Re-Connecting to Nature
- Rabbi Yitzchak Breitowitz
- Feb 11, 2006
One of the striking phenomena of modern Orthodox life is how distant we are from nature. In the ancient world, both among Jews and among the other nations of the world, people were sensitive to the cycles of the sun, moon, stars and the planets. Today, even navigation is no longer done by the stars, but by machine.
I remember when I was in Eretz Yisrael once and looked up at the sky: thousands and thousands of stars! This is what our forefathers saw every evening when they looked up at the night sky. It is easy to forget our natural connection to the world, and to forget how much we rely on the natural cycles and resources that Hashem has given to us. In fact, all of our holidays and the cycles of Judaism are based on the natural cycles of the world.
Ostensibly, Pesach is about the exodus from Egypt and Shavuos celebrates the giving of the Torah; Sukkos and Shemini Atzeres commemorate our wandering in the desert. However, it is also true that Pesach occurs during the beginning of the spring when the barley was harvested, Shavuos, at the beginning of the wheat harvest, and Sukkos, during the ingathering of the produce and the fruit. Last year, we had two months of Adar in the Jewish year. The reason we have Jewish leap years in which we add an additional month of Adar is that the Torah says that Pesach must occur during the spring. Therefore, when Pesach falls out a tad early in the solar calendar, we must add an extra month to push Pesach back into its proper alignment.
Why is it so important that Pesach be in the spring? The Talmud says there's an intimate bridge between the physical structure of the universe and the spiritual universe. What happens on this earth models the “spiritual vibe” that God is putting into the earth at that time. For example, the idea of freedom is manifested by the fact that the earth itself becomes liberated, in terms of productivity and growth after a long, dormant winter. Pesach occurs during the spring because that time most embodies this idea of freedom.
Shavuous, the time of harvest, is also the time of the giving of the Torah, when we can harvest the knowledge that Hashem has made available to us. Sukkos, which occurs shortly after Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah, is the time of ingathering; so, too, on each Sukkot we must internalize the knowledge and emotion gained on Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashana, ingathering it unto ourselves.
This is also true in our prayers. The times of our prayers are based on various transition points in the day. When the night turns into the morning and when the sun rises, are the instituted times for reciting the Shema. Mincha should be prayed as the sun is setting, and Maariv, when the stars come out. These transitions are supposed to inspire us. When we pray in the morning, it is as if the sun rises and inspires us; as the sun sets, amidst fear and trepidation, we ask God to protect us in time of danger. Nowadays, we come into our Shul with the lights on. Shacaris is the same, Mincha is the same, Maariv is the same. However, if one is truly connected to the earth, he or she understands that Chazal teach us to pray three times of day, because each tefillah is supposed to elicit three different emotional viewpoints.
Tu b’Shevat, the new year of the trees, is a holiday that helps us focus on the natural world. In Israel, it is the recognized time when the sap begins running in the trees, the first early mark of the coming of spring. We can use this physical change as a spiritual time to focus on the earth and the importance of protecting it.
This year on Tu b’Shevat, let’s take a few moments to appreciate our connections to the physical world, to appreciate Hashem’s marvelous creation, and to protect the natural resources Hashem has granted us.
This article is printed as part of the Tu b’Shevat Learning Campaign, sponsored by Canfei Nesharim, an organization that is educating the Orthodox community about the importance of protecting the environment and does not necessarily represent the views of Einayim L’Torah. For more information, visit www.canfeinesharim.org.
Einayim L'Torah Parshas Yisro 5766.