By Laura Seymour
The weather outside is ever changing, and some of us love the hot days of summer while others long for the bitter cold of a winter storm. However, there are those “perfect” days for being outside when it is neither too hot or too cold and we can marvel at the natural world even if it is just on a neighborhood walk.
Kate Hennessey in a recent article for Kveller.com wrote that nature sometimes makes her cry and she worried that she was an official “nature nerd.” Many of us can understand the love of being in the outdoors. Hennessey, however, discovered a very special Jewish connection to this feeling: yirah, a Jewish value that is translated as “fear” or “awe,” especially connected to G-d in the natural world. It is more than an awareness of G-d in the world and “fear” does not capture it. As with many things, often you just know it when you feel it!
Hennessey shares this quote from Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel: “Awe is more than an emotion; it is a way of understanding. Awe itself is an act of insight into a meaning greater than ourselves. Awe is a way of being in rapport with the mystery of all reality…. Awe enables us to perceive in the world intimations of the divine, to sense in small things the beginning of infinite significance, to sense the ultimate in the simple….” I am not sure if this explanation, or any, can describe this feeling when you are in the presence of a moment that you can’t explain. Today we often don’t take the time to stop and just experience the world and all that is around us.
This feeling and experience is expressed so wonderfully in Genesis 28:10-17. Jacob is going to Haran, stops to sleep and has a dream — a stairway reaching to the sky and angels going up and down. G-d promises to protect him. When Jacob wakes up he says, “Surely the Lord is present in this place and I did not know it! How awesome is this place!” What a feeling of awesomeness and a connection with the spiritual oneness of G-d. Do you need to go into the woods to experience this? No — there are so many times when we feel awe — but we must be open to it. Take the time to find it in the day-to-day — yet to do so you must look for it. In a few weeks, my whole family is taking our “pilgrimage” to Disney World and, laugh if you wish, but it is often there, when the fireworks are lighting the sky or even when a Disney character walks up to us and the children react with surprise (and a moment of fear), that we say, “Surely the Lord is present in this place and I did not know it! How awesome is this place!” Find your moments of awe and wonder — be ready as they will come when you least expect it!
Laura Seymour is Jewish experiential learning director and camp director emeritus at the Aaron Family JCC.