Excerpted with permission from "SIMCHA - THE SPARK OF LIFE" a comprehensive exploration of the virtue of Simcha - Jewish happiness - and how to attain it. Published by Feldheim Publishers.
With all of life's trials and tribulations, aches and pains, traffic and taxes - what does a person have to be happy about? One look around at our amazing world should answer the question.
Let us stop for a moment to ponder and appreciate the vast micro-world of the leaf... The number of ingredients in the leaf laboratory is so enormous, that if every molecule in a leaf was the size of a test tube, no continent would be large enough to contain them all. Furthermore, the chemical processes in the leaf are so complex, that science, despite intensive study and observation, has not yet approached a complete understanding of them.
THE ELEMENTAL BUILDING BLOCKS
Let's look a bit further into the amazing nutrient factory which is in every plant. The plant's roots work like a quarry, boring deep into the ground and drawing up water and various dissolved minerals. The chemical process in the leaf creates energy which works like a powerful pump to lift the water and minerals from the ground up to the leaf - despite gravity. No matter how tall the tree, water and minerals always manage to rise from the ground to the leaves at its top.
The sun, which is actually a huge natural atomic reactor, provides the energy for the leaf to execute the chemical processes necessary for generating the nutriments. Once the various materials have reached the leaves, another chemical process unites the water with the oxygen in the air, creating sugar. The complex process continues, and the sugar turns into starches, creating vitamins vital for human existence. This "manufactured product" then continues through "pipes" that bring it all up to build the fruits, vegetables, grains, wood and fibers we need, all in accordance with the Creator's Master Plan...
Let us not forget the rain that provides water for the growth of [plants]. The miraculous water cycle: The sun acts as a mighty pump and raises great volumes of water from the seas; the air vapor is concentrated in the form of clouds; the clouds hold billions of gallons of vaporized water and somehow manage to retain their precious treasure until God's air transporter, the wind, blows them to their destinations. There, specialized unloaders - cold air currents - transform the vapor back into drops of water - rain. Then God's cargo worker - gravity - transports the water to its final destination where it brings life to all plant and animal life. Surplus water is eventually transported back to the sea where it is ready to repeat the cycle again and again.
THE DIGESTIVE PROCESS
Granted that the mineral-to-bread production process is wondrous, but the process through which we consume and digest our food is more amazing still. Our tongue pushes the food from side to side in our mouth so that the teeth can grind it. Glands secrete saliva which dilutes the food and begins the digestive process. Simultaneously, the stomach begins producing acids designed to consume every type of food while not affecting the flesh of the stomach itself, even though it is comprised of the very same materials as the food!
Our liver produces gall that drips into the intestines in just the right quantity necessary for each particular kind of food. From the intestines, thousands upon thousands of pipes distribute the digested food to all parts of the body, supplying every limb and organ with the exact quantity it requires.
In order to digest various foods, hundreds of chemical factors turn poisonous materials in the body into useful materials. Every chemical has its name and task: nicotinamide, benzoic acid, alcohols, aromatic acids and more. For example, excess nitrogen turns into urea through ATP and other organic catalysts.
Besides the chemical processes these chemicals induce, they are also capable of processing the poisonous material in remarkably short periods of time and at surprisingly low temperatures. Scientists have found that for certain foods which the human body successfully digests in only four hours, it would be necessary to cook the same food for 24 hours, in boiling water along with a very strong acid, in order to dissolve it outside the body!
"ALL WAS CREATED BY HIS WORD"
...Although bread satisfies one's hunger, it lacks any special taste. Therefore, God has designed the world so that after breaking bread, a person still desires additional foods to complete his meal. There are the pickled foods that are appetizing and stimulate one to eat more. Afterwards, vegetables, meat and eggs are added to the meal, complementing the bread to give it taste. When a person has had enough to eat, a sweet fruit for dessert limits the appetite and completes the meal. In this way, we receive all the food groups that are necessary for our nourishment: starches from the bread, proteins from the meat, milk or fish, plus minerals and sugars from the fruits, etc.
Rabbi Yisroel Salanter once noticed that in an exclusive restaurant an unreasonable sum of money was charged for a cup of tea. He approached the proprietor and asked him why the cup of tea was so expensive. After all, a cup of hot water, a few tea leaves and a spoonful of sugar could not amount to more than a couple of pennies, he argued.
Smiling, the proprietor answered Reb Yisroel. "Indeed, your figure is just about right, sir; however, for a couple of pennies, please be honored to have tea in your own home. Here in the restaurant, with the beautiful chandeliers, the music in the background, the exquisite view, the waiters in their colorful uniforms with golden buttons, and the tea that is served you in an artistically ornamented china cup - all this costs money!"
Reb Yisroel's face lit up. "Oh, thank you, thank you so very much!"
The owner was puzzled. "Why are you thanking me so enthusiastically?" he inquired.
"My dear fellow," Reb Yisroel smiled, "due to your fascinating explanation, I now understand the benediction of "Shehakol - All was created by His word" which we recite before we drink water. You see, until now, when I recited this blessing, I had in mind only that I am thanking the Creator for the water that He created. Now, however, I understand the blessing much better. 'All' includes not merely the water, but also the fresh air that we breathe while drinking the water, the beautiful world around us, the music of the birds that entertain us and exalt our spirits, each with its different voice, the charming flowers with their splendid colors and marvelous hues, the fresh breeze - for all this we have to thank God when drinking our water!"