Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

4 Sivan 5762 - May 15, 2002 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network











Home and Family
Nature's Song

by Rabbi Nosson Slifkin

Feldheim Publishers

A beautiful book dealing with all the aspects of the natural world in the Torah perspective of "How great are Your works, Hashem," accompanied with poignant black-and-white illustrations, Nature's Song is authoritative, factual, poetic, profound, comprehensive, a brilliant work of art-and- science. A book to have and to give, to read repeatedly and to cherish.

A fitting review for our Shavuos edition, for this momentous day in history when Creation, itself, was ultimately vindicated through the giving of the Torah to the Jewish nation. "Yom Hashishi -- say Chazal -- "the Sixth Day of Sivan," when the Torah was given, amidst lightning and thunder.

Magnum Opus

Reviewed by Pennee Lauders

Many years ago, I was lent a tape about Perek Shirah. The lecturer expounded at length on the fascinating, mystical significance of the text, but I never had an opportunity to look into Perek Shirah itself. Where was it? What was it?

This was, of course, partially due to my busy schedule, raising five bouncy boys. Now that three of them are busy bouncing elsewhere, I'm capable of perusing such formidable tomes as R' Nosson Slifkin's handsome, informative, well- written and thoroughly researched Nature's Song.

Delighted, I found Perek Shirah in Hebrew with English translation to be featured as the first textual entry. It's not that one can't plow laboriously through the Hebrew and come up with a reasonable understanding by oneself. However, a busy baalebusta must be careful to budget her time wisely. The translation together with the Hebrew makes it easier to move forward and get into the ideas. The really serious learners can tackle original sources, as the ambitious author of this lovely volume has so courageously done. That he deigns to share his hard-earned knowledge and his personal insights with the Targum-Feldheim readership is a chessed of immense proportions.

One message of Perek Shirah, according to the author and those whom he quotes, is to point out to man that the good character traits which the Jew is commanded to acquire can be found embodied in the various creatures which inhabit the globe. As is quoted on page 39 of the introduction, "R' Yochonon said: Had the Torah not been given, we would have learned modesty from the cat, [the prohibition of] theft from the ant, [the prohibition of] forbidden relationships from the dove..." Not skipping a beat, Rabbi Slifkin brings a footnote. "We may ask why there is a need to learn from nature -- why not simply learn from the Torah?"

Indeed, the Talmud says that we would have learned these lessons from the animals had the Torah not been given: the apparent implication of this is that now that the Torah has been given, we should be learning life's lessons from the Torah! Kenaf Renanim, a major bibliographical source for this work, explains that if one has reached the ideal of being entirely immersed in Torah, then he should, indeed, learn only from Torah. But if one is involved in the wider world, he can study the Torah's ways from nature (page 40).

Could R' Yochonon have known that at the end of days, there would be such a crying dearth of the wisdom of the Torah's mussar? That through teachers like R' Slifkin we tinokos shenishbu would come to extract the Truth even from the behavior of animals? In fact, this book proves that we are so far from nature that we don't even have a working relationship with many of the animals mentioned in Perek Shirah. How then can we hope to obtain mussar at all if we haven't yet acquired it through Torah, nor through nature, which has been leached of its strength and nearly bought to a grinding halt by the `civilized' masses whose `progress' continually pushes nature further and further from their door?

Anyone who picks up this 450-page book will soon realize that the text is entertaining but thought-provoking at the same time. One is compelled to engage in the gentle tug of Rabbi Slifkin's contemplation. This in itself will hopefully lead one to actually do something about those raw edges, which keep one from finishing the work which Hashem has begun [and has relegated to the purview of mankind]. We must tame the raw nature in us in order to reveal our Divinely-ordained purpose.

Indeed, this a book for all seasons [and I may add, with all seasons...]. Whoever acquires it will have the opportunity to review the pleasant guidance of Torah Sages, who understand that an objective look at the improvements which one should undertake, is more easily digested than cold and hard rebuke. R' Slifkin's book is a truly gentle reminder to all of us that the Jewish path is one of loving-kindness.

And one quote, to give the reader something to savor:

"The Lightning Bolts are saying: `He causes the vapors to ascend from the ends of the earth; He makes lightning for the rain; He brings forth the wind from His storehouses' (Psalms 135:7)

" . . . Lightning comes about due to an imbalance in the electric charges between the ground and the thunderhead. The lightning bolts instantly strike and redress the imbalance. It's a sudden and striking way of doing so, but highly effective.

"A similar imbalance of forces sometimes exists between man and the Heavens. Man sometimes becomes lost in the material world, forgetting about the spiritual. There, too, something must be done.

"There is nothing more openly perceived as an act of G-d than a bolt of lightning. Thunderstorms, with their terrifying crashing sounds, startling flashes of light, and driving rain, do not merely instill awe in a person -- they instill religious awe...

"`Thunder was created only to straighten out the crookedness of one's heart' (Berochos 59a)."

And later, in a box, this information:


In a lightning bolt, a relatively low-powered `leader' first shoots from a thundercloud to the earth in a series of zigzag steps. When it is sixty to ninety feet from the ground, it is met by an upward-seeking discharge of electricity some two or three inches in diameter and surrounded by a five-inch sleeve of superheated air. The stroke packs 10,000 to 20,000 amperes and instantly cooks the surrounding air to a temperature of 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit or more, causing it to expand violently in a roar of thunder. When the return stroke enters the cloud, another leader descends and is, in turn, met by another rising charge. This repeats from three to twenty-six times, but the bolts all travel so fast, at about 93,000 miles per second, that we see it as a single flash of lightning" (p. 149-152).

The reader will be treated to many more interesting quotes, facts and insights. This book is a valuable addition to anyone's library.

May Rabbi Slifkin merit to reap great blessing as his perspective is imbibed and incorporated into the daily conduct of his uplifted readers.


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