Mow The Lawn
Now that Memorial Day has passed and it is officially “summer” I feel obligated to mow the lawn so that my grandson can actually play there without stumbling over abandoned vehicles. As I was mowing I was thinking about the fact that we feel the need to cut the grass. By association, I also thought of the fact that I had recently trimmed my beard, which was very fully grown because we just completed the period of time between Passover and Shavuot, which we call Sefirat Ha’omer – the counting of the Omer, when due to mourning it is customary not to shave or have a haircut.
Now animals in the wild do not cut their hair, or trim their nails. The human being however, engages in quite a bit of grooming – we cut our hair, we shave, trim beards, cut our fingernails, cut our toenails – all things that are not very “natural.” I believe that a reason for this is because humans are indeed not completely natural, or part of nature like other creatures.
The human being is both a part of nature, but also has a soul, and free will both of which are above nature. In fact, our goal as humans is not just to be au naturale, to grow wild, but rather to “manicure the lawn.” We have to have limitations, rules, controls and with all of that, growth and improvement. In Jewish tradition we have positive commandments, things that we are obligated to do, which are expressions of love, of reaching out, of the desire to expand, to make contact with the Being Whom we love. And then we have prohibitions, things that we are not allowed to do, things that are restrictions, which are related to the idea of awe and fear of G-d – the ideas of restraint and contraction
Rav Shlomo Wolbe, a great Jewish scholar of last century, talks about education as involving what he calls zeriyah and binyan. Zeriyah means growth, watering, nurturing, and sunlight. And binyan means building and giving structure. To a certain degree it is the same two ideas. A parent is obligated, not only to nurture the child and let their natural talents and capacities and individuality grow by providing a warm, happy environment conducive to growth. That is not enough, there must also be structure. That means we have to build, brick upon brick, we have to create a structure involving rules, morality and yes, restrictions and restraint. Not everything which is natural do we do and not everything that we have an inclination to do, do we carry out. And so the parent needs to also build structure as well as nurture.
When G-d placed Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, He said to them, le’ovda u’leshomra. Le’ovda means work it, le-shomra means guard it. Ovda means positive growth and nurturing. Shomra means guarding, and restricting. We don’t automatically say that because an inclination is natural it is therefore acceptable and correct. Sometimes we have to take our natural inclinations, and as we do with the beard and the grass, we cut, trim, direct and restrain.
We can take inclinations and channel them in appropriate ways. Sometimes they may need to be stopped completely. If you have an inclination towards violence and theft, that must be controlled. However, if blood doesn’t bother you at all, then maybe that “callousness” can be channeled toward being a surgeon, EMT, butcher or mohel.
So my thoughts behind my lawnmower are – what is natural needs to be both nurtured and controlled, fertilized and weeded, irrigated and cut. That goes for grass, beards and certainly for our moral development.