It seems that the polar vortex may have finally returned home to the North Pole, and as May begins, we will have the opportunity to enjoy the outdoors once again. Connecticut is a wonderful place to experience nature, whether it’s digging our feet into the sand overlooking Long Island Sound or hiking through some of the local trails in Fairfield and Trumbull.
For many of us, there is an intuitive reaction when we’re out in nature. When I have the opportunity to head out into nature (which I wish I did more often), I just love the sounds. There are no cars honking or police sirens blaring. Instead I feel connected to the rhythm of the flowing stream or the singing of the swaying trees.
Judaism actually provides us with a series of blessings when we are out in nature, to enable our heads to appreciate what our heart already knows. I have shared several of these blessings with you at the bottom of the page. Saying blessings, however, is about more than being appreciative or showing gratitude. As the great 20thcentury Jewish scholar Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote,
The sense for “the miracles which are daily with us,” the sense for the “continual marvels,” Is the source of prayer. There is no worship, no music, no love, if we take for granted the blessings or defeats of living. No routine of the social, physical, or physiological order must dull our sense of surprise at the fact that there is a social, a physical, or a physiological order. We are trained in maintaining our sense of wonder by offering a prayer before the moment of food.
Each time we are about to drink a glass of water, we remind ourselves of the eternal mystery of creation, “Blessed are You…by Whose word all things come into being.” A rival act and a reference to the supreme miracle. Wishing to eat bread or fruit, to enjoy a pleasant fragrance or a cup of wine; on tasting fruit in season for the first time; on seeing a rainbow, or the ocean; on noticing trees when they blossom; on meeting a sage in Torah or in secular learning; on hearing good or bad tidings—we are taught to invoke God’s great name and our awareness of God.
—Abraham Joshua Heschel, God in Search of Man, p. 48
According to Heschel, when we recite a blessing we affirm our sense of wonder and surprise toward all of God’s creations. If we fail to say blessings, we will begin to take for granted all of the miracles that surround us. Wonder, for Heschel, is something that we can easily lose sight of if we’re not careful.
So as we head outside in the month of May, here are a few blessings to maintain that sense of wonder:
On seeing the large-scale wonders of nature, such as mountains, hills, deserts, seas, long rivers, lightning, and the sky in its purity:
Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu melech haolam, oseh maasei v’reishit.
We praise You, Eternal God, Sovereign of the universe, who makes the works of creation.
On seeing the small-scale wonders of nature, such as beautiful trees, animals, and people:
Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu melech haolam, shekacha lo beolamo.
We praise You, Eternal God, Sovereign of the universe, that such as these are in Your world.
On seeing a rainbow:
Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu melech haolam, zocher hab’rit v’neeman biv’rito v’kayam ma-amaro.
We praise You, Eternal God, Sovereign of the universe, who remembers, is faithful to, and fulfills Your covenant with and promise to creation.
Rabbi Evan Schultz