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The Great Outdoors



Dear Friends,

With the arrival of warm weather, do you feel an urge for the "great outdoors"? According to Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, a noted sage of the 19th century, you should not suppress this desire, which Hashem - the Compassionate One - implanted in you, for it can give you the spiritual opportunity to develop a deeper appreciation of Hashem's Creation. Rabbi Hirsch expresses this idea in his travel memoirs, which were written as a letter to a friend:
"How could you think, dear N___, that your letter would still find me within my four walls? 'The winter is over, the blossoms are showing, the time for singing has come,' could your friend stay in the house? No, my dear. Even as a child I envied our ancestors when, on the night my father presented them to me with their feet sandalled, their loins girded, the wanderer's staff in their hands, the bread-bundles on their shoulders; I would have given the sweetest charoses for a drink of bitter water if I could have wandered thus for forty years with them in the desert. 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 God on earth?' Then, ashamed, you would mumble, 'We missed that opportunity.' "

Rabbi Hirsch continues:
"How different were our Rabbis in this respect. How they breathed and felt, thought and lived in God's marvelous Nature. How they wanted to awaken our senses for all that is sublime and beautiful in Creation. How they wanted to teach us to fashion a wreath of adoration for God out of the morning's rays and the evening blush, out of the daylight and the night shadows, out of the star's glimmer and the flower's scent, out of the roar of the sea and the rumble of the thunder, the flash of the lightning. How they wanted to demonstrate to us that every creature was a preacher of His power, a monitor of our duties; what a Divine revelation they made of the book of Nature."
("From the Notebook of a Wandering Jew" - Collected Writings of Rabbi S.R. Hirsch. Vol. 8) 

The Siddur, the classical Prayer Book of the Jewish people, was arranged by the prophets and sages who lived at the beginning of the Second Temple period, with some additions added by sages in later generations. It contains psalms, prayers and blessings which help to awaken our senses for all that is sublime and beautiful in the Creation.  For example, we say the following blessings over various wonders of nature:
Upon seeing the first blossoms of fruit trees in the month of Nissan - the first month of spring, we say: "Blessed are You, Hashem, Sovereign of the universe, Whose world lacks nothing, and Who created in it good creatures and good trees through which human beings derive pleasure."
Upon seeing lightning, we say: "Blessed are You, Hashem, our God, Sovereign of the Universe, Who does the work of Creation."
Upon hearing thunder, we say: "Blessed are You Hashem...Whose strength and power fill the universe."
Upon seeing a rainbow, we say: "Blessed are You Hashem...Who remembers the covenant, is faithful in His covenant and fulfills His word." (See Genesis 9:8-17 for the story of God's rainbow-covenant with humanity and all living beings.)

I would like to cite as another example, Psalm 104. Our Sages established the custom of chanting this psalm on Rosh Hodesh, the New Moon - the beginning of each Hebrew month. The theme of the psalm is the beauty and harmony of Creation, and it opens with the following words:
"Bless Hashem, O my soul; Hashem my God, You are greatly exalted; with beauty and splendor are You clothed."
In his commentary on this verse, Rabbi Hirsch explains that King David is proclaiming: "All of Creation is Your garment." Through this "garment," we are given a glimpse of the beauty and splendor of our Creator. In the next excerpt from this psalm, David continues his song of praise:
"You are the One Who sends the springs into the streams; they flow between the mountains. They water every beast of the field; they quench the wild creatures' thirst. Near them dwell the birds of the heavens, from among the branches they give forth song. The One Who waters the mountains from His upper chambers, from the fruit of Your works the earth is sated. The One Who causes vegetation to sprout for the animal, and plants through human labor; to bring forth bread from the earth and wine that gladdens the human heart; to make the face glow from oil, and bread that sustains the human heart. The trees of Hashem are sated, the cedars of Lebanon that He has planted; there where the birds nest, the stork with its home among cypresses, high mountains for the wild goats, rocks as refuge for the gophers. The One Who made the moon for the setting of the festivals, the sun knows its destination. You make darkness, and it is night, in which every forest beast stirs. The young lions roar after their prey, and to seek their food from God. The sun rises and they are gathered , and in their dens they crouch. The human being goes forth to his work, and to his labor until evening. How manifold are Your  works, Hashem; with wisdom You made them all;  the earth is full of Your possessions. Behold this sea, great and of broad measure; creeping things are there without number, creatures small and great... All of them look to You with hope, to provide their food in its proper time. You give it to them, they gather it in; You open Your hand, they are sated with good. When You hide Your face, they are dismayed; when You retrieve their spirit, they perish, and to their dust they return. When You send forth Your spirit, they will be created anew; and You will renew the surface of the earth. May the glory of Hashem endure forever; let Hashem rejoice in His works." (Psalm 104, verses 10-31)
Rabbi Hirsch, in his commentary on this psalm (verses 16-18) writes: 
"Hashem did not provide only for the human being and for the creatures that are meant to serve the human being and to be in his care. He also satisfied the "trees of Hashem" - the trees which are neither planted nor cultivated by human hands. The cedars of Lebanon have their fill of nourishment and serve as the dwelling places of the free fowl of the wild."
The central theme of this psalm is expressed in the words: "How manifold are Your works, Hashem; with wisdom You made them all; the earth is full of Your possessions." In his commentary on this verse, the Malbim, a noted biblical commentator of the 19th century, writes that the psalmist is expressing his wonder at the Divine wisdom which established for each of the diverse creatures within creation the means by which it can survive. 
We should never lose our sense of wonder at Hashem's creation, and a reminder of this teaching is found in one of the early classics of Jewish ethics, "Orchos Tzaddikim":
"One should always bear in mind God's greatness and examine the creatures of the world, both great and small, the sun, the moon, and the stars, how the planets orbit, how the rains fall, how the winds blow, and other such phenomena too numerous to recount. Because people see these wonders all the time, they do not take note of them. But when an eclipse of the sun or moon occurs, people are surprised, because these do not occur with regularity, as does the rising of the sun in the east and its setting in the west. Look at the sunrise and sunset as if you had never before seen these wonders, as though you had been blind until now, and you were suddenly granted vision. These would then be exceedingly wondrous in your eyes! You should do so each and every day. As King David said (Psalm 139:14): 'Wondrous are Your works, and my soul is very aware of them'. " (The Gate of Remembrance, 23)
One of the classical biblical commentators, Radak, points out that the ideal day for contemplating the wonders of the creation is "Shabbos," as on the Sabbath Day, we are free of the mundane cares of the week. It is for this reason that we find the following verse  in the psalm which is called, "the Song for the Sabbath Day":
"For You have given me joy in Your deeds, Hashem; I sing joyously at the work of Your hands." (Psalm 92:5)

Have a Shabbat Shalom,
Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen

Hazon - Our Universal Vision: www.shemayisrael.co.il/publicat/hazon/