16- Corn Growing from the Ground

Some Serious Fundraising

Imagine that I am running a Torah organization, and funds are tight. Things are so bad that it looks like we might have to close down. I decide to take action, and I’m not wasting time. I’m going straight to the top. I’m going to find myself the most famous, hidden Kabbalist in all of Israel and get a bracha.  So I get on a plane. As soon as we land, I take a cab straight to Tzefas, and I find him, a direct descendant of Baba Sali. He’s the real McCoy.

I enter the dimly lit, book-lined room where the Kabbalist is sitting. I approach and tell him why I came.

He looks right through me as he says, “I know about you. You are doing good work. I will help, but you must listen to what I say — exactly.”

“Ah… Yes, sir, absolutely,” I respond.

“Right away, you are to get back on a plane to America. When you land, go to Wal-Mart and buy sixty Matchbox cars.”

“Sixty cars?”  I repeat.

“YOU MUST LISTEN!” he screams in a whisper.

“Yes, sir,” I meekly answer.

“Then, take each of those cars and lay them out in the parking lot There must be six feet between each car. When you are finished, you go into the Bais Medrash and read from this parchment. ”

“Well… I… I uh. . .”


“Yes, sir.”

“And…,” he adds as I open the door, “When you have done as I have told you, wait one hour and open this letter. You will then understand.”

I walk out. Not quite sure, but, hey, I have nothing to lose. So I get back on the plane, and as soon as I land, I head straight to Wal-Mart and buy those sixty toy cars. I lay them out in the parking lot, six feet between each one. I head to a nearby Bais Medrash, light some black candles, say the words on the parchment, and wait.

A few minutes later, I look out the window and… “Huh???” The cars start growing. They’re getting bigger and bigger. Before long the entire parking lot is filled with cars: Cadillacs, BMWs, Jaguars…

I grab the Kabbalist’s letter to see what this all means, and I read,. “Now, go sell those cars, and use the money well. Chazak U’Baruch.”

The Miracle of Nature

What if this actually happened? What if I watched a two-inch toy car grow into a full-sized SUV? What would my reaction be? I would probably fall on my face and say, “Miracle of miracles! It’s astounding! It’s beyond amazing!”

Yet isn’t that what we experience every time we put a seed into the ground? From a tiny seed comes a full-size wheat stalk. From another comes a rose bush. From an acorn comes an oak tree. Is it any less astounding? Is it any less miraculous than a toy car growing into a vehicle you can drive?

Think about it: fully edible food — the thing we need for our sustenance — grows out of the ground. Wheat. Potatoes. Cucumbers. Tomatoes. Beets. Red peppers.

They aren’t produced in factories. No one sits there figuring out the recipe or how long to leave them in the oven. All the farmer does is plant the seed in the ground, and then it comes out of the ground, prepared and packaged, ready to eat.

What about fruit trees? Fully developed perfectly ripe fruit, just form on their own.

Apples. Pears. Oranges. Grapes. Cherries.

If you ever happen to walk into a cornfield at the end of the summer and the stalks are higher than your head, each one laden with many, many ears of succulent corn, ask yourself: where did this come from?. A farmer planted a seed, and out came a fully formed cornstalk, with a husk protecting it, the sugars formed to ripen on time, and the meat of the corn split into bite-sized kernels. Isn’t that a miracle?

Why Aren’t We Moved by This?

By all rights, we should be so moved by nature that we should have a constant stream of inspiration. We should want to sing out praise to its Creator. And yet, it doesn’t move us. We live with it, and it doesn’t affect us.

One of the reasons is that we are so used to it. Of course, the sun rises. It’s done that every day of my life. Of course, the oceans never exceed the shore. It’s been that ever since I can remember. Of course, the chicken comes out of the egg. Doesn’t it always?

And so nature, as astounding as it is, loses its impact. It loses its wow.

WOW- Wonders of the Word

To help put back some of the wow of nature, we need to look at some of these features with new eyes, with a freshness. We need to approach it as if it didn’t have to be that way. When we do, we see the wisdom that went into creating the world, we see the care with which everything came into to being. More than anything, we see our Creator. Not in some maybe, kind of, quasi way. We see Hashem, right there.

As an example. . .

Imagine you are seated in an ornate concert hall. The upholstery is stately, the ambiance thick. Suddenly, the house lights dim. The stage is dark. Slowly, the curtains lift, and a train of smartly dressed musicians take their places behind the eighty-one instruments arranged on the stage.

On cue, the symphony begins.  First the wind instruments, then the brass; slowly the strings join in, and then the percussion. The music is heavenly. The unity of it all, the perfect symmetry is breathtaking.  Your reverie is interrupted by the fellow sitting next to you as he says, “It’s amazing that they play so well without a conductor.”

“What do you mean?” you respond.

“I mean, no conductor. There’s no one leading them. They’re just playing.”

“What makes you say that?”

“Simple. I looked on stage,” he responds. “I don’t see a conductor. So obviously, he’s not there.”

If you don’t see the conductor, do you have any question that he is there, guiding the musicians? Someone wrote the music. Someone hired the musicians. They didn’t just all show up one day, randomly start fiddling, and come out with Mozart’s fifth concerto. The orderliness demonstrates the conductor’s existence.

Yet, astonishingly, people stare at the wonders of creation and mouth the words, “I guess it just happened.” A lucky roll of the cosmic dice.

And, sometimes you just have to wonder. Are these people serious? Do they really mean what they say? Are they even paying attention to the words that come out of their mouths? And sometimes you might be tempted, to ask them bluntly, plainly—do you really believe this stuff? That is all just happened. Just occurred.

Nothing else in the human experience just happens. Buildings don’t just happen. They require teams of architects, planners and builders to erect them. Corporations don’t just evolve. They demand coordinated teams of, employees, sales people, accounting personal, and managers to maintain them. Computer programs don’t just occur. Cadres of hundreds, sometimes thousands, of people meet, discuss, plan and then execute the coding. Yet, you expect me to believe that something so many times more sophisticated than anything that man has ever designed—just randomly occurred. No wisdom, no forethought, no one guiding it all—on it’s own it just evolved! Kind of makes you wonder…

Three Questions to Ask Your Local Atheist

So, the next time you get into a conversation with your local atheist, here are three questions to ask him.

Imagine you are you are standing in an orchard filled with orange trees in full blossom. The branches are heavy with ripe, succulent oranges stretching out as far as the eye can see. The owner explains that a mere ten years ago, it was a barren field. Over time, he planted the rows and rows of seeds, which grew into all those orange trees.

Let’s think about this scene for a moment. Inside the orange are tiny seeds. Each mature tree began as a small white seed planted in the ground, and out came the large, strong tree. That seed weighed a mere fraction of an ounce. But an orange tree weighs thousands of pounds. Here is question number one to ask your local atheist: Where did the thousands of pounds of stuff that makes up the tree come from? The roots, the trunk, the branches — all told, thousands of pounds of matter. Where did it all come from?

If you are tempted to say that it must have come from the ground, I’m afraid you’d be wrong. If you were to take a large steel vat, fill it with 500 pounds of soil, plant an orange seed in that soil, and come back ten years later, you would find a fully formed orange tree weighing thousands of pounds, with the same 500 pounds of soil remaining in the vat. The stuff of the tree doesn’t come from the ground at all.

It is created through photosynthesis. The leaves absorb the sunlight, mix in some carbon dioxide and water, and synthesize the various materials. Synthesis, of course, is the operating word — it’s the process by which existing elements are manufactured into something new, something not there before. The chlorophyll in the leaves form the chemicals and compounds and puts them together in perfect order. From thin air, it creates the bark, the wood, the specialized plant cells needed to transfer water from the roots to the leaves. Interesting. If you owned a factory that could create stuff out of nothing, you’d be doing pretty well.

But it gets more interesting when we look at the orange itself.

When you bite into an orange, you get that sort of sweet, sort of tangy citrusy taste. Here is question number two to ask your local atheist: Where did the taste of the orange come from?

Everything about the orange began from that little pit. But when you bite into a pit, it’s bitter. The water that feeds the tree is tasteless. The ground the tree grows in is also tasteless. So if the pit is bitter, and the water and ground are tasteless, where does the sweetness in the orange come from?

The answer, again, is photosynthesis. The chlorophyll in the leaves turns them into photoreceptors that capture the energy in the sunlight and create the carbohydrates that are then synthesized (there’s that word again—creating something new) into the sugars, the tang, and flavors needed to form the sweet citrus mix. Pretty impressive stuff for a leaf, no? Have you ever given an IQ test to a leaf? “Uh, excuse me, can you tell me the PH level of orange juice, and who is currently the President of the United States?”

(Please note: there are no little elves inside the tree telling it how to mix the formula. “A bit more sugar, not so much tang. Hey, go easy on the pulp there.”)

But things get a bit even more bewildering when we look at the orange itself. You see, the orange is a distinct color — orange. And this brings us to question number three. The pit is white. The water is colorless. The ground is brown. Where did the orange color come from? If you dig down as far as China, you won’t find orange coloring in the ground. So where did it come from?

You guessed it — photosynthesis. The leaves process some of the sucrose they create into the coloring needed for the skin. Not red — that’s the color of apples. Not green — that’s for pears. Not purple — that’s for plums. Orange. Quick: which colors combine to make orange? What percentage red? How much yellow? What is the chemical composition of pigment? (Please note: only the outside of the skin of is colored. That part is visible and creates the eye appeal, so color there serves a purpose. The inside of the skin doesn’t make the fruit more attractive. It would be inefficient to color it, and so it is white.)

Now, don’t get all excited here. Don’t go invoking words like astonishing, amazing, stupendous… Just remember: it’s nature, plain and simple. There was a lucky role of the cosmic dice, and a hundred billion galaxies, each containing a hundred billion stars, came into being — just like that. And each of those stars churning out unfathomable amounts of energy. Our own sun (a smallish star) transmits so much energy that despite its being over 90 million miles away, it heats our planet and warms our oceans. And even though only 2 billionth of a percent of its energy ever reaches here, it fuels all of life and growth on earth.  And of course, it does all this through that lucky process called photosynthesis.

Lucky us! Lucky us that the laws of organic chemistry and biophysics just came into being. Lucky us that the rules governing light properties and its conversion into energy just happened. Just like that. No plan. No purpose. No designer. It just occurred. And the orange tree? Yes, that also just happened.

Anyone want to buy a bridge in Brooklyn?


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