Finding wonder in even the simplest and most common of things is the first step in appreciating the land. This mantra follows from the principle that humans are temporary tenants on the earth, not owners of it. Radical amazement is a form of thinking that goes beyond knowledge–its a constant attitude. It is one thing to understand science, history, math etc., but it’s another thing to be awestruck with the existence of how the world functions.
By studying and asking questions, we exhibit the will to wonder. In the Jewish tradition, every moment and each act can become an opportunity to feel wisdom in all things. We use blessings to provide an opportunity for us to “ask permission” to use, benefit, and take pleasure from what we find in the world. According to Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, “We are trained in maintaining our sense of wonder by uttering a prayer before the enjoyment of food. Each time we are about to drink a glass of water, we remind ourselves of the eternal mystery of creation.”
In this way, blessings channel us from the physical world to the spiritual world. Yet blessings are not the only way to enhance wonder. The principle of Bal Tashschit (derived from Deuteronomy 20:19) prohibits the needless waste of anything, from food to fuel. Today, using disposables, leaving lights on unnecessarily, over-utilizing the air-conditioning, or driving a car when it is not necessary might be considered a violation of this principle.
In this way, we can maintain amazement by not taking things for granted.
Additionally, one of the first things Jews are commanded to do upon entering the land of Israel is to plant a tree that bears fruit (Leviticus 19:23). For me, it has been amazing dirtying my own hands with Israel’s soil. The roots of the trees reaching deep into the soil symbolize the connection of our people to its Land. The produce symbolizes the fruits of that connection: the children of the next generation who will love and guard it, cherish and protect it, and who will continue to build and develop it for future generations. Radical amazement has enabled me to begin to develop a relationship with the earth and Judaism in a way that no one else could prescribe.
Ellen Brown is currently participating in Eco-Israel, one of Masa Israel’s 200 programs.