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Go Outside!

Parashot Matot-Masei - July 10, 2021

On Fourth of July morning, it was cool enough to take the dogs on a light, easy nature walk at the Red River Wildlife Refuge. We chose to take a path we had never taken before, and halfway through, we found ourselves trudging through a lovely, green swamp. As we kept thinking we saw dry land, we trudged deeper and deeper, until we all were covered with algae and accepted that it was time to turn back. Our dogs were exhausted and wouldn’t drink water, and I was, of course, panicking about hidden snakes. At the same time, the birds, the vivid green, the time spent with Rabbi Feivel and the dogs, and the story to tell afterwards made it all worthwhile.

About halfway through our reading today, Rabbi Feivel will sing of the Israelites travels and campsites from place to place. As they do whenever the Torah presents a long, potentially boring list, the Rabbis of old ask, what’s the point? Wouldn’t it just be enough to say they traveled - end of story? The commentator Seforno answers that this list is a symbol of the great merit of the people Israel that they willingly trek בארץ לא זרועה, across a land largely untouched by human hands, walking behind God the whole way. God knows that both journeying and camping can be rough; the wilderness offers so many unknowns. Because of their willingness to enter uncharted lands, to experience the great outdoors, the people Israel are now deserving of their land.

While the Red River Refuge is not so far from civilization - part of the trail we took bordered the highway - spending those couple of hours outside reminded me of the importance of taking that time. We are blessed to live in a community with some of the most gorgeous, and sometimes the funkiest, birds I have ever seen. The humidity here brings us bright, lush greenery right in our backyards. 

I know people in this community take advantage of the outdoors through daily walks, visits to the dog park, backpacking trips, feeding local wildlife, gardening, and fishing. Through these outdoor activities, we learn to live through the unexpected. We get sunburns, beestings, and bugbites, we strain our muscles, and sometimes worse just to experience God’s Creation. We know the potential reward, the beauty that comes, when we step outside of our comfort zone and into the outdoors. Outside, when we see the intricate constructions of our beloved ants, or when we see the speed at which the hawks dive, we rediscover our humility. When we run that one mile further than yesterday or climb a peak despite our fear of heights, we rediscover our confidence in this body in which we were created. Every time we take a risk and step outside, we gain the potential for learning, for joy, and often, even for awe. 

On the next relatively cool, dry Sunday or Wednesday, I’m looking forward to exploring Walter B. Jacobs with Rabbi Feivel and the dogs; I hear it’s well worth it, even with the foxtails that might get stuck in their paws. And I’m looking forward to hearing about your next outdoor adventure - I ask that you take even more of a risk and walk further, sit for longer, or go somewhere different than you normally do. 

When we arrive outdoors, even if just in our backyard, we have the privilege of language we can use to thank God for the beauty and the adventure of existing in this world, even when the awe that we see or feel is vaster than any words we can conjure. In the Jewish tradition, we have blessings on seeing the ocean for the first time in a month, on seeing a rainbow, on hearing thunder, on seeing lightning, on smelling fragrant plants, on seeing unusual animals, and on seeing a tree blossom for the first time in a year. I have printed these blessings for you to take home and to bring with you the next time you explore. Today, at this moment, I invite you to look outside at the garden that Sandra Ginsburg has so graciously tended, highlighting the Creation right under our noses, and I invite you to say the blessing for a beautiful scene of nature with me:

ברוך אתה ה׳ אלהינו מלך העולם שככה לו בעולמו.

Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Sovereign of Time and Space, who has created such things in God’s world.

Wed, February 21 2024 12 Adar I 5784