Our sages teach us that everything Hashem made in this world has a purpose and that when we see the wisdom and kindness found within them, we fulfill a positive mitzvah of the heart (Chovos Halevavos, ‘Duties of the Heart’, Gate of Reflection). One of my favorite examples of how we can see the wisdom and kindness of Hashem hidden within creations is with Icebergs.
When people think about icebergs, they often associate them with how they sink boats as happened to the famous titanic that got sideswiped by a giant iceberg sending it sinking to its doom. But the Chovos Halevavos teaches us that if we look hard enough, we will find wisdom and kindness in all creations, so our question is, why did Hashem make icebergs?
To truly appreciate what icebergs do, we first have to know where they come from. Icebergs actually start forming on land in very cold areas where it snows a lot over the winter. In some places near the north and south pole, it snows so much, and it is so cold, that not all the snow melts in the summer. The following winter, more snow falls onto the old ice, and this happens year after year until there are giant blocks of ice that can be a mile tall and a thousand miles long. These giant ice blocks are called glaciers.
Despite their massive size, glaciers are constantly moving. They slide along a small stream of water that forms underneath them and can move anywhere from a few feet a year to a few feet a day. As they move, giant ice blocks bulldoze their way across the land, crushing virtually everything in their paths, including rocks containing important minerals that living things need.
When glaciers crush rocks, massive amounts of minerals get pumped into the ice. Since glaciers are constantly on the move, eventually some of them make their way to the ocean where little pieces of them fall into the water; in that case, an iceberg is born. That is where icebergs come from, they are little pieces of giant glaciers that fall into the water.
Icebergs are not really that small as the word iceberg actually means ice mountain in Dutch due to their great size. They can be 55 stories tall above the surface of the water, which is literally the tip of the iceberg. If you have ever heard that expression, it comes from icebergs because only 10 percent of the ice is above the water. Hashem made icebergs so big and packed them full of nutrients for a very special purpose—to help support life in the sea!
Sea creatures in the north and south poles depend on icebergs for their nutritional needs. All forms of life need basic vitamins and minerals, such as iron, to survive. In general, living things get their minerals from water in rivers that flow over rocks. The minerals in the water are then drunk by animals. Most sea life also gets their minerals from rivers that flow over rocks and then spill the water into the sea where it is absorbed by microscopic creatures and then transferred to the other forms of life through the food chain.
This works well for areas of the ocean near land that are warm enough to have free flowing water and rivers. Near the north and south poles however, there are areas that are so cold there is no flowing water and no way for rivers to supply them with their nutritional needs.
For Hashem—this is no problem, as He can do anything, and He made giant vitamins the size of mountains to provide for His creatures. The whole time glaciers were bulldozing their way over the ground, they picked up massive amounts of minerals. As the icebergs fall one after another into the ocean, they sail their way around the waters near the north and south poles. As they melt, they slowly release the minerals within them, and cause a flourishing of life everywhere they go.
Icebergs are a truly magnificent invention of Hashem to provide sea creatures with the minerals they need. We say three times a day in the Ashrei prayer “Poteach Es Yadecha U’Masbia Lkol Chai Ratzon” (You Open up Your Hand and satisfy every living creature) and icebergs are a great example of how Hashem does this in a truly extraordinary way: making giant vitamins the size of mountains to support life in the sea.
To view a free video presentation about icebergs visit www.jewishcenterforscience under the free videos section.
Rabbi Yaakov Lubin is director of The Jewish Center for Science. He is the author of the Niflaos Haboreh Explorer science textbook series and The Wonders of Creation, used by over 5,000 students and transforming the way science is taught in Jewish Schools.