Earth Etude for Elul 4 — Experiencing G!D in the Wilderness

by Rabbi Greg Hersh

~ Elul is the time of year where we can take a break from our routine and set ourselves on a path of returning to our purest and best selves. For many Jewish people, this involves getting dressed up and attending long services. In addition to (or in lieu of) those experiences, we can also accomplish these annual goals by stepping into the natural world, just like our teacher, Moses.

One day, Moses was doing his usual work of tending Jethro’s flock, when he decided to “turn aside now, and see this great sight, why the bush is not burnt. And when G!D saw that he turned aside to see, G!D called unto him out of the midst of the bush.” (Exodus 3:3-4) 

Looking at the text, it’s clear that ONLY because Moses “turned aside to see” that G!D called to him and proceeded to explain Moses’ life mission to him. The Jewish tradition is replete with examples of finding spirituality and purpose in natural settings. All the way back in the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve “heard the voice of the Lord G!D walking in the garden.” (Genesis 3:8) Later, when Abraham was “near the great trees of Mamre,” G!D appeared to him. (Genesis 18:1) When Jacob fled civilization and went to sleep on a rock, he had his mystical experience of seeing a ladder to heaven.

We get so bogged down in our busyness and our routines that we often forget to “turn aside” to smell the flowers, or to spend time immersing ourselves in the life-giving energies of the natural world. How many miracles have we missed because were too busy to “turn aside to see”?

When we enter the natural world, we awaken our senses and open ourselves to the miracles that constantly surround us. From hearing the songs of the birds to witnessing the majesty of a butterfly, being outdoors intensifies our awareness and mindfulness. This Elul, I invite you to spend some time in the natural world in preparation for the High Holy Days. 

On Yom Kippur, we’ll recite lifnei Hashem tit’haru (Before G!D, you are purified). Maybe the best place to find purification is within the sanctuaries that G!D built, namely, the forests, the seashores, the mountains, and other natural environs. By standing within and fully experiencing G!D’s creation, your senses will awaken. You will find harmony and sanctuary. You will deepen your connection to the earth. You will be purified.

Rabbi Greg Hersh is an avid guitar player, lover of meditation, and a graduate from Reconstructionist Rabbinical College. He has been the spiritual leader of Temple Emmanuel of Wakefield since 2016. In his spare time, he is also the owner of Burning Bush Adventures, which offers outdoor Jewish experiences and retreats for New Englanders. More information can be found at

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