Evolution of a Thought

What we can learn from what separates humans from ants, bugs, bears, and snakes.

Continued from page 1

That we men and women generally care for our elders is another species-anomaly. Natural selection is myopically future-fixated. Progeny are what count in the evolutionary imperative; the elderly have already served their evolutionary purpose. And so animals care for their young, not their old. Most humans, though, feel an obligation to look not only ahead but behind.



And then there is a thought that had been percolating in my mind for a several days, growing slowly - evolving, if you will - until it emerged, fully-developed, only recently, at the end of a tiring hike, when, lying on a large flat rock, I caught my breath,

watched an ant and remembered a Psalm
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My wife and I had spent a few days in the northeastern Catskill Mountains, and that morning had climbed up the steep rocky path leading from a winding country road to Kaaterskill Falls, a hidden and stunning double waterfall.



The trek was exhilarating but exhausting (at least to me; my wife waited patiently each time I paused to rest). When we reached the falls, nestled in a lush, verdant forest, we marveled at the beauty of the two cascading torrents, and at the loud yet soothing music provided by the rushing masses of water.

And there, on the rock, next to me, was the ant, meandering most likely in search of a meal (we had already eaten that morning). As I watched the insect, the Psalm - the 104th - came tiptoeing into my head. It is traditionally recited at the end of morning services on Rosh Chodesh, the first day of a new Jewish month; indeed, my thought had germinated when I had recited it the previous Rosh Chodesh, eleven days earlier.



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It is a paean to the variety, interrelatedness, beauty and grandeur of nature. It speaks of the clouds and the wind, mountains and valleys, the food provided every creature according to its needs, nesting birds and sheltered rabbits. "How great are Your works, oh G-d!" the Psalmist interjects amid his observations, "All of them crafted with wisdom."



"I will sing to G-d while I live," he concludes. "May my words be sweet to Him... Let my soul bless G-d - praised be He."



King David's rush of appreciation and praise, born of nature's magnificence, seemed an appropriate accompaniment to both the falls in their glory and the ant in his search. Pondering that, I felt the thought congeal. The tiny creature and we lumbering interlopers on his turf had much in common; he needed his nourishment, just as we would soon be hunting lunch down ourselves. Yet there was stark evidence that morning of an essential difference between the ant and us. Between the ant and the Psalmist.



It was yet another, and significant, aspect of human uniqueness, another aptitude unknown in the animal world, and not easily related to any evolutionary advantage.



The bug, I realized, like all the other bugs - and bears and snakes - in the woods, was utterly oblivious to the beauty around him.

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Rabbi Avi Shafran
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