Religion and Nature

“Religion Vs. Nature” by Rabbi YY (Yosef Yitzchok) Jacobson

Posted on December 21, 2008. Filed under: Lecture of Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Jacobson, Lecture of Rabbi YY Jacobson, Lectures by Rabbi YY Jacobson, Lectures of Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Jacobson, Lectures of Rabbi YY Jacobson, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Jacobson, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Jacobson Lecture, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Jacobson Lectures, Rabbi YY Jacobson, Religion and Nature, Religion Versus Nature, Religion Vs. Nature, The Truth, Torah, True, Truth | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

BS”D

Lectures of:

Rabbi YY (Yosef Yitzchok) Jacobson

Brought to you by:

Lectures of: Rabbi YY (Yosef Yitzchok) Jacobson

Of:

Gershon Jacobson Jewish Continuity Foundation

And

http://www.MeaningfulLife.org

This Lecture’s Subject:

Religion Vs. Nature

By Yosef Y. Jacobson

A young Jewish man was visiting a psychiatrist, hoping to cure his eating and sleeping disorder. “Every thought I have turns to my mother,” he told the psychiatrist. “As soon as I fall asleep and being to dream, everyone in my dream turns into my mother. I wake up so upset that all I can do is go downstairs and eat a piece of toast.”

The psychiatrist replied, “What, just one piece of toast for a big boy like you?”

The Traveler

“Rabbi Jacob said: ‘One who walks on the road and studies , and interrupts his study and remarks, ‘How beautiful is this tree! How beautiful is this landscape!’ Scripture considers it as if he were guilty of a mortal sin.”

(Mishnah, Ethics of Our Fathers, 3:7, chapter of this week).

The question is obvious.

The person who interrupts his Torah study to marvel at the beauty of nature is essentially celebrating the workings of the creator who designed a magnificent and brilliant universe. Why would this be considered a grave sin, when this person is celebrating the work of the giver of the Torah?

Some have erroneously deduced from this Talmudic passage that Torah rejects nature; that focusing on the splendor and exquisiteness of our world is nothing short of vanity.

This is a mistaken view. For the same G-d who gave us the Torah, gave us nature as well. Much of Scripture enjoins the human being to contemplate the workings of nature as a tool to appreciate the divine reality behind nature. A major part of our daily morning prayers consists of just this exercise: to marvel at the diversity and artistry of our physical universe as witnesses to the underlying reality of G-d at the core of all nature.

“G-d led Adam around the Garden of Eden and said, ‘Look at My works, see how beautiful they are, How exquisite! For your sake I created them all. See to it that you do not spoil or destroy My world — for if you do, there will be no one to repair it after you,” the Midrash states.

Maimonidies writes in his legal code that the way to achieve love of G-d is by contemplating the extraordinary brilliance and dazzling beauty of His universe.

What is more, according to Jewish law, there is a prescribed blessing that is to be recited at the sight of beautiful creatures and beautiful trees. This means that when the individual who is traveling and learning encounters a particularly beautiful tree he is, perhaps, obligated to take a break from the learning and recite a blessing to G-d for this creation. If anything, this individual may be performing a mitzvah, not a sin.

Three Answers

Various commentators over the ages have presented different answers to these questions. Some argued that the Mishnah was not attempting to ridicule or denigrate an appreciation of nature’s majestic empire, but rather to make it clear that one ought not to equate its significance with the story of Torah. Notwithstanding the importance of developing an appreciating for G-d’s awesome world, it pales in comparison with the study of Torah which, as the Kabbalists put it, captures     G-d’s most essential and intimate wisdom and will, transcending even G-d as a brilliant Creator.

Other commentators suggested a more pragmatic approach. During Rabbi Jacob’s days, most of the oral tradition of Judaism was not transcribed as of yet. The students needed to memorize lots of material and they typically enjoyed memorizing their lessons while strolling outdoors. (Such peripatetic memorization is still practiced today in some parts of the Middle East). Since they were, naturally, tempted to shift their attention from studying to the surrounding scenic views, the Mishnah specifically warned against this.

Integration

I wish to share with you a Chassidic interpretation to this Mishnah, novel in its approach and inspiring in its ramifications.

The criticism wrought against this individual for marveling at the beautiful tree or landscape is not addressed at the fact that he stops to breathe-in the glory of G-d’s universe. Let us read the text again, this time much more carefully: “One who walks on the road and studies, and interrupts his study and remarks, ‘How beautiful is this tree! How beautiful is this landscape!’ Scripture considers it as if he were guilty of a mortal sin.”

The emphasis should be put on the word “interrupts.” The problem is not the mere appreciation of our gorgeous world, but rather the fact that this individual views the esthetical exquisiteness of the tree or the landscape as an interruption of Torah study. For this particular traveler, he must cease and interrupt his study of Torah in order to take in the beauty of the world. Torah and the universe remain two distinct realities, in his consciousness, disjointed and disconnected. “Render to Ceaser what is Ceaser’s, render to G-d what is G-d’s.” The spiritual and the physical constitute two diverse realms. G-d runs the heavens; Washington runs (or thinks it runs) the earth. The secular and the holy are divided by an absolute gulf. Torah is good for the synagogue and the study hall; outside the confinements of the holy, its message must yield to the powerful embrace of the secular.

But the living presence of G-d saturates all of reality! What appears externally as secular pulsates internally with G-dliness. Plato’s dualism, conferring holiness upon the spiritual and corruption upon the physical, has no place in the ethos of Judaism. Torah is the blueprint, the Midrash says, of the entire universe. Hence, any genuine celebration of the world is a celebration of Torah. The vision and passion of Torah encompass every aspect and nuance of creation just as blueprint includes every detail of the home designed on it. In the weltanschauung of Judaism, as articulated in the Kabbalistic and Chassidic tradition, religion is not at odds with nature; rather, nature too is divine.

The verse in Psalms (4), “The heaven belongs to G-d, and the earth He granted to man,” was interpreted by the Rebbe of Kotzk as saying thus: “The heaven belongs to G-d initially; the earth G-d gave to man in order that he turns it into heaven.” The holy and the secular must learn to kiss, because when the doors of perception are cleansed the secular is seen as pulsating with holiness, begging that it too be infused with transcendence; deep down it too craves that it become a continuum of Torah.

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Above portions were copied from Lectures of: Rabbi YY (Yosef Yitzchok) Jacobson of

Gershon Jacobson Jewish Continuity Foundation and http://www.MeaningfulLife.org

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