Off the Pulpit

The Prayer of Natural Beauty

In his later years, the renowned Rabbi, Samson Raphael Hirsch, suddenly announced that he was going to Switzerland to climb in the Alps. “Why?” asked his astonished students. “Because when I come face to face with the Creator of the universe,” mused Hirsch, “I know He will look down at me and say ‘So, Shimshon, did you see My Alps?'”

Appreciating beauty is an act of devotion. That is why Judaism contains blessings for seeing beautiful mountains, the ocean, a rainbow, and other natural sights.

The Talmud advises that one should pray only in a room which has windows. To sing to God and not see God’s world is a contradiction. The word “chuppah” in the marriage ceremony once referred to the traditional covering of the bride and groom — Chuppat Shamayim — the canopy of the heavens, what the poet Housman called “the star pavilioned sky.”

Humanity begins in a garden. Judaism continues using natural metaphors: the Torah is likened to a tree, the Talmud to a sea, the human spirit to wind. When we feel the cycle of seasons and are awestruck by natural majesty and beauty, we are offering a deep, authentic prayer to God.