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Appreciating Nature
by Rabbi Abraham Twerski, M.D.

Quite probably animals have an appreciation of nature at some level, but they cannot possibly appreciate the grandeur of nature the way man can. The importance of appreciation of nature in spirituality can be seen in Maimonides, who states that the way a person can come to reverence and love of God is through recognizing His enormous wisdom as contained in nature (Foundations of Torah 2:2).

We may walk past trees that have thousands of leaves and give no thought to the miracle of photosynthesis and to the incomparable engineering in the structure of a leaf. One does not have to travel to Niagara Palls to have a breathtaking experience. All one needs to do is look intelligently through a microscope at a simple leaf.

I sometimes wonder: How was it possible for the Israelites, who had witnessed unprecedented miracles in Egypt followed by the parting of the waters of the Red Sea, to have any doubts about God providing for them in the desert, as the Torah relates?

I believe it was because they were so accustomed to so many miraculous happenings that they related to miracles the way we relate to nature, and since they did not perceive them as miracles but as natural events, they did not know how there could be food and water in a barren desert.

"Our ancestors in Egypt did not understand Your wonders, and therefore did not remember Your abundant kindnesses" (Psalms 106:6). Anything that occurs with regularity or is commonplace loses its impact, and that is why we are derelict in recognizing the miracles within nature.

To anyone who has studied physiology, the human body is a virtually unbelievable organism. If one were to try to duplicate the functions of the liver, it is doubtful that a fully computerized four-story laboratory could accomplish the myriad of chemical and enzymatic processes with anywhere near the precision of the four-pound liver. And if one would study the central nervous system, one would discover that in the brain there are over 14 billion units (cells), all multiply interconnected, which process all the incoming data from our senses of vision, hearing, touch, smell, and taste, and send messages to the appropriate body organs and limbs, with perhaps millions of interactions occurring every minute.

The one-pound organ that resides within the human skull makes the Internet system appear like a simple tinkertoy by comparison. And at the base of the brain there is a gland no larger than a thumbnail, which constantly analyzes the chemical composition of the blood, especially the various hormones and mineral levels, and regulates it with an uncanny precision by sending messages to the appropriate glands and organs. This refers only to the brain itself; we know very little about the actual function of the human mind, which although intimately associated with the brain, is not accessible to examination via a microscope.

Any person with intelligence would stand in awe at this and other marvelous works in nature, and indeed come to a reverence for God. And the realization of what God has provided for us in nature would lead to the love of God, as Maimonides says.

It is a mitzvah to recite Psalms and it is a mitzvah to study Psalms. But if one wishes to appreciate the adoration of God through nature, let him read Psalm 104 carefully.

The importance of appreciating nature is further made evident where King David cites the virtues of Torah: "The Torah of God is perfect, restoring the soul; the testimony of God is trustworthy, making the simple one wise, etc." (Psalms 19:8-10). However, he precedes his praise of Torah with: "The heavens declare the glory of God, and the expanse of the sky tells of His handiwork etc." (Psalms 19:2-7). If one thinks of the infinite greatness and wisdom of God as testified to by nature, one can approach the Torah with greater respect and admiration.

The concept of Maimonides is further proven by the fact that prior to our reciting the Shema, in which we declare our loyalty to and love for God, the sages composed a lengthy blessing which extols the greatness of God as seen in nature, and draws upon psalm 104: "How great are Your works, O God, You make them all with wisdom, the world is full of Your possessions" (Psalms 104:24).

Only a human being has the capacity to see the greatness of God in nature, and when we do so, we are being spiritual.

Reprinted with permission from InnerNet Magazine Excerpted with permission from "TWERSKI ON SPIRITUALITY" - published by Artscroll/Mesorah Publications



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