Go Outside! Parshat Bereshit

When was the first time you had a spiritual moment — a fleeting but powerful sense of the presence of God in the world?

Most people when asked this question, if this is a relevant subject for them, will speak of an experience in the natural world: outside at night looking at the stars, one day in the backyard looking at the fall colors or seeing a caterpillar emerge from its cocoon.

Many of the most intense spiritual experiences of my youth happened in Algonquin Provincial Park in Ontario, Canada. I went to summer camp in northern Ontario for 10 years and went on many canoe trips to Algonquin Park. I remember that on one such trip when I was 15, we had started out one morning to traverse the largest lake in the park, Lake Opeongo.

As we left early in the morning, the lake was a mirror of sky and forest with a slight mist on its surface. The canoes almost silently cut through the water, sending ripples out to quiver the reflection. The beauty of that moment has been with me ever since — a moment that gave me a sense of the wonder and the presence that lies beneath the surface of the world.

I have been blessed in my life to have had many moments like this in God’s creation. Not all have taken place in wild places; some have occurred in some very human settings. But I know that the foundations for my spiritual life have been built on finding God in the wonder and awe of creation.

Moses Maimonides felt that the fulfillment of the commandments of loving (Deut. 6:5) and having awe for God (Deut. 6:13) comes only with the study and experience of creation itself. He felt that these commandments were so central to the development of the spiritual sensibility that he put them as commandments four and five in his list of the 613 commandments right after commandments about the belief in one God.

Today, most children spend their free time staring at one screen or another for hours. The world they live in is virtual and not real. They forget how to use their bodies, and the outside has become a place of fear, not one of order and goodness.

When we are cut off from creation, especially when we are young, the impact is farreaching and injurious to our souls and bodies. Get outside everyday and see the goodness of God’s Creation.

As scientist James Lovelock once wrote, “How can we revere the living world if we can no longer hear the bird song through the noise of traffic or smell the sweetness of fresh air? How can we wonder about God and the universe if we never see the stars because of the city lights?”

Rabbi Lawrence Troster is spiritual leader of Kesher Israel Congregation in West Chester, Pa.

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