Order from Chaos
By Morty Breier
May 25, 2001
“Order is heaven’s first law”… This phrase is found on the bottom of page 573 of our Chumish, a comment on the portion we have just read… and I thought cleanliness is next to Godliness. Maybe cleanliness is a kind of synonym to orderliness. Most of my parent’s complaints were about how orderly my room was. They actually took care of how clean it was. Well, enough of this reminiscing. Is order indeed heaven’s first law?
The Book of Numbers starts with counting and ordering. The twelve tribes are counted. Of course this being a male dominated culture, only the males of fighting age and ability were counted. To be fair they were going to attempt conquering Canaan so I guess fighting men were in the forefront of their thinking. At any rate they didn’t order the counting, HaShem did. And the count numbered over six hundred thousand, divided into twelve groups and then the Levites who were counted separately.
So, being an engineer I’ll attempt extrapolating on these numbers to get a full picture of the size of the Israelite horde moving through the desert. If we assume that the Levites had an average number of males over 20, around fifty thousand; and we assume that 15% of the males over 20 were 4-F and therefor not counted; and that every male Israelite had a wife and an average of two children that were not counted; we arrive at a population of three million six thousand three hundred. That’s almost three times the population of the entire state of Hawaii. On the move. Through the desert.
And then HaShem ordered them to order themselves. We’re standing still in known locations and we still have trouble ordering ourselves. He, or She, arranged everyone into a square configuration surrounding the tabernacle with the Levites as the inner ring and the other twelve families, each of which were about two hundred and thirty thousand souls, as the outer rings. Everyone positioned just so, these families along the North face, those along the South, etcetera, etcetera. It seems from these instructions that HaShem likes order. He didn’t say, for instance, intermingle and make friends. Or mill about aimlessly. Or find a comfortable spot and claim it. He said you go here and you go there and don’t you forget it. Infact some serious loss of life might occur if you wandered too close to the tabernacle. An old Kapu.
So I mean its true, order seems to be part of our heritage. I don’t mean as Jews, although my father, a proofreader on the Yiddish newspaper “Der Tag, Morgen Djournal” was certainly fond of order. And he made me fond of it also, maybe that’s why I became an engineer. I mean as human beings. Maybe it’s a male thing. Women seem to have a greater tolerance for disorder… that’s what makes them great mothers and mavens on interpersonal relationships, which are never that orderly. Although I thank him for sending me Karen who, beside her loving presence, is also partial to orderliness.
On the other hand we men like order so much that we end up liking machines. We like the orderliness of machines. They are restrained to move in particular ways only. We like their simplicity, their understandability, and their predictability. In the past we’ve modeled the cosmos around the gears of machines… little did we know that probability functions of disappearing psi muons would be our latest answer. We get more indeterminate, more feminine every day.
But what we are actually saying is that order is more subtle, more exquisitely dependent on our gloriously active consciousness, more interactive with the universal forces of physics and the living web of nature. Less easily comprehensible than we originally thought but ordered nonetheless. The order, being more subtle, is closer to the innermost meaning of reality itself.
The way our cosmology reads right now is that it all started about fifteen billion years ago, with a singularity, the Big Bang, an event never repeated. At this singularity, this beginning moment, this first cause, energy ruled, matter was inherently unstable. Probability functions were continually collapsing into infinitesimal material realities that lasted billionths of a second before collisions transformed them into yet other extremely short lived collapsing probability functions. All was ever shifting, shimmering, undisciplined chaos.
HaShem didn’t like that so he set the whole reality on a mission to make order out of that original chaos. Of course, according to Kabbalah, his holiness was already in the shattered vessel. The infinitesimal continuously exploding pieces, the profane chaos, already had the potential of becoming larger constructs, more orderly configurations, capable of being imbued with meaning, starting their journey toward holiness. Because they partook, in some hidden aspect of their essence, of the serene orderliness of their creator.
You and I, sitting here, are the result of that mission. We are made in the image of HaShem because, like HaShem, not only are we ourselves exquisitely ordered, but we order things we come in contact with. We do HaShem’s work. We make the profane, the unordered mish-mash of sensory data, into meaningful arrangements and relationships, into ideas and concepts, into families and congregations, into homes and gardens, into Torahs and Aaron HaKodeshes, into cities and nations, into science and cosmology.
So who says order is the business of small minds. I say small order is the business of small minds, cosmic order is the business of cosmic minds. And we Jews have always prided ourselves on our cosmic mindfulness. That’s why we zeroed in on monotheism. Barry and I had this discussion on the very white sand beaches of Midway Atoll, competing with the intricately dancing Gooney birds. What does God is One mean? It means that all things are related, are in relationship with each other, are alive because of their interaction. All things are because they have an effect on their surroundings and their surroundings have an effect on them. It is all one fabric, one tapestry, one unfolding, one happening. And we, each of us, each consciousness, each spark of the divine, are asked to give meaning to it all, to put it all together.
HaShem wants to have us make the profane holy. We do that whenever we act as though our lives are meaningful, our activities productive, our relationships creative. We do that whenever we clean up the mess we make, whenever we scrub exhaust gases from smokestacks, whenever we treat effluents before we discharge them into the sea. I do that whenever I extend love to my neighbors, advocate peace in the world, do my civic duty. I do that whenever I honor my wife and friends, whenever I build a pleasing addition to my house, whenever I order my thoughts, whenever I straighten my desk. These are my mitzvahs.
But beyond these everyday acts of organization, discipline and conservation sits a consciousness whose very purpose is to give meaning to our lives and the universe we find ourselves in. We are birthed by the cosmos and HaShem’s cosmos is meaningful. Our Torah was the first to tell us that and our sciences, more recently, much as they fail to acknowledge it, confirm the integrated lawfulness of it all. We are perhaps the first consciousness developed enough to put it all together. That’s why we are described as being made in the image of God. Not only do we put the observable together and give it meaning, we create new configurations, new constructs, new identities and fit them in with the given.
Reading from our Siddur we say God spoke and it was. God speaks us into existence. Speaking is language. Language is syntax. Syntax is order. Order forms existence. Our universe is the playing out of HaShem’s primal laws. We ourselves are both the results of that play, and players of our own creative impulses. We conceive of an idea and, sooner or later, we create it. Our concepts are the words from which our reality is created. We, humanity, dreamed of high speed comfortable transportation and then we invented, designed, built and improved trains, cars and airliners. We, each of us, earlier on, imagined ourselves partnering with a loved one and then we married. We imagined ourselves as parents and then we raised children. We imagined ourselves as practitioners of some skill and then we became doctors or engineers or homemakers.
We ourselves create meaning. HaShem wills the universe into existence and I help Him or Her by willing Morty into existence. That’s my job, just like each of your jobs is to will your own character and story line into existence. We say thank you HaShem for reviving my soul, my consciousness, each morning so that I might climb into the driver’s seat of my life’s drama. That is the order HaShem offers us. This Torah portion asks that each family be itself, wear it’s unique name proudly, take up the position it was meant to have and wield the standard that represents it. In this way Israel was to march toward the new horizon prepared for it, the Promised Land. Let it be that way for each of us. Let us each ground ourselves in our being, bear our name and its history proudly, occupy our existential positions with grace and dignity and lift our moral and ethical standards high so that, with HaShem’s help, we might also enter the promised land of our enlightenment.