I don’t know how many times I had glanced between my wall clock and my microwave’s time display not realizing there was a growing disparity between the two. Knowing I wanted to be out the door by 9 for my meeting, my brain found ease seeing the big hand over the 8, telling me I had a breath of 20 minutes. I was simultaneously oblivious to and aware that my time was getting tighter as I glanced back at the microwave.
I snapped out of my brainstorming/Youtube watching daze to notice that my microwave now said 9:05 but my wall clock hadn’t moved. Finally realizing the analog face had let me down, I searched for a single replacement AA battery. With no luck I left it on the table exposing an uncomfortably unoccupied space on my wall, intending to deal with it later.
When I got to my writers’ meeting, I greeted Joe who had just come back from vacation. But it wasn’t long before I noticed his clock was also missing from his wall and was now resting on his table.
“Did your clock stop?” I asked.
“Yeah, while I was away in Italy it must have. I couldn’t find any AA batteries so I just left it on the table,” he replied.
Odd. Definitely a coincidence. But nothing to write home about. If I told someone that story alone, I might get a response similar to this…
But when you live with the mindset that God is involved in your life, it means that those things that give you pause, that cause you to do a double take, might have a deeper meaning. But I’m not a prophet and there’s not really much you can do with a single coincidence. So I put it in the back of my mind.
But when I came home to research this week’s Parsha Bechukosai, I opened Rabbi Weinberg’s book to this week’s portion. What did I find? A chapter entitled Hearing God’s Messages where Rabbi Weinberg discusses this very topic.
Verses of Curses
After detailing the particulars of the Shemittah and Yovel years, the Torah gives the promise that if the Jews are good and follow commandments they will have many wonderful blessings. But should the Jews decide to do otherwise, there will be consequences. First bad, then worse. Then much worse. Then just when you think we get the point, it lists out right horrors… for like 25 verses. So yeah, maybe there’s something to this notion of a vengeful Old Testament God.
But within the midst of these curses, the following line appears;
And if you treat Me as happenstance and refuse to heed Me, then I shall lay a further blow upon you… (Vayikra 26:21)
It’s after this line that the curses go from bad to terrifying. But what does it mean to treat God as a happenstance and why does He get so pissed about it? The word is קֶ֔רִי or keri, in the Hebrew and Rashi translates it as “occurrence” or “by chance.” And what the Torah is warning us about is the perspective of how we interpret what happens to us.
Within the context of what would appear to be a curse, if one looks at that event and simply says, “..it happens,” dismissing it purely as chance, they’ve thrown away a tremendous chance to grow or course correct. If they continue to do that, it will possibly lead to more misfortune. And you don’t have to be religious to see this. If anyone lets their bad behavior go unchecked it will inevitably lead to trouble and eventually disaster, whether it’s a drinking problem, arrogance, carelessness, etc.
However, if you view life as a continuous relationship with God, where nothing is coincidence or chance but instead a stream of communication, then you’re much more likely to be able to pick up on those hints and signs before you get into trouble. But how do you do that?
We’re not prophets nor should we think we are. The truth is we no longer live in a world where we can definitely know what God is trying to tell us. Maybe you can journey to Jerusalem and meet some giant Torah sage, or you can develop a personal relationship with a Rabbi and after some time and awareness of your struggles, they might be able to give you a decent interpretation. But it’s never going to be right on the money.
However, even though we can’t for sure get the message, we should still try. In order to do that there are certain skills one needs to develop. Rabbi Weinberg compared it to trying to shoot a basketball into a hoop. The first time you step to the free throw line, you’re probably not going to make the basket. You may not even hit the backboard. But with time and practice, you will get better.
1) A person needs to be sincere in their goals. That requires the person has a growth oriented mindset, are ready to struggle for that growth, and is willing to listen to anyone or anything that might aid that growth. You may not agree with the advice your mother gives you, but it can’t hurt to consider it. There’s likely something there of value.
2) Learning Torah gives you a clearer idea of what God wants. If you’re not striving to learn and consider new perspectives, that means you’ll only be able to interpret messages from your limited understanding and values. If Torah is a source of wisdom and you do believe God is trying to reach you, it would be good to learn and review what’s already been communicated.
3) Once a person has a mastery of the two above combined with an advanced sense of self awareness, the last step is simply listening to yourself. Once you have that proficiency, usually the first thing that comes to mind is likely what the message is about. Unfortunately we often reject those notions because it’s not what we want to hear.
4) Don’t stress. You may not get the message. If it’s that important God will send it again. But if someone’s running around agonizing over something they can’t make sense of, or worse, is letting signs run their life, they’ve missed the point. This isn’t something you should be seeking out. If something pops out to you or turns your head, give it a little thought. If it keeps happening, then maybe go see a Rabbi.
I may have just had a day where I saw two broken clocks. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. But if you are serious about growth and being mindful, you’re never going to lose out by considering the things you see around you. At best you’ve grown in your character development, at worst you’ve become more aware of the elements that make up your life. If the clock thing meant nothing, then at least I’ve thought about how I spend my time and what role time plays in my life. At the end of the day it all comes down to, am I engaged and open to input? Or am I trudging through life as a zombie completely oblivious to traps I fall into time and again?