An excerpt from "The Jewish Theory of Everything,"
LIFE IN THE 'BURBS
I've always been a city boy. I was born in Brooklyn and work in Manhattan. So when I got married, I decided to move to the suburbs. Instead of looking for a house in Borough Park or Williamsburg, I moved to Flatbush, where practically every home has a private driveway and a green lawn in front of the house. (For a city boy, that's considered the suburbs.)
And thus began my career as a farmer. In my one-sixteenth-of-an-acre farm (actually a little less, because the house takes up most of the lot), I raise tomatoes, cucumbers and occasionally green peppers. In a good year, I can actually get six or seven tomatoes out of a season. It's such a rewarding experience.
And then there's my front lawn. Stretching a luxurious four feet by eight feet, I grow what I consider to be grass. My neighbors tell me it's a specific breed called crab grass, but then they know a lot more of the technical stuff than I do.
But my real love is my flower garden. I plant the annuals -- impatiens and geraniums and black-eyed suzies. Creating the vista of color and depth are the perennials -- daylilies and zinnias and rhododendrons. They're my pride and joy.
I marvel at how every year the perennials know exactly when spring starts and they begin growing and flowering all on their own. The bigger wonder to me is, how do they manage to live through the winter? Some of those days are freezing! At least I can wear my wool socks, wool suit and wool gloves.
Wool, of course, naturally keeps you warm; but not by generating its own heat (the body does that). Wool is fluffy and airy so it serves as an insulator to prevent the heat of the body from escaping.
So what do plants do?
Not only does snow protect my flowers from freezing, it also protects all the ants, earthworms, fungi and bacteria that enrich and enliven the soil.
There's something else that does the same thing as wool. It's called snow. It comes down in flakes, each one individually designed with six points. They interlock one with the other, but not perfectly. Just like someone playing Tetris for the first time, there are always spaces between the pieces. Much of the snow on the ground after a storm consists of empty space. That space prevents the heat of the soil from escaping just like wool prevents body heat from escaping. By doing that, not only does it protect my flowers from freezing, it also protects all the ants, earthworms, fungi and bacteria that enrich and enliven the soil. (Let's assume we want to protect those things. They have right to live too, ya know.)
It not only protects plants and animals, snow also prevents the underground water lines from freezing. And it gives us some great winter sports to enjoy and it provides us with incomparable scenery in the mountains and fjords around the world.
And you know, somehow, that sparkling white color adds to the beauty. The color makes sense, too. Red snow would be too glaring on the eyes, blue would just blend in with the sky, black would attract too much heat and would melt too quickly, and we all know about yellow snow.
Another thing: guys like me aren't the only ones excited about snow. Farmers rejoice too, because without snow, there would be no winter wheat. Snow prevents the soil from freezing solid so that water is able to penetrate all winter long, and an entire crop can be saved. Finally, as the snow gradually melts it seeps into the ground, soaking the soil instead of running off the way rain does. First it acts like a blanket and then a nutrient -- sort of like having your cake and then eating it too.
And while it seems to us city boys that it takes just too darn long for the snow to melt, we will just have to continue sloshing through this magnificent, purposeful gift from our Creator, year after year.
So the next time you're upset about digging the car out of the snow, just think about my flowers and remember: spring is just around the corner.
* * *
THE WAKE-UP CALL
Nobody likes a wake-up call -- and I'm not even talking philosophically. Ask any businessman who travels for a living. There is nothing more annoying at 6:00 o'clock in the morning than a cheery-voiced desk clerk telling you it's time to get up.
There's another type of wake-up call. If you have a six-year-old at home, you know what I mean. No sooner does a thunderstorm begin than he's at the foot of your bed, shaking your foot and telling you that he's scared. And no matter how many times you tell him that it's only God snoring, or the upstairs neighbors bowling, he still won't go back to bed until it's over.
As we all know, the booming sound of thunder is only noise. So what is this wake-up call of thunder announcing?
Simply, the greatness of one of God's creations -- lightning. And what is so great about lightning, besides the fact that it makes the perfect background for a murder-mystery? Consider this.
There's a verse in Psalms 135 stating that, "God made the lightning for the rain." A great twentieth-century thinker, Rabbi Avigdor Miller, explains that this refers to the fact that rain needs lightning in order to accomplish one of its jobs. What did he mean by that?
I know from my farm in Brooklyn that if I want my tomatoes to grow, I have to water them (which is one of the purposes of rain). But if I want them to be really big and juicy, I have to use Miracle-Gro, or at least some type of fertilizer. Water only helps the chemical reactions take place, but a plant still needs healthy soil in which to grow. And since soil is only a few inches deep anywhere in the world, its nutrients get used up fairly quickly and need to be replenished. That's where fertilizers come in. And they come in a variety of different types, potencies and smells.
Since the farmers of the world haven't the time to go running around with Bunsen burners looking for spare nitrogen, God does the job for them.
What do they all have in common, though? Nitrates, which is a combination of oxygen and nitrogen. There's only one problem, and that is that nitrogen is practically inert: it doesn't combine easily with other chemicals. The only way to overcome this problem is to use intense heat to fuse it together with oxygen. Since the farmers of the world haven't the time to go running around with Bunsen burners looking for spare nitrogen, God does the job for them. Each time that lightning strikes, the intense heat generated by this electrical reaction causes the nitrogen in the air to combine with oxygen. These gases, combined with the traces of ammonia in the air, dissolve into the rain, which then brings this life-giving fertilizer into the soil.
Score a point for the Psalmist.
But don't think that you have to wait for a thunderstorm for lightning to happen. Lightning is taking place continually in the atmosphere every day in order to keep our soil rich and healthy.
Thunder is God's reminder to us that even when we are too busy to take care of the things we need to survive, the benevolent Creator of the world is ably taking care of them Himself. So the next time you hear a clap of thunder, wake up and smell the fertilizer.