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Awake from the north and come from the south! Blow upon My garden and let its spices flow. Let My beloved come to his garden and partake of its precious fruit.
— Song of Songs 4:16
Would the world be better off without mankind?
Many environmentalists think so. It’s hard to deny that, from a purely ecological point of view, life on earth would do much better without human beings around to interfere with the natural order.
But without mankind, there would be no point and, ultimately, no reason for the world to exist at all. Only Man seeks to create; only Man strives to become more than he is; and only Man directs his efforts toward ideals that transcend mere survival and procreation.
If we are to act as responsible custodians of the world, however, we have to stop from time to time and let the world remind us what those ideals are.
In the late 1800s, the great Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch announced his plan to travel from Germany to see the storied mountain ranges of Switzerland. This was entirely in keeping with Rabbi Hirsch’s philosophy of integrating worldly knowledge and experience into his religious outlook. That being said, the incomparable leader of Orthodox Jewry was well into his seventies, seemingly much too old to undertake such an adventure.
Some of the rabbi’s closets acolytes questioned the wisdom of embarking on such a strenuous journey at his advanced age. The rabbi replied that it was precisely because of his age that he felt it necessary to go.
“I may not have much longer to live,” explained Rabbi Hirsch. “And when I stand in judgment upon my arrival in the World to Come, what will I say when the Almighty asks me, “Samson, why did you not see My Alps?”
Rabbi Hirsch understood what we too easily forget: That the wonder and beauty of the world are here for us to experience, for us to enjoy, and for us to find inspiration in the masterful Hand that fashioned all of Creation.
But North Americans need not travel to Switzerland to find their inspiration. Within our own borders we have the “American Alps.” That’s what Louis Hill, president of the Great Northern Railway, called the mountains of Glacier National Park. It was Hill who found the region so extraordinary that he lobbied congress to designate Glacier as a national park in 1910. And it was Hill who influenced the Alpine design of the park’s hotels and facilities to echo the mountains’ namesake across the sea.
Even from the same continent, getting to the park in northern Montana is no simple matter. My wife and I flew into Spokane, Washington, then rented a car and began to drive, first across the Washington border, then through Idaho, and ultimately into Montana. The roads were mostly straight and flat as the miles sped by; it took us six hours just to reach the outskirts of 1,583 square-mile wilderness. But as my own rabbi likes to say, the best things in life are rarely found on the beaten path.