By TED ROBERTS, the SCRIBBLER ON THE ROOF
You can learn a lot from your rabbi – you can also learn a lot from nature. To watch a mama cat handle its young may be as informative as a chapter in Genesis. The “wired care” and affection she exhibits is as strong a proof of a supreme Creator as Genesis.
She is a prime exhibit of the proof that somewhere, somehow a power started and maintains the engine of life we call the world. Put a potted bulb, say an amaryllis, in a sunny window. When the warmth of the sun radiates the green shoot from the earth, it seeks the sun. It leans into the sun. And only by continuing to turn it can you keep it straight. Oddly, this plant – with no brain like us or even the cat – seeks its power source. In a way it has no independence. If it leans away from the sun – if it’s removed from the sun – it dies or is horribly distorted.
So is it with us with the exception that sometimes we cannot find the sun or since we are endowed with free will, choose the dark – not the sunlight.
But nobody can accuse us of ignoring G-d’s handiwork. We Jews have prayers for everything from your backyard rose bush to the eye color of Zayde’s newest grandchild. (See your rabbi for a complete catalogue.)
The good Jew, the appreciative Jew, reveling in the expanded Garden of Eden, which G-d has given us to roam in, says a prayer over nature’s beauty; the sunset, the mountains, the loaf of challah on the Shabbos table, the newly delivered infant. If he’s observant, he says the proper prayer. If he’s your run-of-the-mill, semi-affiliated, gefilte-fish-eating, Pesach observant Israelite, maybe his heart speaks in its own language. Maybe he doesn’t know the proper words, but deep down inside there’s a murmur of thanks, appreciation as he glimpses the miracle even of his bodily functions, much less the blessing of sitting at the Shabbos table surrounded by loving family. And if he doesn’t say, “Ha Motzi Lechem Min Ha Oretz,” still he thinks how gracious of G-d to provide.
He even notices for the first time that the tulip tree beside the dining room window is displaying lavish pink blossoms of Spring. (Is there a special prayer for a tulip tree in full bloom? I’m only a scribbler – ask your rabbi.) The renewal, the revival, the resuscitation of life enhances our gratitude.
But unlike the pagans our ancestors encountered in Canaan and the various theologies we were exposed to after Sinai, we are careful to worship the Creator, not His creation. We understood that the sun, moon, and throbbing sea are miraculous creations. Visual symbols of His invisible power. This was our gift to the world, this understanding of an unimaginable, transcendental Creator. Don’t pray to the Sycamore grove that crowns the hill, but to He who puts life in lifeless wood.
As to Spring and the hope that it brought to the primitive human heart (“Look, the tree was not lifeless. Buds and fruit decorate its limbs. Amazing, it comes back every year.”) the ancients had numerous myths involving their gods – the deliverers of Spring. Their explanations were poetic if not accurate – usually a variation involving evil Hades – the god of the underworld and his capture of a beneficent goddess. Nature mourned her departure and the trees shed their leaves like tears. All nature turned brown with grief and mourned her departure. Somehow she always escaped – at least temporarily. Nature flared into life in wild exultation. The trees fruited and the lowly grape vine leafed and offered its fruit. We call it Spring.
These myths of gods and goddesses, who misbehaved like their human counterparts, were prevalent at a time when our prophets were explaining that an invisible presence of goodness was driving nature: an ethical power whose greatest hope for man is to see his children walk in the footsteps of their Creator.