“Everything is by Divine Providence. If a leaf is turned over by a breeze, it is only because this has been specifically ordained by G‑d to serve a particular function within the purpose of creation.” – The Holy Baal Shem Tov
It is Thursday, the morning after the Day before, and life blooms. It is a time of sweet autumn breezes and the ingathering of our hard-won crop. The next couple of weeks are all about things the grow in G-d’s green earth, from the lulav to the schach. It seems right, then, to revisit one of the Baal Shem Tov’s (himself a walker of the forest and lover of nature from a young age) most famous teachings, and to examine the ripples it casts in our minds and hearts.
Consider the leaf.
There are many like it, millions like it, but that it not important. There are animals that move, people who speak. But they don’t matter. All that matters right now is this slender, veined membrane, so green you can almost taste it, its dorsal side foreshortened as it rotates slightly on its stem.
This leaf has moved many times since it blossomed at Spring, and it will move many times more before it withers and falls in the coming weeks. But none of that matters now.
All that matters is this one leaf, and this one twist against the shocking blue sky.
G-d made this happen for a reason.
If there are so many leaves and so many motions, if the same wind has blown over tyrants and tycoons, graves and glory, what role plays this humble leaf in G-d’s vast, endless plan?
Perhaps we can explain it like we explain the butterfly.
That famous delicate creature, whose wings with one gentle flap bring storms to far-flung places. The weather remains beyond our understanding because it is this sensitive, because our leaf being exactly where it is can effect global change.
If it is so for our one leaf, imagine how it is for every leaf, in every wind. A vast machination, an unfathomable calculus of change perceived only by He who grows the trees.
We do not know how powerful is our lead turning in the breeze; we know not what ships are brought to port and which levies are kept whole by its gentle arching in the flow.
Though its broader effects may be hidden from us
we at least understand
that this leaf
Consider the storm.
Yesterday there was sun and tomorrow the trucks will poke around, picking up the pieces, but for now, the rain batters at the slats. In the yard, a hundred unmoored leaves turn frenzied circles.
This great force, power and noise, is possible because weeks ago in a far-away country a leaf went to instead of fro. But that is not important. What is important is the storm.
G-d has made this happen for a reason.
If one leaf can cause a tempest, then a tempest can cause a thousand tempests, which can alter human lives and sometimes end them, and in the withholding of streamlined traffic turbulence and the erection of gravestones tacking in the breeze, yet more storms will grow, and yet other hurricanes will dwindle to nothing.
If a leaf is part of something larger and the storm is one of many and wheels within wheels stretch upward to infinity, then purpose is turned back in on itself and meaning is lost, and we are unsure
what G-d sees
in the leaf
or the storm.
Perhaps we’re thinking of it all wrong.
Perhaps it is not membership in a system that creates meaning.
Perhaps purpose is what arises from a mind, from systematic understanding.
The leaf turning on the breeze isn’t meaningful, and neither is the storm.
Meaning is when a mind perceives how things
A Mind above perceives synergy and creates a twisting leaf; It perceives a leaf and creates synergy.
A mind below follows the motions of the mind above and catches a flash of meaning.
It is not that the leaf is meaningful.
It is the leaf’s ensnarement in G-d’s way of thinking that lends is meaning.
Consider what it is to consider.
The mind takes bodies, dead letters, and weaves them together
to bring them to life.
First ideas play against each other, then from their strife emerges a single vision, a spark of truth.
Maybe that spark is what we normally call meaning.
But meaning has its limits.
Meaning is a double-edged blade.
As long as the mind perceives,
a chasm persists:
There is the leaf, and then there is its meaning.
Purpose does not inhere in its turning; purpose is an imposition, brought to bear on the leafstuff by a mind,
and the leaf
perhaps there is one more party involved.
There is our frail, beautiful, turning leaf. There is His mind, which brings it meaning.
And there is a third thing, which unites them as one.
Because before the spark of mental truth, before even the dialectical play of concept against concept, there is the
the question that draws forth the answer,
the meaningless void called
the soul –
meaningless because inexplicable,
meaningless because it just is; that’s all it does.
And though it wills and wants, savors and chooses,
it is like a higher animal;
it is not a mind because it’s beyond a mind,
and all of its actions are just the directing of its “is.”
(for to choose, or want, or will, is to “is” outward,
and to savor is just to be, in sweet satisfaction.)
And if it were to be that G-d’s soul
chooses to mean, and brings forth a mind,
it just as easily chooses to leaf, and brings about our green ribbon,
and meaning “is,”
and the leaf “is,”
and it is the same “is,”
and the turning of the wind and his mind are united,
referencing each others’ definition,
two windows open to one truth,
and meaning itself is just another thing,
and maybe that is what the Baal Shem Tov meant,
that the leaf just is,
and that is the purpose of creation,
all tied up in a fluttering moment,
and then it’s gone,
and a storm rumbles in the distance.
Consider the joy there is in just being,
the joy in unity, the most transparent window,
the joy of meaninglessness, of water over wine.
May these insufficient words have been to you as the turning over of the leaf,
and may our joy know no end.
Image adapted from Flickr.