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Torah and Nature: Paths to Ahavas Hashem

In honor of my grandson Dovi Leff’s bar mitzvah this Shabbos.

The second plague which God brought upon the Egyptians was frogs. They invaded Egypt, including the ovens for baking. The Talmud (Pesachim 53b) relates that the frogs were the inspiration for Chananiah, Mishael and Azaryah.

What did they see that caused them to enter the furnace of Nebuchadnezzar? They reasoned a fortiori from the frogs. If frogs, which are not commanded to sanctify God’s name, entered the furnace, how much more so should we, who are commanded to sanctify God’s name, do?

Rambam in Sefer HaMitzvos says the path to love Hashem is through Torah learning. Yet, in Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah, Rambam says contemplating the natural world and its awe-inspiring wonders leads one to love Hashem. There are crucial differences between nature and Torah as paths to Hashem.

The Midrash says that HaKodosh Boruch Hu didn’t create the world with the first letter, alef, for it signifies arur – cursed – but with the second letter, beis, which signifies bracha – blessing. When using nature as a path to Hashem, one’s explorations must be carefully guided, so that one indeed finds Hashem.

As King David proclaimed, Hashem can be found in nature. “When I see Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, I am inspired to realize my insignificance in relationship to God, Who is overwhelming” (Tehillim 8:4). But danger remains in the observation of nature, as the Torah warns us: “Lest you raise your eyes heavenward and observe the sun, the moon, and stars, and are enticed to bow to them and serve” (Devarim 4:19).

Yuri Gagarin, first Soviet cosmonaut, announced upon returning to earth that he was sure that God didn’t exist, chas ve’shalom, because he didn’t see Him. On the other hand, American astronauts on one of the Apollo missions transmitted breathtaking views of Earth from space, and recited Psalm 119, “The Heavens declare the glory of God…” Observations of the same thing with two different responses.

The basis of blessings must be clear and decisive when observing God through nature. However, the path of Torah isn’t fraught with such danger. Quite the contrary, the inner light of Torah guides one toward the good. When it comes to Torah, even what can potentially be cursed, alef, can be inspired and directed by inner light of Torah for good. For this reason, Torah study must be the primary path. Only one steeped in study of Torah can truly and properly utilize the path of observing nature, the secondary path. As physical beings, we are affected more by what we sense than by what we know intellectually. Emunah and ahavas Hashem are as real and intense as what we experience with senses. Torah manifested in nature helps one concretize his emunah.

Entering the furnace to sanctify Hashem’s name required strength and commitment. Unless Chananiah, Mishael and Azaryah reached a level where their knowledge of kiddush Hashem had become concretized by their senses and observed as a fact of nature, they might have shied away from taking that step. They saw nature’s sanctification of God’s name through the frogs, which supplemented their knowledge of the mandate to sanctify God’s name. Their knowledge gave them courage and will to fulfill what they knew to be intellectually binding. Seeing kiddush Hashem represented in nature, they sensed and felt it. If frogs had strength to do this, they reasoned, that same strength exists within us.

May learning Torah and observing nature, especially in Eretz Yisroel, where nature and Torah bond intensely through the mitzvot dependent on agriculture, bring us to greater levels of love and awe of Hashem.


Rabbi Zev Leff is the rabbi of Moshav Matityahu, and a renowned author, lecturer and educator. He is a member of the Mizrachi Speakers Bureau (www.mizrachi.org/speakers).

The RZA-Mizrachi is a broad Religious Zionist organization without a particular political affiliation.

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