Forests or Factories

A while back I visited an exhibition of photographs by the renowned photographer, Ansel Adams.  I still struggle to properly compose a photograph and learned much from observing how Adams composed his pictures.  I observed something else too:  In this exhibition, not one Adams photograph depicted any man-made object.  I later discovered that he had photographed a freeway interchange, an old adobe ruin, and a few other man-made objects but they were few and far between.  It was clearly noticeable that Ansel Adams preferred to photograph nature untouched by man.

I believe that if I could travel back in time and stroll into the Tabernacle that Moses and Israel built in the desert, I would have made exactly the opposite observation.  Most of what I could see would be man-made.  For instance, even the ark of the covenant, though constructed of wood was to be entirely overlaid with gold.  (Exodus 25:10-11)  The natural wood was quite invisible.  Though wood may be shaped, planed and polished, it still resembles the tree from which it came.  Gold, however, is never seen at all were it not for man’s industriousness in mining it, refining it and shaping it.  Wherever one looked in the Tabernacle as well as in its successor, Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem, the worshipper was surrounded by evidence of human creativity rather than nature.

I confess to being personally disappointed by this since one of my most meaningful morning prayers was uttered on the deck of the small boat which my family and I were sailing up Princess Louisa Inlet in British Columbia about twenty years ago.  Afloat upon tranquil deep waters surrounded by towering, snow-capped mountain peaks, I felt that I was in God’s cathedral.  Yet, I knew that though it is indescribably joyful to pray in such beautiful natural surroundings, it was important to worship God and not His natural wonders.  In fact, the Hebrew word for nature, TeVA, isn’t even mentioned in the Torah. We learn that God created land, water, animals, people, and all the universe in detailed specificity. But of the abstract idea of nature, not a mention.

It is not only pagan cults that worshipped nature.  Many religious groups place their worship shrines in forests or upon mountain tops.  Not by accident, Solomon’s Temple had to be situated in the heart of the busiest and most bustling city of its day.  Today’s popular cult of secularism also worships nature.  In a totally inappropriate attempt to goad three nature-worshipping secularists a few years ago, I irreverently recommended turning the Grand Canyon into a garbage dump. I jokingly explained that it would hold all of America’s rubbish for the next five hundred years, thus solving a major urban problem.  Their resulting anger, verging on violence, was not pretty.  I learned my lesson:  don’t mock other people’s religions.

A sheltered inlet is more natural than a sparkling marina.  A lush forest is more natural than a factory.  But developed harbors and industrial areas are just as valuable. We need to restore balance. Recognizing that man-made objects are also holy would be a start.

God wants us to overcome nature, both our own and that of the natural world. Gobbling one’s food is natural, so is relieving oneself wherever one happens to be. Both these behaviors are quite common in nature. Humans are to overcome their natural tendencies and replace them with a higher order of behavior. We are also to try to improve on nature, and the currently popular notion that somehow untouched nature is of a higher value than improved nature is a mistake. A skyscraper is as eloquent testimony to God as is a mountain. Perhaps it is more as it reveals the unique creativity He imparted to man. Believing the opposite is both a consequence of secularization and a return to primitive pantheism.

Another consequence of our culture’s slide into secularism is a rejection of money as yet another instance of human interference with nature.  Wicked, uncaring people turn empty land into single-family dwellings, they build factories, and dredge harbors.  They perform these sinful acts of evil using a devilish tool called money and they are motivated in these actions by insatiable greed for that very thing.

The truth is that just like skyscrapers, harbors, and factories, money is compelling evidence that humans are not just another species found on the surface of this planet. No animal has ever contrived anything resembling those structures and certainly no animal has devised a currency.

Our claim upon money depends on our willingness and ability to improve on nature. Gold must be extracted from the earth; trees must be fashioned into homes and furniture; oil must be pumped and refined for fuel and thus because of man-made creativity life for all is improved.

24 thoughts on “Forests or Factories”

  1. Susan Lapin says: September 14, 2017 at 9:33 am “Thanks! I hope the Hurricane Harvey recovery is going well.”
    I am sending this Hurricane Harvey update for two reasons (below) that, in my opinion, made sense to mention. However, here’s my short reply: Susan, Thank you very much for your thoughts and reply and we’re working on it!

    We’re attempting to weigh out our options after being caught in Hurricane Harvey’s path. Though we didn’t have personal property damage thankfully, not only did we have some home damage and now mold issues, but our neighbors all the way down our block, our library, post office and utility districts were flooded far worse. These factors are causing both hardships and opportunities. We’ve had some slow and thankfully brief shock! Picking up our bootstraps, we’re praying for our strength and ability to serve our Creator in great ways.

    REASON #1: I liked Rabbi Daniel Lapin’s suggestion to utilize the natural resource of the Grand Canyon as a large dump, especially since the hurricanes and all of the rubbish they’ve left in their wake. I also like to think that there is “a hope that we can return to a time when ideas can be dissected and debated with intelligence, humility and grace.” I’d like to be able to discuss important issues critically and passionately, and always with our Creator in mind.

    REASON #2: I’ve come accross another little piece of writing which seems even more fitting to whare with this post. Our second daughter wrote these comparisons at the tender age of 12. I find that both of y’all’s – Texas lingo – writing sticks with me for years into the future. I hope that you’ll enjoy it.
    Intersection (5/10/2010)

    The metal monsters sped across the congested intersection, horns blaring. The noise was unbearable and thick, dirty smoke trailing from the rears of the cars floated heavily along the sticky concrete. Too-warm sunlight filtered hazily in through the hybrid car’s windshield. The driver, wearing a stylish T-Shirt that read revolutionarily, “Burger-eaters should get the electric chair, because MEAT IS MURDER!”, steered with one manicured hand and ate a nutritious homegrown carrot with the other. She pondered out loud, “Why do these people continue to ruin their beautiful planet? Why? Humans should all just die and stop eating animals. I wonder if I’m late yet for my picketing…”

    The vehicles sped across the intersection, like herds of graceful gazelles. The cars and their engines hummed contentedly as they did what they were built to do. Drive! Bright sunshine shone through the windows of the silver car and made the air-conditioned inside look like Midas’ gold palace. The driver, toting fragrant flowers and a gift on her way to a friend’s birthday party, steered with one relaxed hand and rested the other on her armrest, where a bottle of refreshing Coca-Cola waited in the cup-holder. She smiled happily out the window at the oblivious other drivers and pondered out loud, “I hope Marissa likes my gift. And I hope they haven’t started grilling the ribs without me. I finally brought my Secret Barbeque Glaze…”

  2. Crisis – High-tech Boom Threatens Fragile Eco-systems (1997)

    Many of our most treasured urban eco-systems are threatened with devastation. Major factories that have been in production for decades are the heart of unique eco-systems. The chemical and other products of these plants provide special substances within their eco-systems, supporting life forms adapted to air and soil qualities that may not be duplicated anywhere else in the world. These rich sub-systems may even hold the cures to the greatest challenges of our times, tragic diseases such as AIDS and Attention Deficit Disorder.

    These “old growth” industries are disappearing as construction crews clear them to build modern office buildings that will house internet startups and other products of the “high-tech” scourge that has over taken our nation, and much of the world. As these giants of a past era fall to the unceasing pressure of economic expansion, the young buildings that replace them are unable to supply the distinct contributions that they made to their environment.

    Something must be done to preserve endangered industries. Funds will be needed both to lobby for legislation to protect them, and to pay to keep the old giants running so that we won’t lose these precious national treasures.
    Dear Rabbi Daniel Lapin,
    My husband wrote this absurd article when the High-Tech Boom was in the headlines during the late nineteen-nineties. I thought you might find it funny in light of the Left’s desire to pour millions of funding dollars into many scams, all in the name of science! It’s really emotion based, pseudo-science.

    On a more serious note, however, your Thought Tool highlights the importance of understanding that ‘money’ is a ‘medium of exchange’ designed by humans and ordained by God. The clichés, “money talks” and “show me the money”, illustrate the incentive that people are given to work with their fellow man to accomplish many important things.

    Sincerely, LJ

  3. How fitting for this post. It popped up in my mind as soon as I finished reading it. It is true what The Word of God says.

    Isaiah 11:18 Their land is full of idols; they bow down to the work of their hands, to what their fingers have made.

    Revelation 11:18 It is time to destroy all who have caused destruction on the earth.

    Nature is made by God and to put human crafts on par with it is blasphemy. His ways are not our ways and vica versa. All humans do is wreak havoc and destruction. If Yeshua wouldn’t return humans would destroy all life.

  4. Not a case of either/or for untouched “nature” and man-made structures. For me an outcome of God’s original mandate in Genesis “And God blessed them, and said to them, Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it(with all its vast resources); and have dominion…….”
    A call to steward and enjoy – not abuse and misuse – all that our Creator has provided in abundance.
    Rabbi thank you again for your much appreciated Thought Tools.

  5. I must laugh. Ansel Adams was an original expert in the beginning art of “Photoshopped” pictures. My sister studied him when she majored in photograph and discovered how much he manipulated the environment to gain the picture he desired. One memorable one showed a beautiful forest scene, untouched, pristine, until you stepped back a few yards and there sat a large garbage bin.

    As you mentioned in a comment above, “hands off” isn’t actually healthy for the wilderness. A dear extended family member worked for the forest service, and he explained that forest lands properly cared for is healthy, full of wildlife and new growth. The untouched wilderness falls prey to nature’s way of cleaning house, which is burning the house to the ground.

    Thanks so much for sharing your wisdom.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Thanks Judy
      I didn’t know that.
      I’ve got no fight with Ansel Adams and I learned a little about photography from him. ( Evidently not enough yet)

  6. Nature and man made can be both wonderful and brutal. The Master has allowed for us to have it both ways, as well as suburbia for not quite one way or the other people. I’m an outdoorsman through and through and have no liking of major cities. NYC is very daunting to me. When I visited there once to protest Durban III, at the U.N. we walked through streets and witnessed the very first week of Occupy Wallstreet. I remarked to my friend, “God certainly didn’t want us to live like this”, this TT made me think differently about that. Again, it takes all kinds. I need people in factories to manufacture my hunting and fishing gear and they need people in the great outdoors to use them to stay employed.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Nicely put Louis–
      I love living in a city most of the year and I just as much love being in a small boat off the coast of British Columbia far from human habitation

  7. Hello Rabbi Lapin,
    I don’t disagree with at all with ‘Forests and Factories’. It is very instructive and I enjoy seeing you and your wife Susan on TCT. I have bought several of your CD’s and books some multiple times to give to friends for their spiritual needs such as ‘Madam I’m Adam’. I first saw this phrase fifty years ago in ‘Ripley’s Believe it or Not’ for obvious reasons of the arrangement of the phrase.

    As I was read a thought came to mind that I had never considered before concerning Ansel Adams. All of his equipment, the camera, lens, wood tripod, film, chemicals, and dark room with supplies.

    Kodak was eminently, in Ansel’s time, the foremost manufacturer of photographic paper, film, and chemicals such as silver halide crystals, and chemicals for developing. So, behind Ansel was this great American company that provided him with the means to photograph, develop, and print his film. He alone could not support Kodak on his own. But I’m sure he inspired many to become photographers in other areas such as street and city scenes, photo journalism, and portraiture.

    Also, his camera and supporting equipment. From Tim Townsend at Quora “Ansel used a Hasselblad, a Korona view, a Polaroid Land (a.k.a SX-70) he was a consultant to Polaroid for years, a Leica, a Linhof, a 35mm Zeiss Contax. His view cameras included several 4x5s and 8x10s.”

    All this equipment required manufactures who used processed steel and plastics as well as a fine glass manufacturing and skilled lens grinders. Before we had computer aided design men wood sit at large wooden drafting tables to design the equipment Ansel would use with pencils and protractors. Highly skilled men would operate the lathes that turned out the necessary parts of a Hasselblad before the CNC machines we have today that do just as well and ten times faster.

    I assume he used a wood tripod at least early in his career. Someone chopped down a tree for Ansel’s camera to be mounted on. Someone else carved or shaved it into a tripod.

    Ansel Adams wrote several books. More trees. Printing machines and book binders. Ink and glue. A bookstore, try finding one of those now, to sell the book.

    Ansel Adams probably piled all his gear and supplies in a car or truck and drove on highways to get to his destination for his photo shoot. During his time America was the center of auto manufacturing employing hundreds of thousands of men and women and in supporting industries.

    None of this, to support American industry, was his objective as you so eloquently point out his narrow, but appreciated work. Mathew Brady’s work was rather narrow as well as a photographer of the American Civil War. He photographed many scenes of men dead and dying but not all.

    Ansel Adams was a conservationist but did he realize how much he was contributing to manufacturing? I wonder if he bought stock in Kodak? A book by Robert Turnage: Ansel Adams: The Role of the Artist in the Environmental Movement. Maybe Mr. Turnage should have titled his book The Juxtaposition of Ansel Adams.

    My research shows that Ansel Adams was cremated. Cremation takes a lot of BTU’s.

    So you are correct Rabbi Lapin and Ansel is good supporting evidence as his work required a lot of energy, brick and mortar, steel, plastic, wood, glass, paper, parking lots and roads, the stock market and lastly for him lots of natural gas.

    Being a conservationist requires a lot of energy, just ask Al Gore.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Dear Michael-
      I sincerely wish I’d thought of all that. I think your point is extremely valuable.
      Thank you

    2. Nicely Done, I often think the same way about the selfish young man described in the book and movie “Into the Wild” . Complained about society yet died in an abandoned school bus in Alaska. Epitome of hypocrisy

  8. Once again dear Rabbi, you have piqued my mind with another thoughtful commentary.
    There have been many times when I have sat out on my patio with my bible and a cup of coffee to start my day. The back yard may closely approximate an Eden-like place with a very large Koi pond, waterfall and towering Douglas Fir and Cedar trees. When considering the cycles of nature and how it speaks of death and renewal I understand that it would all cease in an instant if God so wished and that every breath I take is a matter of His will alone. One man-made feature there is an artfully curved concrete stairway that leads up a slight slope through an arbor to a brick pathway. Beside the steps there hangs a lamp that illuminates the steps at night which invariably brings to mind Psalm 119:105 “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path,” a reminder in these times of the importance of remaining focused and walking in the light of God’s word.

  9. Adam was put into a deep sleep when Eve was created from his rib. No input from Adam was used as to how she would look. Do you suppose the Lord watched Adam’s response to the animals he named to get what he liked? Even though He didn’t need to. The grace of a swan, beauty of a peacock, etc.

  10. Dear Rabbi,
    I have been blessed by God with a modest talent for art. I’m no Michangelo or Andrew Wyeth but I was able to at least make a living doing what I love to do. While not getting rich I feel very wealthy. I have a home, a car, food to eat and clothes on my back. Both of my kids went to college and now have great careers.
    Once when I was making minimum wage our church took a special offering for a family in need. All we had to put in the plate was $5 for my lunch that week, but I gave it anyway. The following Monday a co-worker bought a sketch I had done for $40
    Lesson: You cannot out give God.
    As you have said in you series on wealth. Money is just another tool. It is how we perceive and use it that matters. I firmly believe that it is the same with natural resources. I admit there is nothing uglier than a strip mine. But. I worked for a company That made heavy equipment. To do that you need steel. To make steel. you need coke, a bye product of coal. Unfortunately God didn’t put coal neatly on a store shelf.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Thanks Mark–
      That nail is often elusive but this hammer keeps on trying

  11. I happen to belong to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormom).
    I love the Hebrew Way. An in-depth study of LDS doctrines, reveals the Hebrew Way .
    Your thoughts are refreshing!! The world is so full of secularism, paganism, etc, that is feels so good to hear what I consider
    God’s viewpoint!!

  12. I imagine the loss of access to ‘untouched’ nature is one of the reasons for the desire to preserve it.

    Part of the joy of Adams’ work is seeing ‘unspoiled’ nature.

    One sticking point for many is what one deems an ‘improvement’ on nature, which, unfortunately is often seen as impossible – which can result in the ‘worship’ of it.

    Best regards,


    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Dear Dale–
      Untouched nature means no park service rangers, cell phone reception, forest fires, malaria, and sheer stark fear. Most of us are quite happy not to have access to untouched nature.

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