We value having a sense of control in life and we use planning and preparation in order to maintain it. On the other hand, spontaneity is a critical component of the awe and wonderment we call spiritual experience. Spontaneity is the antithesis of planning and preparing.
Moses knew that encounters with God are not generally planned (recall the burning bush), but that does not necessitate being caught unprepared. In this week’s Torah portion, pharoah tries to persuade Moses to take only what will be required for worship when he leaves Egypt to serve God in the desert. Moses replies that the Israelites must depart with all of their belongings, for “we will not know with what we will serve God until we get there.” The unknowable deprives us of the opportunity to plan, but marshalling all of our resources allows us to compensate somewhat by being prepared.
The sage Hillel went a step further. He and his colleague, Shammai, shared the goal of honoring the Sabbath with the best possible meal. Both made daily visits to the market. Shammai had a plan. He would purchase the best food he could afford for Shabbat each day of the week. If he found something even better the following day, he would consume the first purchase and set aside the second for Shabbat. By week’s end, Shammai could not have been better prepared for the shabbat meal. Hillel embraced a different virtue. He would wait to do his Shabbat shopping until the last minute and arrive in the marketplace on Friday, confident that among its offerings he would find whatever meal would be the best. Having substituted faith for an actual plan, Hillel risked entering shabbat less prepared than Shammai. Nonetheless, his Shabbat meals seem to have been no less delicious. The Talmud comments that every day Shammai merited to eat “for Shabbat,” but Hillel’s carpe diem attitude enabled him to live the blessing of each and every day.
It is human nature to plan and to prepare. Our survival may depend upon it. But following a script is not the path to awe and wonderment. There can be no spontaneity on our journey without a measure of risk. We just can’t know how we’ll serve God until we are there.
Rabbi Mitch Levine