatwave.  If the pump needed replacing, that was going to be an expensive repair -- and we are flat broke.   Luckily I have been collecting rainwater off the roof of the house and the coop for the garden and animals, so I had some backup on hand, but that wouldn't last forever.  I could haul water from the lake if necessary, but did not look forward to doing that in the extreme  heat.  As for drinking water, I drove into town and bought eight gallons in reusable containers from the self-service reverse-osmosis station at our local grocery.

Friday there was a forecast of rain, so I began gathering every bucket, jug, barrel, and other container I could find to collect rain water.  Suddenly the symbolism of the "divine outpouring" became very, very clear.  God's blessings are infinite, but our receiving them is limited by the "vessels" we have created to receive them.   This point is brought home in the biblical story of The Widow's Oil (2 Kings chapter 4), where the prophet Elisha tells a poor woman to collect all the jars and jugs she can from her neighbors, then begin pouring what little cooking oil she had into these jugs.  As long as she had empty jugs to fill, the oil kept coming.  When she ran out of containers, the blessing stopped, but she had enough to sell and pay off her debts.

In my case, no miracle was required, only a downpour of rain -- which came on Friday afternoon.  I put on my swim trunks (to let nature wash the sweat off me) and went out to tend my containers.  Rain was gushing off the roof , and as a bucket filled, I replaced it with an empty one and poured the water into a jug.  I was also very happy to see my main garden getting watered, because I really did not want to lose my vegetables.  The zucchinis, cukes, squash and tomatoes are just beginning to form, and it would be a real hardship to lose them.

When the storm ended, I had enough water to tide me over  the weekend.  My wife (who joined me for a shower in the rain) and I were also washed clean for the Sabbath.  Never in my life had a cold shower felt so good!    As of today (Sunday) the pump still is not fixed (we hope to figure out some financing tomorrow), I'm all sweaty and smelly again, but this experience did give me a very good story about spirituality.

Religious practice, and ritual in general, can be considered a form of container to receive and hold God's blessing. You might not feel deeply inspired every time you go to services or sit down to pray privately, but if you make room for a regular prayer time, you are more likely to receive inspiration than if you never bother to pray at all.  This is why we speak of "making" the Sabbath.   The blessing of the Sabbath is there every week, poured out freely for every Jew to receive.  But unless you make proper preparations -- to create a vessel to receive and contain it -- the blessing of the Sabbath escapes you.  And so it is with any spiritual practice.

(UPDATE:  I did get the pump fixed a few days later.  Turned out it was only a broken switch on the pressure tank, so not as expensive after all.  But this experience did provide me with some interesting insights.)

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