During the Limmud South Africa conference, I had a chance to go on a two-day safari. The experience of seeing rhinos and elephants and lions and zebras outside of a zoo is exhilarating. But it is also a religious obligation.
The Jerusalem Talmud reminds us that we will be called to account for the pleasure we might have enjoyed but did not. Presumably the reasoning is that God has given us gifts, and it is an expression of gratitude to enjoy them. The world is filled with magnificent and varied creatures; to see them and admire their grace is a tribute to the Creator of all things.
The story is told of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch that when he was old he told a student he was off to walk the Alps. When they asked why he should undergo such an arduous task, he said, “I’m soon to come before God. When I do, I know he will ask me —‘So, Shimshon, did you see My Alps?”
If we are lucky enough to have the chance to see and enjoy God’s world, it is not irreligious to do so. Quite the opposite — we are in the midst of a magnificent pageant of life. Enjoy the blessing and be thankful.
Rabbi David Wolpe is spiritual leader of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter: @RabbiWolpe. His latest book is “David: The Divided Heart” (Yale University Press).