“Ask the Rabbi” column, reprinted with permission of Texas Jewish Post.
By Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried, DATA Rosh Kollel
Is there a Jewish view of Nature? I am an avid hiker and bird watcher, and Nature is an important part of my life, and I feel very Jewish when I am looking at beautiful scenery. But I have never known if it’s really a Jewish thing to do, or if it’s just something I like to do.
You are right on! In Torah literature, there are literally volumes dedicated to the merit of observing the wisdom of G‑d through nature. The early commentaries consider this to be included in the mitzvah of loving G‑d as well as the mitzvah to be in awe of G‑d, by focusing on the awesomeness of His creations.
This calls to mind a story told about many great sages and scholars, more recently of the late R’ Shraga Feivel Mendelovits, an early pioneer of Torah in America. He was once walking through the forest with a group of students, discussing Torah topics, when one student absentmindedly plucked a leaf off a tree. R’ Shraga Feivel nearly went into tremors, and asked, “How could you have torn off a leaf for no reason?! Don’t you realize that the entire universe is playing a symphony to G‑d, and that every leaf, every creation, is another instrument in that symphony? How could you silence that instrument for no reason?”
This story reflects an attitude in Judaism, to love and observe nature, to “hear the music” of the beautiful creations of the world. This is reflected in numerous verses in the Book of Psalms (Tehillim), written by King David. Tehillim continually express love and ecstasy at the amazing creations of the Al-mighty.
Psalms chapter 92, the chapter recited on Shabbos, is said to have been composed by the first man, Adam, upon observing the newly created world as the first Shabbos was ushered in, reflecting his ecstasy and the music of creation. In chapter 19 as well, King David begins with the music of creation as the way the G-d reveals Himself. It ends with praising the Torah, the other way that G-d reveals His will in the world which He created. Look carefully at these chapter which reflect a profound worldview on the observation of nature.
I twice went with the family to visit \ Alaska, which has been a lifelong dream of mine to see at least a small slice of that amazing, gorgeous land. It was truly beyond words. I could never before know the meaning of “breathtaking view.” Throughout the trip, I remarked to our children that G‑d must have smiled when He created this place.
There was a great Chassidic rabbi from Israel who would, on his summer break, go every year to Switzerland. When asked by one of his Chassidim why he goes there every year, he replied, “one day, after I leave this world, G-d is going to wink at me and ask me, ‘did you see My Switzerland?!”.
By all means, continue observing nature, and integrate what you see into your prayers and your belief in the greatness of G‑d.