| Parshah |

Beauty and the Beholder

One who exerts himself in Torah study is given the means to alter nature


“On the day of the first fruits…on your festival of weeks… you should not do any work.” Bamidbar (28:26)


havuos commemorates when the Torah was given. It’s also “Chag Habikkurim,” when the first fruits were brought. What’s the connection between the two?

To understand, let’s focus on the famous question: Why begin the Torah with the creation of the world and not with our spiritual beginning as a nation?

The Zohar (Terumah 161b) tells us, “Hashem looked into the Torah and created the world.” Thus, the physical world has its roots in spirituality. Studying the world’s physicality through the lens of Torah creates spirituality. Moreover, one who does so can actually change nature.

The Snake said to Chavah, “Just as He creates worlds, so can you create worlds.” There’s a positive application for the Snake’s argument: just as Hashem created the world through Torah, He gave power to every Jewish soul to access spirituality via physical creation. (Rav Itamar Schwartz, Bilvavi)

Petunias, roses, geraniums, pansies. The kids were hanging up any flower they could find, along with some weeds too. Why not? Dandelions also look cheerful for Shavuos.

I helped enthusiastically with their display. I love flowers — all shapes, kinds, and colors. Well, almost all.

My thoughts slid back to another display of flowers.

Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai and his colleagues were a prime example of utilizing the power of Torah to miraculously change creation.

What about us? Do we have this power as well?

The Ohr HaChaim writes that anyone who exerts himself in Torah study is given the means to alter nature. How so? If we tap into each creation’s spiritual side, we no longer see its physical boundaries, but rather its potential.

This concept fits with how Chazal (Pesachim 68b) tell us to celebrate Shavuos with food and drink: We utilize the physical to celebrate the spiritual aspect of the day.

A close friend of mine was the florist for my chasunah, and I trusted her to know my taste. But on the morning of my wedding, when I opened the box containing my bouquet, I was shocked. Instead of pale roses and baby’s breath, the ethereal gossamer look I’d imagined, the box held a huge bouquet of calla lilies surrounded by enormous green ferns.

Pause. I do not like calla lilies. Double pause. I knew who did like calla lilies. My mother-in-law. Somehow in the informal discussions we’d had, my friend remembered the calla lilies without remembering who liked them.

Now what? The bouquet was so the antithesis of what I’d envisioned. I felt dwarfed by the huge forest-looking affair, which was almost as tall as I was. What would people think when they saw this monstrosity? Would they even see me behind it?

Well, I know what one person thought. My mother-in-law began gushing the moment I walked into the hall. “Your bouquet. It’s stunning! I knew you had good taste the moment I set my eyes on you. You chose such elegant flowers and—”

I let her words swirl around me, glad at least someone was happy. Personally, I wished the hall was equipped with a Grecian urn so I could bury the heavy eyesore.

Tzaddikim constantly see Hashem in mundane events. When a railroad was built, the Chofetz Chaim expressed interest; he viewed this as a preparation stage for Mashiach. An ordinary person would just see a railroad. But the Chofetz Chaim saw through the lens of Torah — so he saw the Creator in everything.

Now we can understand why Shavuos is the day to bring bikkurim. First fruits represent our beginnings. And by our beginning, Maaseh Bereishis, we learned how Torah prefaced the creation of the world.

We were created to live in a physical world. But when we live a life of Torah, we can see past our physical surroundings to see their spiritual roots. Thus, we’ve changed our physical nature to fuse with our spiritual origins.

Life sweeps on and past puny matters like bouquet bloopers. These days, when viewing my album, I find it hard to drum up the same horror I’d originally experienced. Instead I remember Mom’s a”h happiness. Through that perspective, the flowers seem beautiful.

I was jerked back to the present when Shloime dropped a bundle of crab grass in my lap. Hanging up each blade of grass made him ecstatic. The house now looked like an exotic jungle, but I was long past caring. With age and experience, I’ve learned to see the beauty blooming deep within each weed.


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 694)

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