Mother Nature

Shalom Aleichem!

They call it mother nature.

The tornado that hit Oklahoma is reported to be one of the most devastating ones on record. My colleague in Oklahoma City, Rabbi Ovadia Goldman, is working tirelessly to help the affected communities. He and his family have been there for years, and will continue to be there. Click here to check out some pictures of their relief efforts. Please consider donating to help them help others:

What is nature, anyway? What do we mean when we say, “That’s nature”? Oklahoma Tornado

I’ve recently been studying a Chassidic discourse that the Lubavitcher Rebbe delivered in 1955, which discusses various opinions about the meaning of the word nature. Among them:

1. Rabbi Tzvi Ashkenazi (1658-1718), known as the Chacham Tzvi, writes that the word nature is a relatively modern word. In truth, he writes, there is no difference between what we call nature and miracles, as they both come from G-d. The difference is merely in how frequently they happen.

The sun rises every morning, so we call it “nature;” the sea splitting is, to say the least, not so common, so we call it a miracle. According to the Chacham Tzvi, they are the same thing. There is no such thing as “nature,” only miracles.

2. The Hebrew word for nature, טבעis related to the word for coin, מטבע. It is written in the Mishna that, “A person forms numerous coins with one stamp, and they are all identical; the King of Kings forms each person with the ‘stamp’ of Adam, yet every person is different.”

According to this view, nature refers to our origin in the Divine; thus, despite the fact that we are all hewn from the same Source, we are each distinct.

3. It is written in the Tanya that the word “nature” is used to refer to anything that cannot be understood — not something that we don’t understand, but something that we cannot understand.

All three explanations are true. The first explanation deals with the usual conduct of the world; the second refers to the Divine energy which enlivens us and everything around us; the third speaks of the creation ex nihilo (something from nothing), which cannot be comprehended by human intellect.

What do you mean when you say, “That’s nature”?