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 By Matys Weiser

What Makes The Grand Canyon “Grand”?

I heard it many times, from Rabbi Avigdor Miller Z’L, how he was impressed with a simple apple or orange. How it is designed and constructed how much thought did the Creator put in to it. Many times in his lectures he came back to the description of the seed transforming its genetic code to the new life of a plant serving later as food, supporting human life. I can’t even imitate his beautiful language.

In fact we may learn about creative power from single one cell organism or cells of complex organisms which each type serves different purpose.

If we look to the very basic component of the creation, an atom, we may learn about the beautiful and fascinating design of it. All of it serving only one purpose, to provide the building material for our existence.

I personally prefer to admire creation on much a bigger scale. Chazal – sages, call the objects that I go and wonder upon: Maasei Beraishis – works of creation. We have a special blessing composed for us by our sages for various occasions when we recite the following words:

“Blessed are you, L-rd Our G-d King of the Universe, Who re-enacts the works of Creation” We pronounce this blessing when we see lightning, upon seeing a shooting star, comet or meteor, when we witnessing hurricane or earthquake, lo’alainu.

Other occasions to say this special blessing is when we see great and beautiful natural phenomenon: Oceans and seas, Mountains and peaks, great waterfalls or other wonderful remainders of the creative acts of our G-d.

As human beings we are, most of us, equipped with the sense of beauty.

We may see, hear, touch, smell and taste all of this pleasantness, using what the Creator put in part of our intellect, mediums responsible for experiencing pleasure from this beauty. This experience gives us spiritual loftiness and sublimity, endless happiness of being closer to the realities of the highest levels. For people, conscious of their Creator gives them closeness to Him.

This is exactly what I feel when I am going to see all of this with my own eyes.

I like to wander in all of these places on our continent where so many of those breathtaking wonders were placed by Maker of the Universe.

Thanks to smart laws of our country, many of those places are preserved as National Parks, monument and forests.

All of this is waiting for us, to give us an opportunity to have this great experience and to pronounce the Blessing. According to Sefer Nefesh Ha Chaim when we bless our Creator, we express our wish that His presence should be extended and grow so that people should be more aware of Him.

Some of our devoted and righteous men restrains themselves however from such trips, considering it as unnecessary loss of the time which should be devoted rather to study all the intellectual material which supposes to be the sole vehicle of revealing all the truths about our G-d to us.

They bring proof from the popular Mishnah from Pirkei Avos, which says the following:

“Rabbi Yaakov said: One who walks on the road while reviewing but interrupts his review and exclaims – how beautiful is this tree! How beautiful is this field! Is regarded as he has sinned against his own soul”.

Is their interpretation how it is supposed to be understood according to the explanation of our Sages of generations of old?

It is significant that most of the people citing this Mishnah are distorting its plain meaning. They are usually quoting it as “One who is learning Torah …”

This is simply not how this Mishnah is written. The person whom the Mishnah is describing is already outside on his way, however as a devoted servant of Hashem, he is reviewing his learning.

What about the person who purposely is outside to see and admire wonders of Creation? Is there such obligation for people serving G-d?

Must the Jew “waste” his precious time to allocate it for … seeing and saying Blessings on the Creation?

Well, I feel that I gave already the answer but I would like to go little bit deeper it to this topic.

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Is This Obligation?

Rabbi Shamshon Raphael Hirsch says in one of his comments that Judaism rests on two foundations, one is the Torah and other is Book of Psalms – Tehilim.

Tehilim “happens” to be most popular, most translated Book in the history of  mankind. It was written by holly prophets of the Jewish nation and collected by prophet, writer, composer, leader and king of the people of Israel - Dovid HaMelech. It would be unnecessary and to long to bring passages from the psalms describing the beauty of the creation, by which means man is called to comprehend, recognize and praise the Ultimate Being.

Psalms 8, 33, 95, 104, beginning of 135 and 136, 148 almost in is entire content is describing creation as a testimony of the love of its Builder.

The Morning Prayer Choydi, which is the latest time to join the minyan is composed by Dovid HaMelech; it also describes the beauty of nature and its correlation.

For me personally, the most beautiful way where Dovid HaMelech makes us aware about hidden massage which is contained in the creation I the beginning of the psalm 19.

“The heavens declare the glory of G-d, and expanse of the sky tells of His handiwork. Day following day brings expressions of praise, and night following the night bespeaks wisdom. There is no speech and there are no words; their sound is unheard…”

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 Perek Shira

The very popular Perek Shira, a compilation of various verses from the Scriptures, is teaching us even more. It orders us to recite those psukim and contemplating upon perfection of the Universe and symphony of the views, smells, sounds, tastes and shapes.

Chazal

The top Book from my shelf, Sefer Choivais Halevovois, was written more than 800 years ago by Rabbi Bahia ibn Pakuda–it is available in an English translation, “Duties of the Heart” by Feldheim–is a pure classic. You may find it in every Jewish home, synagogue or yeshiva library.

The second chapter called “Shaar HaBechina” – “Gate of Reflection” the second paragraph begins.

“Is one obligated to reflect on the Creation?

One is obligated to reflect on the created things – and deduce from them proofs of the Creator’s Wisdom – by the dictates of reason, scripture and rabbinic tradition.”

I would love to have the power to obligate you to read this entire chapter of the Book and even better the whole Book. I do not have such power so only what I may ask you is, make yourself the favor and do it. Your life will change forever.

Let us however dwell on the topic of the creation and obligation of a devoted Jew to admire it and even analyze it.

How in this light to understand the words of Mishnah Avos?

First of all we have to remember that Rabbi Yaakov from our Mishnah read the Psalms and Scriptures and Rabbi Bahia together with other sages knew Mishnayos.

There must not be any contradiction in their understanding, and there is not.

Rabbi Hirsch, in his writings explains that indeed in Pirkey Avos 3:9 Torah stands against the nature but only as reliable source of the laws of G-d.

When the seven commandments for humanity, called Mitzvos Bnai Noah, could be deduced from nature, it can not be said so about the 613 Mitzvos received by the children of Israel from Mount Sinai. A Jew should never look for the directions of his path of life, merely from the natural phenomenon; rather make his search in to the tradition received from past generations of his fathers and teachers, the teaching of Torah.

Not the “tree” and not the “field” may enlighten him in any particular way of the service of G-d.  

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 Two Modes of Avodah

While looking at the above Mishnah I realized that the Hebrew word NIR may be translated not only as a field but also as a plowed field.

In such case the “tree” may represent the natural phenomenon and “plowed field” may represent the area of human activity in the matter of lawgiving. In other words not only from the nature should a Jew not learn how to serve G-d but also from other judicial systems established by nations. We are obligated to walk on our own specific path – derech and we should not be disrupted by outside influence.

We are required by the Torah to observe laws of the countries of our dwelling but learning how to submit our lives to Hashem is limited to only one source–the Torah itself.

Rav Hirsch in his commentary on the Five Books of Torah analyzes phonetic characteristics and spelling of the words Matzeva and Mizbe’ah. In the Holy language those two words are build from the same letters except for the letters Zain and Tzadik, which can be phonetically interchangeable.

Matzeva is the natural uncut stone which in words of Rabbi Hirsch represents the nature. Mizbeah, in opposition, is stone structure serving as the altar for sacrifices. Matzeva was created as an act of G-d. Mizbeah is a construction build by man in upward direction.

Until the time of revelation of Torah service of G-d trough the means of Matzeva was permissible. From the time of the Torah it is prohibited to use Matzeva and only Mizbeah, representing new way of submission toward Creator, is permitted instead. This new way is: fulfilling commandment of Torah. “There, in the Nature, His Omnipotence, His infinite Power is revealed, here His infinite Love” writes Rav Hirsch. (Noah 8:21) Gevurah and Chesed, always as the pair.

The above discourse presented to us by Rav Hirsch express a similar idea as his comment on the above-mentioned Mishna.

Nature is a means of recognition of the Creator but must not be treated as the source of knowledge of his laws or, G-d forbid, as a subject or even means of glorification of the Omnipresent. By “means” we understand that it is prohibited for the Jew to use any element of the nature as an intermediary between human and G-d.

The same Rabbi Hirsch in a letter to his friend from his journey to see and admire the Alps write to him “I almost believe that all you homebodies would one day have to atone for your staying indoors, and when you would desire entrance to see the marvels of heaven, they would ask you: Did you see the marvels of G-d on earth?”

This passage is known in few different versions probably due to the fact that Rav Hirsch said similar words on different occasions. One idea striking however in his statement is that in harmony with Rabenu Bahia - “by reason, scriptures and tradition”, one is obligated to see Maasey Berayshis – work of creation, and so bless its Creator.

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 Practical Aspect

How was it practiced by other holy men of our nation, which we are trying to fallow and imitate, other than Rav Hirsch?

Vilna Gaon–Rav Eliyahu In his commentary on Sefer “Zohar” – “Tikuney Zohar" explains:

“When the early masters wanted to meet together in order that Divine Presence (Shechinah) should rest upon them, they did not do so in a man-made house, since it might contain some part which was not made with holy intention. Therefore they took shelter among the trees, which are the work of Hashem, for the Shechinah rests only upon a righteous work.” Translation from the book “The Vilna Gaon” by ArtScroll.

Not only did the Vilna Gaon write words like this, but he himself moved outside to the forest where only his wife knew where he built his hut for shelter and was living there for a while.

Rav’s Elyahu’s perhaps most known talmid - student, Reb Chaim Voloziner in his sefer “Nefesh HaChaim” devoted primary to encourage Benei Torah to steady the practice of learning, writes an interesting passage.

He says that a person should cease from learning from time to time to learn Yiras Shamaim – the fear of Heaven. As the primary vehicle of this part of shaping the proper Jewish character, he advises to learn Sifrei Musar. However the fact that he sees importance to build Chochma on the foundation of Yira that comes from the source of Gevurah is self-evident.

Many people heard about the holy Hasidic Master Rebe Reb Meilech – Rabbi Elimeilech from Lizhynsk (Polish – Lezajsk). Near the town there is hillock called by locals even today – Hill of Elimeilech.

According to the tradition there Rabbi Elimeilech was often walking and involved himself with holy service.

He and his brother Rebe Reb Zishye are known for the fact that also they went to so called Golus – Exile and were traveling from town to town looking for the Shechinah Hakedosha.

Other Hasidic leader known to many not only his followers is Holy Divrey Chaim – Tzadik from Sanz – Nowy Sach. From his direct decedents I heard that any time he has opportunity he was visiting the Zoo to say Brucha - Blessing on Seeing the Animals. So was his custom according to his Chassidim the previous Pupa Rebbe who used to go to the New York Aquarium and ocean coast to admire the works of Hashem.

Once I was driving from town of Kirias Yoel in Orange County NY. On the way to Monsey there were a few Hasidim with me who remember the Holy Tzadik Rabbi Yoel Teitelbaum the Satmar Rav. When you’re going down the New York Thruway, on the top of the small mountain range you can see some buildings, situated there like the eagle’s nest touching the blue sky above. One of the Hasidim told me that years ago he was traveling the same road together with Holy Rebbe. When the Rav saw the tiny buildings on the top he said:

“In place like this I would love to spend the rest of my life, in the nature, close to Heaven.”

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