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.
At such times, anyone can approach him; the king receives them all with a smiling face and a radiant countenance. The peasant behind his plow has access to the king in a manner unavailable to the highest-ranking minister in the royal court when the king is in the palace.
The Rebbe used this parable to explain that during this lunar month of Elul, just prior to Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, it is easier to access our connection to the Divine. “The KING” is in the field–more accessible to us. That doesn’t mean that you literally have to go out to a field. It’s in your heart. This is a time for extra prayer, tzedakah/charity, reconciliation with others, and spiritual stock-taking. (For inspiration, check out Elul Tools by student rabbi Lisa Rappaport).
Contemporary Torah teacher, Gavriel Strauss, added another layer: let’s take the parable a bit literally and go out in nature, to a real meadow or field, as a way to sense that spiritual closeness as we prepare for the New Year. It think this is wonderful guidance! And by the way, we can also say that the Queen in the field. Jewish mysticism likens the Shechniah, the feminine Divine Presence in our world, to a fragrant, verdant field, blessed by the Holy One (see the Zohar, Pritzker Edition, Vol. 1, 227).
Hearing the crickets and cicadas, seeing the drying flowers and hints of fall foliage, feeling the texture of the air at late summer, all these connect me to the change of season and the Divine Presence that pervades all things. In the end of summer/earliest fall (where I live in the US Northeast), I particularly sense that each physical field is a field of energy, of interactions among species: asters, goldenrod, bees, and moths. I learn my lessons from nature, such as:
- Butterflies on fading flowers teach me of the beauty in the ephemeral, what the Japanese call Wabi-Sabi
- Spiderwebs cause me to reflect on the interconnected Web of Life
- Ripples in a lake show me that our actions have a power that ripples endlessly outward
- The play of light in beautiful grasses remind me that human life is beautiful but fleeting (Psalm 103:15)
- Reflections on water evoke the mystical idea of “as above, so below,” that the transcendent is reflected and connected to our physical world
- The sheep in the field remind me of my creatureliness (Psalm 23)
- A flowing stream reminds me of the flow of life, and I find a special leaf to make my own Tashlich
To see natural images that provoked these musings, view The King is In the Field, a Meadow Gallery in this Gateway page, and also see the bottom of this post for a couple of my Instagram posts that contemplate beauty through the Egret and the wonder of life through the Grasshopper.
Outdoor meditation and prayer are an ancient part of Jewish tradition! I am fascinated by the growing popularity of Shinrin Yoku – “Forest Bathing,” a modern Japanese concept that is inspiring people around the world to get back to nature for slow, immersive, meditative walks that help us live healthier lives and reconnect with our environment. Set out on your “soul stroll” with intention to learn from nature, to slow down and tune in to your senses, to bask in the beauty, and to offer back your guardianship and care of Planet Earth.
Truth be told, our ancient ancestors already knew the secrets of going out to the woods and fields. Just for a couple of examples, our forefather Isaac first met his wife Rebecca journeying toward him as she caught sight of him out walking/meditating in the field (la-su’ach ba-sadeh) toward evening. And of course, Moses had his first revelation of God at a burning bush in the wilderness, where he was instructed to remove his shoes and connect with the holy earth.
Many centuries later, the Hassidic rebbe, Rabbi Nachman of Bratzlov (1772-1810) advocated a practice of going outside in nature for hitbodedut, solitary communion with God on a daily basis. He expressed this a prayer:
Grant me the ability to be alone. May it be my custom to go outdoors each day among the trees and grass – among all growing things and there may I be alone, and enter into prayer, to talk with the One to whom I belong. May I express there everything in my heart, and may all the foliage of the field – all grasses, trees, and plants – awake at my coming, to send the powers of their life into the words of my prayer so that my prayer and speech are made whole through the life and spirit of all growing things, which are made as one by their transcendent Source.
I invite you to reconnect with your soul, to experience the Divine Presence in field and forests,
as your prepare for the New Year or at any Season.
Here are a couple of my Instagram posts on the power of walking in beauty and living with amazement:
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From a Navajo Prayer: In beauty I walk With beauty before me I walk With beauty behind me I walk With beauty above me I walk With beauty around me I walk It has become beauty again. ~ Today I will walk out, today everything negative will leave me I will be as I was before, I will have a cool breeze over my body. I will have a light body, I will be happy forever, nothing will hinder me. I walk with beauty before me. I walk with beauty behind me. I walk with beauty below me. I walk with beauty above me. I walk with beauty around me. My words will be beautiful. In beauty all day long may I walk. Through the returning seasons, may I walk. On the trail marked with pollen may I walk. With dew about my feet, may I walk. With beauty before me may I walk. With beauty behind me may I walk. With beauty below me may I walk. With beauty above me may I walk. With beauty all around me may I walk. In old age wandering on a trail of beauty, lively, may I walk. In old age wandering on a trail of beauty, living again, may I walk. My words will be beautiful… . ~ . Linguistic Note: The word “Hozho” in Dine’ (roughly translated) Concept of Balance and Beauty. Consideration of the nature of the universe, the world, and man, and the nature of time and space, creation, growth, motion, order, control, and the life cycle includes all these other Navajo concepts expressed in terms quite impossible to translate into English… From: talking-feather.com (URL in comments. The site has link to a recording of the prayer spoken in Navajo.) . #greategret #reflection #navajoprayer #fairfieldct #longislandsound #ashcreek #estuary #summer #reflectionperfection #birdlovers #birding #audubon#featheredfriends #intobirds #wildlifephotography #naturephotography #seenonmywalk #optoutside #naturetherapy #canonmirrorless #rabbiwithacamera #wellspringsofwisdom
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The Summer Day • by Mary Oliver • • Who made the world? Who made the swan, and the black bear? Who made the grasshopper? This grasshopper, I mean- the one who has flung herself out of the grass, the one who is eating sugar out of my hand, who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down- who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes. Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face. Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away. I don’t know exactly what a prayer is. I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass, how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields, which is what I have been doing all day. Tell me, what else should I have done? Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon? Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? • • #grasshopper #macros #macroperfection #meadow #fieldofdreams #antennae @rockefellerstatepark @rockysparkfriends #naturephotography #insects #leafeater #lumixphotography #differentialgrasshopper @westchestercountyphotography #wellspringsofwisdom
Featured Image: Reflecting on Nature, Rabbi Julie Danan, Rockefeller State Park Preserve
This post relates to Wellsprings of Wisdom first Webinar! Sources mentioned in the post and webinar can be found in this Source Sheet. If you would like a recording of the Webinar, please send a request via the Contact Form.
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