Friday, February 27, 2009

Have You Seen My Alps?

A story is recounted about Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch zt"l, that after taking a trip late in life to Switzerland he explained his journey to his students thusly:
Rav Hirsch said that when his time arrived to come before the Heavenly Court at 120, he would not only be asked the questions by Hashem as to whether he set aside time for Torah study and whether he dealt honestly with his fellow man, but in addition he would be asked, "Have you seen my Alps?". Rav Hirsch knew that it is incumbent on all mankind to enjoy and appreciate the beauty in nature that Hashem has laid out before him.


Louisa said...

It's funny you write this. I used to live my life according to a very specific method - if the opportunity arose to have a brand new experience, I would take it! Later on I would think about what that meant. I didn't pay attention to being consistent, or building a sense of committment, or having obligations. I knew that as long as I was having a new experience, everything would be OK.

When I decided to become a frum Jew, that was a difficult thing to carry on. In some ways I gave it up, but there was also something about it I carried with me.

Now I see that this feeling, the desire to see as much of the world as possible, also has a place inside the world I have chosen, not just as an extra thing, an add-on, that I sometimes indulge (along with my great love of things such as popcorn and cheesy movies).

So awesome. Such an awesome rav.

efrex said...

I really must look up where I saw this, but I recall reading a novel take on the mishna in Avot (3:9) that whomever interrupts his Torah study to admire a beautiful tree is as if he is liable for the death penalty.

The commentator suggested that the mishna meant one is liable if he sees the beauty and aesthetics of nature as being removed from the Torah. Torah study cannot be just an abstract, but must be applied to the world. Appreciating Hashem's creation is part and parcel of our divine mission, and if one considers it a "separation" from the Torah, then he's not really living...

Anonymous said...


Mordechai Breuer clearly cites the explanation you proferred in the name of Rav Hirsch in his out-of-print work/pamphlet, "Torah im Derech Eretz." It is an unbelievable pshat and solved the question I had on that mishnah my whole life. Mrs. B. (in whose apt. you learn twice a week) has a copy of that book and she will lend it to you if you ask (she lent to me). It's only 60 pages and quite interesting.

Louisa said...

It has been pointed out to me that it sounds like I am equating looking at the beauty of Hashem's creation with watching movies. I would like to clarify that this post made me realize that in fact, I could channel the impulse that makes me want to watch movies into looking at the beauty of Hashem's creation. By the way, the Mishna thing is incredible - that mishna has also always confused me. Wow!

Leora said...

OK, I'll put it on the to do list for the husband and me: visit the alps! ;-)

efrex said...


Thanks for the reference. I'm still wondering where I first saw the pshat. I figured that it had to be R' Hirsch, but I don't believe it's in his pirkei avot or perush on the siddur. Unless there's a copy of "Torah im Derech Eretz" in the beit medrash, I don't think that's where I could have seen it.

As an aside: The internet is a scary place. The English version of R' Mordechai Breuer's essay is indeed out of print, but the original Hebrew articles from Hama'ayan are available for free download at

* Part 1
* Part 2
*I join our ba'alat hablog in grumbling about anonymous posters... if you're going to assume a certain familiarity, then pick a nom de blog...

Anonymous said...

Sorry efrex about the anonymity. You know who I am. I'm in your age bracket and learned at that very same shiur together with you for a period of time.

As for the pshat, Mordechai Breuer cites the Siddur and the Collected Writings for this interpretaion. Since it's not in the Siddur (I also looked it up), I'm assuming it's in the Collected Writings. Since Mordechai Breuer cites the German edition (there was no translation at the time), it might take more than a second or two to find the exact reference in the English.