May 18 2021 Celebrating Our Natural Wonders
The Torah teaches, “Then God said, ‘Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and overall the creatures that move along the ground’” (Genesis 1:26).
Over the centuries two exciting Jewish ideas emerge from this Torah quote:
- Our role is not about ruling but guardianship. We are all asked to take on the big responsibility of being shomrei adamah—”guardians of the earth.”
- It is our privilege and a source of joy to care for the earth and all the animals and living things on it.
Nurture a Love of Nature
Make nature a cherished part of your grandchildren’s lives:
- Walk the Natural World. Point out plants and animals that catch your attention, and let your grandchildren do the same. Make your walk about enjoying each other’s company, not about how many plants and animals you can name.
- Nature Is In. So many places were off-limits to us during the pandemic—other people’s homes, restaurants, arenas, museums, theaters. The outdoors was there to welcome us—and still is—providing an escape from isolation and stress.
- Cultivate Wonder. Quietly watch the heron fishing in the municipal lake. Examine a cicada’s exoskeleton. Stop and smell the roses, literally. Encourage your grandchildren to stand still and appreciate the natural wonders around them.
- Make Nature Fun. Create a simple scavenger hunt. Find something orange, a leaf with five points, a seed or nut (in any form), a branch that reminds you of something else, a sparkly stone, a sound you can hear when you are not talking. Use a recyclable container to collect treasures.
- Let Your Grandchildren Teach You. Reduce, reuse, recycle. Don’t litter. Climate change. Global warming. Even young children will recognize some of these terms. Let your grandchildren teach you how together you can care for the environment.
Gardening with Children
There is something magical about planting a garden and watching it grow. Place a small seed in the ground, water it, and within days, a tiny shoot emerges from the earth. Soon it is a growing plant, and in a few months you can share peas, beans, or tomatoes with others.
Reaping the Rewards
When you garden with children you experience the miracle of Creation. Gardening helps children learn responsibility and gain confidence. Gardens must be watered and gardens weeded for the plants to thrive. Harvesting gives children a sense of confidence and pride in achieving their goal—and wins them the acclaim of family members as they share the fruits of their hands. Best of all, they (and you) get to play with dirt!
Even When You’re Far Away
Don’t let distance keep you from enjoying nature with your grandchildren. Plant seeds at the same time and see whose sprout first. Will you or your grandchild grow the most zucchini or the biggest pumpkin? Trade pictures with your grandchildren of plants, animals, sunrises, or snowfalls, anything beautiful or surprising you each discover on a nature walk.
Keep a seasonal journal about your nature experiences.
Caring for the Earth in Our Jewish Values
Jewish values can help guide how we interact with the wonders of the world around us — things we see, touch, smell, taste, and hear. When we see ourselves as shomrei adamah, “guardians of the earth,” we know we are each responsible for our planet’s well-being. As guardians, we try not to destroy, a value drawn from the Torah—bal tashchit, “do not destroy [any trees].“ And when we immerse ourselves in nature, we experience the value of pele, “wonder.” With our grandchildren we can marvel at the simplest acts of nature, flowers blooming, birds singing, or spiders spinning a web.
In Judaism we acknowledge and celebrate natural wonders through blessings. There are blessings for seeing rainbows or hearing thunder. There is a blessing for seeing a fruit tree blossoming for the first time each spring. As you engage in the “Gardening and the Earth” experiences, think about the values of shomrei adamah, bal tashchit, and pele. With your grandchildren, notice what’s around you and talk about it. How can you become a guardian of the earth? What other values come to mind when you are outside?
Want more gardening and environmental ideas?
Click HERE to find a list of wonderful books for you and your grandchildren.
Ilene Vogelstein is Vice-President of the Jewish Grandparents Network
David Raphael is CEO and Co-founder of the Jewish Grandparents Network