On the East Coast of the US we were inundated with unusually heavy rain throughout the late winter and spring, and even Israel has seen unseasonable rains recently. Yet even during the storms and in the brief glimpses of sunlight in between it’s hard not to feel Nature singing (or shouting) God’s praises, whether in the lightning-flashes, or in the birdsong, the breeze, or the luscious hydrangeas that light up my garden presently. The medieval Jewish classic, Perek Shira, Chapter of Song, captures this life-giving song, placing short biblical praises of God from across the Hebrew Bible into the “mouths” of stars and beetles and horses, among other wonders of the natural world. I have celebrated the birth of my first grandchild by creating an aleph-bet picture book that adapts Perek Shira into a celebration of the environment and its Creator for children of all ages, All the World Praises You! an illuminated aleph-bet book, appearing July 15. Honeybees for my name, and dahlias, for my little granddaughter lead you on a wild ride through our precious environment, replete with non-denominational Jewish spiritual joy and environmental ethics. This essay is the second in a series that I’ll post over the next few weeks, presenting art and ideas drawn from this celebration of nature in the Jewish soul. Lightning fascinated the people who compiled Perek Shira!
Lightning says: He makes clouds rise from the ends of the earth; He makes lightning for the rain; He lets the wind out from His store-houses. (Psalm 135:7)
The compiler of Perek Shira reminds us that God is so powerful that God controls the Earth’s climate—God makes water vapor rise from the earth to make clouds, makes the thunder and lightning that often happens during rainstorms, and makes the wind blow through the sky. In this psalm, the composer tells us that Israel’s God is more powerful than all the other gods of the countries around Israel, such as Egypt and all the Canaanite city-states…and by extension, any of the many powers that vie to dominate human life. The idea that Israel’s God can control something as huge as the climate is one of several examples of God’s unfathomable power presented in this psalm, along with power to control the heavens, earth and sea, the power to cause the Ten Plagues, and the power to conquer the Canaanite kings so that Israel could return to the land God had promised to Jacob’s children after God brought them out of slavery in Egypt.
In the painting I show the Hebrew and English words of the verse riding the winds of a thunderstorm. Silver lightning sparks across the sky, and rain streaks down to the forests below. Above the clouds, though, all is calm. The sun glints through a break in the clouds, the sky is blue, and we can see a glimpse of the distant heavens above, based on the same photograph made by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope in 2014 that you saw in the aleph painting in the June 19 post, symbolize God’s all-suffusing presence in the world. The verse and painting tell us that only Israel’s God has the power to create a world with such dramatic weather, and this is the same God who brought our whole universe into being.
The poetry and painting lead us to muse about aspects of our own lives, our relationship with God, and how we relate to the natural world in both our mundane and our spiritual lives. For instance:
- Consider other biblical texts about God’s power to control the weather, in particular, storms. Consider Psalm 29, or the second paragraph of the Shema.
- Now that we have modern science we have direct physical explanations for weather, including thunderstorms besides our religious understandings. As Jews, however, we understand that God set in motion, and continues to care for all the universe, with all the laws of nature. As part of God’s empowerment of Adam on the sixth day (see Braishit/Genesis 1:26-31) and the Covenant with God begun by Abraham, we understand that it responsibility to care for ourselves and all Creation as part of our devotion to God. Is there a common idea about our relationship to God and to nature embedded in these texts?
- How does this relationship between God, the weather and ourselves affect your sense of responsibility for your actions, as an adult Jew and national citizen?
- Please see the gimel painting (in the book, or in the next post) for more about biblical attitudes toward rain and water.
You will find the painting, and more information on All the World Praises You! on its webpage. Another version of this essay, suggestions for related reading, along with materials for elementary-school age and bar/bat mitzvah age readers— rich discussions of the paintings’ meaning, the letter itself, explorations in environmental science, and even links to “citizen-science” programs— are available at Diving Deeper! Enrichment Materials for All the World Praises You! Enjoy —there’s more to come.
All the World Praises You! is available (shipping July 15) wherever books are sold in the USA, and through Amazon.com across the world. Please see www.AlltheWorldPraisesYou.com for more information. The notes above are adapted from Diving Deeper: Enrichment Materials for All the World Praises You: please click on the link above for more!
All the World Praises You! an illuminated aleph-bet book, by Debra Band, with new translations by Arnold J. Band.
All materials herein copyright (c) Debra Band 2018. All rights reserved.