One of the most difficult aspects for outsiders to accept about Torah and Torah-based Judaism is that nothing is arbitrary. Of course, that’s not to say that every word every “orthodox” rabbi in history has ever said is absolutely and eternally true, but that, for the most part, the Torah itself, both Written and Oral, including the development of Halacha, liturgy and practice, fit together in an extremely complex, exquisitely beautiful, comprehensive weave of reality. Apparent textual inconsistencies are found to be deliberate, not to indicate the incompetence of editors as most academic “biblical criticism” scholars would have you believe, but, rather, to mark a deeper lesson below the surface meaning.
Likewise, the nusach, liturgy, is deliberate. At first sight, it’s perplexing indeed to understand why “Gevurot Geshamim“, the seasonal phrases מוריד הטל or משיב הרוח ומוריד הגשם (Morid HaTal or Mashiv HaRuach UMorid HaGeshem) “Who brings down the dew” (spring/summer) or “Who returns the wind and brings the rain” (fall/winter) is included in the bracha (blessing) תחית המתים (Techiyat HaMeytim) “Who brings life to the dead”, the second bracha of the thrice-daily Amida. What possible relationship can attesting to God’s control over a phenomenon as mundane as the weather have with a topic as esoteric as reincarnation?
We find that not only is the relationship not arbitrary, it’s obligatory, i.e. intentional, to mention it three times daily! טעה ולא הזכיר גבורות גשמים בתחיית המתים…מחזירין אותו (Brachot 26b), “If one errs and doesn’t mention God’s power over weather he must repeat the prayer (or, more often, the entire Amida!)” It’s certainly not the case that our sages wanted to list God’s various powers and so just bunched them all together, willy-nilly, into a single prayer.
A very interesting essay about weather (1), observes that weather is “nonlinear and therefore….chaotic.” If you’ve ever wondered just why, with the latest science and most advanced computers, your daily weather forecasts are often wrong, it’s because the chain of interlocking systems that determine the weather both locally and globally are so infinitely complex that,taken together, they transform into chaos. This means that there is no valid way to predict how or where a change anywhere in the system will effect anything else there, be it a butterfly in the Brazilian rain forest or the exhaust of electrical generating stations around the world. While it might be flattering, and often politically valuable, to think we can grasp this, it can be shown mathematically that we can’t.
Likewise, most popular internet news feeds, Google, Yahoo, Bing and the like, often carry stories of the latest breakthrough in attempts to create “life” in the laboratory. The headlines are always exciting (the job of a science writer is to make science exciting, after all), but the content inevitably disappoints. There is a dream/illusion that “if we can only….”, for example map the entire human genome, completely analyze the chemicals in a cell or similar pursuits, then custom-make life is right around the corner. Somehow, even our top scientists can’t agree on a definition of what life is. What is the transition-point, for example, from a rock to a single-celled animal? How can we bridge the gap between inanimate and animate? We can’t.
The bracha reminds us of this every day. While we can, and are mandated to (look at the fourth bracha, Choneyn HaDat, especially with the Saturday night addition, Ata Chonantanu) understand as much as we can about our world, the order of “infinite knowledge” we can acquire is at the lowest order of infinity, i.e. just an infinitesimal slice of what we might label “God’s Infinite Knowledge” (if such a limiting term can even be applied). Nonetheless, certain aspects of wisdom transcend human capability. The mysteries of climate and weather are just as inaccessible to us as are the mysteries of life itself.
It’s probably true that from the very beginning of civilization there has been a strong drive for some men to substitute themselves for God, to assume absolute power and absolute knowledge. Since as humans, our ability to understand The Creator is always limited, our religions are always inadequate to one degree or another (grappling with our ignorance and trying to always refine our knowledge is one of the great rewards of Torah study). We are, however, by nature, impatient and we’ve been growing ever more impatient in our increasingly instant-gratification societies. God-based religions are often rejected; nature abhorring a vacuum, however, human-based religions such as secular scientificism which appeal to our inborn tendency towards narcissism, take their places. However, the nature of ultimate reality is not the result of vote. And it’s also not within our power. We’re stuck with never knowing it all….Baruch HaShem.