Jewish Spiritual Traditions and Nature
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Psalm 104

Martin Buber


Psalm 104

Bless Yahweh, my soul.
Yahweh my God how great you are!
Clothed in majesty and glory,
Wrapped in a robe of light!

You stretch the heavens out like a tent
you build your palace on the waters above;
using the clouds as your chariot,
you advance on the wings on the wind;
you use the winds a messengers
and fiery flames as servants.

You fixed the earth on its foundations,
unshakable for ever and ever;
you wrapped it with the deep as with a robe,
the waters overtopping the mountains.


The trees of Yahweh get rain enough,
those cedars of Lebanon he planted;
ere the little birds build their nests
and, on the highest branches the stork has its home.
For the wild goat there are mountains,
In the craggy rocks the badgers hide.

You made the moon to tell the seasons,
the sun knows when to set:
you bring darkness on, night falls;
all the forest animals come out:
savage lions roaring for their prey,
claiming their food from God....

Yahweh, what variety you have created,
arranging everything so wisely!
Earth is completely full of things you have made:

Among them the vast expanse of ocean,
teeming with countless creatures,
creatures large and small,
with ships going to and fro
and Leviathan whom you made to amuse you.....

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Martin Buber

One of the finest passages from Jewish mysticism is in Martin Buber's I and Thou. Consider the following passage:

I can look on [a tree] as a picture: stiff column in a shock of light, or splash of light, or splash of green shot with the delicate blue and silver of the background.  I can perceive of it as movement: flowing veins on clinging, pressing pith, suck of the roots, breathing of the leaves, ceaseless commerce with earth and air -- and the obscure growth itself. I can classify it in a species and study it as a type in its structure and mode of life.

Buber continues by saying he could also see the tree in terms of natural laws or mathematical relationships. With will and grace, however, another way of seeing and relating to the tree becomes possible:

I become bound up in relation to it. The tree is no longer It. I have been seized by the power of exclusiveness. Nothing is lost. The tree is no impression, no play of my imagination, no value depending on my mood, but it is bodied over against me and has to do with me, as I with it -- only in a different way.

Buber insists that, with trees, as with human beings and works of art, one can take the existential stance of I-Thou, making that tree (or that person or that work of art) not a thing among things, not a loose bundle of named qualities, but a whole into itself. For the duration of I-Thou, the object of one's attention is not bounded by space and time, but "fills the heavens." The person sees all else in light of that tree or that person or that work of art.