Monday, July 01, 2013

Have you seen my Alps?

There is a famous story, I don't know if true, told about Rav Shamshon Refael Hirsch:
Rabbi Shmuel Alter, a prominent rabbinic figure of the past generation, explains that by stressing "these you will eat", the Torah is hinting to us that it is a mitzvah to eat. The Talmud (Yerushalmi Tractate Kiddushin) explains that in the future, Hashem will hold us responsible if we do not enjoy the beautiful things He created in this world. The story is told that at the end of his life, Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, the great 19th century leader of German Jewry, traveled to Switzerland by foot. When his students tried to dissuade him from risking his health to travel, Rabbi Hirsch explained to them, "When I come before Hashem, I will have to answer for many things. But what will I tell Him when He asks me, 'Have you seen My Alps?'" The Torah is telling us that Hashem created kosher food for us to enjoy, and to enable us to serve Him in greater joy and gratitude for the blessing He has given us.
(The Yerushalmi is this one:
The interpretation [of "And Hashem God commanded the man, saying, ‘Of every tree in the garden you may eat freely.'"] is that it is a commandment, a requirement, to eat freely and enjoy from everything in the garden, as the Talmud states, "In the future, a person is required to give an accounting for every opportunity that they had to enjoy this world and refrained from it." (Talmud Yerushalmi, Kiddushin 4:12)

As you can see, there is a Jewish world-view associated with this story, in which there is a religious value in engaging the beauty the world has to offer. One can disagree with this worldview, and argue that we are meant to spend all waking hours either learning Torah in the beis medrash, and that the wonders of Hashem's creation are mere backdrop or, worse, distractions. But I do think that it is a worldview with much merit and even sources and personalities to back it up.

I saw the following in a rather chareidi parsha sheet for Pinchas the other day. Click to zoom in.

It is possible the story in the parshasheet was fabricated to attack the position, or it is possible that the rabbi in the story was simply unaware that this fellow was quoting R' Shamshon Refael Hirsch, who certainly knew the gemara in Bavli Kiddishin, and was likely riffing off of it. Do people still go to Swiss spas nowadays for their health?


Rabbi Sedley said...

It is also strange that when he mentions the Gemara in Shabbat he forgets the first question that will be asked in the World to Come which is "were you honest in our business dealings."

Jonathan Kahan said...

I found this very timely. My parents were just in Switzerland for a family simcha. Upon seeing the Alps, my father made the bracha of "Oseh Ma'aseh Breishit." My chabad relatives were stunned by this practice.

Hillel said...

R' Waxman,
In fairness, there is also a story than when R' Hirsch went to a spa in Switzerland that was run by Reform Jews, he said of the experience:
"The spa was like Noach's teiva, and also it wasn't. It was like the teiva in that it had kofer both inside and out. But it also wasn't, in that the teiva saved humanity, and this spa won't save anyone."


joshwaxman said...

I had never heard that story about the teiva. Very funny.

Regardless, it does not take away from the existence of the Yerushalmi, and solid precedence -- albeit not from this particular rabbi's beit midrash -- for what this travelling Jew was saying. He would / should not have been flummoxed had the good rabbi chosen to spoil the vacation by pointing out the gemara.


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