To begin our exploration into the Jewish perspective on the nature of summer, let’s turn to an unlikely source. Newton’s third law of motion states that forces come in pairs; that every action results in an equal and opposite reaction. Kabbalah extends this to the spiritual, explaining that moments of great potential can swing one way or the other. Where ever physicality expands and deepens, that’s just where we might find explosive spirituality. Places and moments that overflow with spirituality can become cesspools of physicality. This principle is expressed as zeh le’umat zeh – this opposed to this. For example, the generation that deeply admired wisdom and human intellect produced both the writing down of the Oral Law as well as the rise of Greek thinkers.
So our first finding is that moments of great potential can go either way, and that the forces to make this happen exist collinearly.
Summer is a time of peak physicality. Crops and flowers bask in the warmth – as do people (those so-called “sun-worshippers.”) The pleasures of sunshine, fresh air, and water, lend to a more outdoors lifestyle, to more engagement with nature and its bounty. Lying on the beach, hiking a verdant forest, sipping mint juleps on the porch, flying through the air at the funfair. At times, it can be tempting to overindulge in all these enticements and forget about our purpose on earth.
It’s partly for this reason that we study the Ethics of the Fathers during the summer months. The wisdom therein is a reminder that we must not neglect our spiritual development, and that the same potential that makes June nectarines so luscious, can produce spiritually juicy moments as well: “For the L-rd G-d is a sun and a shield.”