Over 3000 years ago the Torah anticipated what today we call a green space or beltway around a city (Leviticus 25:34). This was a natural buffer designated between the residential area of the community and its agricultural fields. Noncommercial planting was permitted but no building or farming (Talmud Arachin 33b). Rashi contends the purpose was to beautify the city (Numbers 35:2).
Lately I’ve been reading The Nature Fix, by Florence Williams (http://www.florencewilliams.com/the-nature-fix), about the recent proliferation of scientific research into the many benefits of regular immersion in the natural world. Williams writes that even 15 minutes a day in nature improves one’s “mood, vitality, and feelings of restoration.” One of the many studies cited by the author was conducted by Gregory Bratman, of Stanford University. According to Bratman, going for a walk in a natural setting (as opposed to an urban one) decreases rumination, a maladaptive pattern of self-referential thought. Williams surmises, “The world is bigger than you, nature says. Get over yourself.”
The layout described by the Torah would have required our ancestors to walk through a natural setting on their way from home to work and back again. This reminds me of the post biblical phenomenon of attending minyan before going to work and upon returning home at the end of the work day. Like nature, prayer reminds us, “the world is bigger than you, get over yourself.” I wonder if the concept of prayer has roots in the urban planning of ancient Israel. Perhaps when attending a service is not advisable a walk in the woods can be a restorative substitute.
B‘Yedidut (in friendship)