More and more people around the world are learning that walking* in nature can be a spiritual practice. It was surely known to our biblical ancestors, and today intentional time strolling in nature has become an international movement known as Shinrin Yoku or Forest Bathing.
I treasure the late summer, just before the Jewish New Year, as a wonderful time to get out in nature, and I relate it to a Hasidic teaching. “The King is in the Field,” is a parable of Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi (1745-1812), founder of Chabad Hasidism. He likened Rosh Hashanah and the Awesome Days through Yom Kippur to a time when a king is in the palace and it is very formal act to approach the throne.. But when the king is traveling to the palace anyone can approach him as he travels through the fields.
The Bible relates that King Solomon was known as the wisest of men. One verse suggests that he was able to converse about–the more-than-human world:
יְדַבֵּר֮ עַל־הָֽעֵצִים֒ מִן־הָאֶ֙רֶז֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר בַּלְּבָנ֔וֹן וְעַד֙ הָאֵז֔וֹב אֲשֶׁ֥ר יֹצֵ֖א בַּקִּ֑יר וַיְדַבֵּר֙ עַל־הַבְּהֵמָ֣ה וְעַל־הָע֔וֹף וְעַל־הָרֶ֖מֶשׂ וְעַל־הַדָּגִֽים׃
He [King Solomon] discoursed about trees, from the cedar in Lebanon to the hyssop that grows out of the wall; and he discoursed about the beasts, the birds, the creeping things, and the fishes.
Although most commentators insisted that King Solomon’s communications were about nature, the Aggadah, Jewish legendary tradition, took it more literally: the King Solomon, in his great wisdom, could actually speak to the animals and plants in their own languages.
After the drama of the ten plagues, the splitting of the Red Sea, and receiving the Torah at Sinai, the Biblical book of Exodus turns to what seems a much more mundane subject: building the first Jewish temple, a portable sanctuary known as the Mishkan. Where do we find such sanctuary today?
Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi taught a parable of a king on the way to the palace, who can be approached by everyone in the countryside with ease. His expression, “the King is in the field,” characterized the late summer month of Elul prior to the New Year, as a time when it is easier to access our connection to the divine within. Contemporary Torah teacher Gavriel Strauss, suggests that at this time of year we literally go out in nature, to a meadow or field, as a wonderful way to feel that spiritual closeness. Click on the featured photo above to activate the gallery, a photo series scenes at Otter Creek Preserve, Mamaroneck, and Rockefeller State Park Preserve, Pleasantville, New York (the second Egret in Fairfield, Connecticut). Photos by Rabbi Julie Hilton Danan.