By Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried
My wife and I just returned to Dallas from a few days “away from it all” in a beautiful country home of some friends in Southeast Texas. It’s located on some 100 acres of grazing land and surrounded by its own herd of Texas longhorn cows, some horses and beautiful woods. There’s nothing more serene and restful than being out in the Texas countryside for a few days, to give you the strength to get back to work!
One feeling I had, while watching nature in real time, was being overwhelmed by the kindness of G-d in the natural world. I spent a long time meditating on the eating habits of the cows, dining on grass from early morning until dusk in the most relaxed way. I noticed that they all, as if on cue, stopped eating the grass and lay down, I assumed to rest, late in the afternoon. Upon speculation I noticed they weren’t resting at all, but very busy chewing. I suddenly realized that I was observing them chewing their cud! I always knew that is one of the signs of a kosher animal, but never actually observed it in real life. When they finished, they all got up and resumed their slow, calm consumption of yet more grass.
That’s when I became overwhelmed, seeing these large, powerful creatures with long horns, thick large bones, thick leather fur and huge muscles, all grown … from grass! This is something I might have always known intellectually but it didn’t really hit home until I spent time contemplating the enormousness of that fact. I then thought about the structure of their shoulders and necks, perfectly crafted to spend nearly all of their waking hours directed downwards to sweep the fields of their grassy spread.
This reminded me of a story I once heard from my mentor, R’ Shlomo Wolbe ob”m, of his prewar mentor, the eminent sage R’ Yerucham Levovitz of Mir, Poland. R’ Yerucham was the spiritual dean of the prominent Mirrer Yeshiva, the elite Talmudic academy of prewar Europe. R’ Yerucham took a fundraising trip to Berlin and, while there, visited the renowned Berlin Zoo. This was the first time the rabbi had visited a zoo. Upon his return to the yeshiva, he spent the next three months (!) dedicating his mussar lectures to the thoughts and epiphanies and inspirations he had attained in the zoo. Seeing before him the kindness of G-d, to prepare for each type of animal the exact food they need for their nourishment and the precise type of neck, teeth and mouth for that type of food and so much more, R’ Wolbe commented that we usually suffice, during our visits to the zoo, to take a few pictures and move on with no further thought, and R’ Yerucham spent three months divulging his thoughts from the zoo!
That story inspired me to notice my surroundings.
I was particularly touched by two newly hatched baby birds, their nest deftly crafted between two attached outdoor lightbulbs under the eaves. It was both fascinating and touching to watch the mother and father, from early morning to evening, flying back and forth with another morsel of food, flying up to the nest for a split second just long enough to drop it in the chick’s tiny beak and flying on to catch the next morsel. I was so fascinated to see how G-d programmed that into the bird’s DNA, to know all it takes to build that nest, hatch the eggs and feed them until they continue the cycle with their own young.
The Sages teach us that Abraham came to his recognition of G-d by observing the kindness which surrounds and permeates all of nature. He realized that all this kindness could not exist unless there is a Bestower of that kindness, its Creator, and thereby recognized G-d.
May we all find time in our busy lives to notice more deeply and meaningfully that which we already know and take for granted. We may just reach a greater appreciation for He who saturates our lives with His kindness every moment of our lives.
Rabbi Yerachmiel Fried is dean of DATA–Dallas Area Torah Association.