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Finding G‑d in the Flowers

Finding G‑d in the Flowers

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Blessed be You, L‑rd our G‑d, King of the universe, Who has withheld nothing from His world, and has created beautiful creatures and beautiful trees in it, so that people may delight in them.

This beautiful prayer is the traditional “thank you” that Jews have recited for thousands of years during the spring (in the months of Nissan or Iyar) the first time they look at a beautiful flowering fruit tree. Like so much in Judaism, it challenges us to be aware: to look around us and see the beautiful nature all around, to stop and appreciate it, and then to realize that it is a gift, created for us by G‑d.

The greater our sensitivity, the more easily we can tap into this awareness of the beauty and power of the natural worldMy rabbi recently told me a beautiful story that changed the way I think about nature.

A man was taking an international flight and, as morning approached, he saw the most amazing thing: from his vantage point high above the clouds, he watched as the morning sun rose fiery in the eastern sky. The man felt for a moment that he had glimpsed a part of the universe that few people ever see, and at that moment he felt profoundly close to G‑d.

Upon his return home, this man spoke with his rabbi, who was a very great man, and described the awe he felt at seeing the sun rise at 30,000 feet. The rabbi listened, then commented—“I know just what you mean: that’s precisely how I feel each time I look at a daisy!”

This is a true story, and it shows both the power of nature to remind us of the awesomeness of the world, and also that the greater our sensitivity, the more easily we can tap into this awareness of the beauty and power of the natural world. For some, it might take a spectacular sunrise from 30,000 feet to remind them of the majesty and beauty of the world they inhabit; others can feel this awe and appreciation each time they see a simple flower.

In Judaism, it is said that the Torah is the “blueprint” for the world: before G‑d created the gorgeous natural world we inhabit, He encoded the Torah as a guide to the kind of world He wanted to establish.

Thus, each time we appreciate the world, we are appreciating a facet of the Torah; we are reveling in the world that G‑d made for us. Each time we go outside and notice the trees, the flowers, the clouds in the sky, and feel happy about them, we are appreciating a world that was meant for us to love.

In fact, on the very holiday when we celebrate G‑d giving His Torah to the Jewish people, Shavuot, it is customary to decorate our homes and our synagogues with flowers and plants. As we celebrate receiving the Torah, we surround ourselves with the lushness of the natural world.

For years, I never made the connection between the customary Shavuot decorations of flowers and any deeper feeling these decorations were supposed to engender. I always noted the presence of a few flowerpots in synagogue, then ignored them.

One year, however, on Shavuot, I sat next to an elderly lady in synagogue. During a lull in the service, we started chatting. It turned out this lady was a Holocaust survivor, and had grown up in a small Jewish town in Europe in the 1920s and ’30s. As she told me about her childhood, her eyes clouded with tears. “You should have seen our shul (Yiddish for synagogue) on Shavuot,” she told me. “There were ropes of flowers everywhere, flowers were scattered around, there were pots of the most beautiful floral arrangements, all around the shul . . . It was beautiful, so, so beautiful . . .”

I never forgot this woman’s description. It had made such an impression on her, even so many decades later, that flowers on Shavuot were one of her strongest memories of her childhood.

After hearing this woman’s story, in subsequent years, I began to make more of an effort to bring flowers into my home on Shavuot. Instead of being just a sweet little tradition, filling my home with flowers for the holiday became a major part of the celebration for me.

Shavuot is a yearly reminder that the world is for delighting in, not merely inhabitingNow, years later, I have a profoundly altered view of the entire holiday of Shavuot. There are so many beautiful traditions associated with this holiday. The Shavuot services are lovely, there is a fun custom to stay up all night studying Jewish texts, we eat delicious dairy foods such as cheese blintzes and cheesecake. It’s a lovely holiday.

But one of my favorite traditions has become bringing flowers indoors. Shavuot comes in the late spring and early summer, right when the weather is perfect and the flowers are blossoming.

Shavuot gives us a reason to go out and appreciate the beauty of the world that G‑d created for us. It forces us to look at the world with a new eye: instead of just going through our day, working and running errands, it helps us to literally stop and smell the flowers.

And as I smell the flowers this year, I will thank G‑d for the world He has made, so that I might “delight” in it. I will pause for a moment and savor the beauty of the outdoors, of the trees, the sky, the birds, and the flowers. For Shavuot is a yearly reminder that the world is for delighting in, not merely inhabiting.

Yvette Alt Miller, Ph.D., is a mother and adjunct professor of political science living in Chicago. She is the author of Angels at the Table: A Practical Guide to Celebrating Shabbat (Continuum, 2011).
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Anonymous God's Heart January 5, 2016

that is beautiful; little flowers make me think of His Love too even then, I'm reminded of this...

Isaiah 40:8 "The grass withereth, the flower fadeth; but the word of our G-d shall stand for ever." Reply

Marilyn Malick Proston, QLD, Australia August 12, 2011

Stop and smell the roses Never enjoyed such an article of beauty, devotion and exoression as this, I have always been in touch with nature of all sorts, I will see things other people don't in our world, the garden, the paddocks, the bush, my great grand mother taught me when i was a child, and pointing her finger at us kids, showing us one of her huge fat green frogsd in the garden, she said, "never kill a frog"a green frog, they are the soul of the universe, I will never forget her, G-D is all around us if only we look and see the beauty ,thank you for your beautiful words, marilyn Reply

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