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The Heresy of Victoria Falls
Not my best picture of the Falls, but this one shows a rainbow!
Right now I am at the Victoria Falls Safari Lodge in Botswana, leading the Torah-In-Motion 2017 African adventure. Yesterday, we visited the spectacular Victoria Falls, one of the seven wonders of the natural world. It's an extraordinary sight - twice as tall as Niagara Falls and much wider, with a thundering noise that can be heard many miles away. Victoria Falls takes your breath away, and it cries out for a berachah. But does it indeed deserve one?
The berachah recited on natural wonders is Baruch Oseh Maaseh Bereishis, "Blessed is the One Who makes the work of Creation." It is officially prescribed as being for natural wonders such as mountains, deserts, oceans, large rivers and suchlike, and while gigantic waterfalls are not mentioned, it is fairly clear that they would be included in the same category.
But there is a slight wrinkle. When was Victoria Falls created? I was once sent the following halachic discussion from a mailing list of Rabbi Eli Mansour:
"Hacham Bension Abba Shaul (Israel, 1923-1998), in his work Or Le’sion, writes that in Israel, one who sees Mount Hermon recites this Beracha. The Halachic authorities add that the Beracha is also recited upon seeing the Himalayas, the Rocky Mountains and the Swiss Alps. There is some discussion as to whether the Beracha should be recited upon seeing the large mountains in the area of Rome. The Gemara relates that Rome did not exist at the time of the world’s creation, and it was formed later. On the day King Shelomo married Pharaoh’s daughter, the Gemara tells, G-d was angry and sent the angel Gabriel to thrust a stick in the Mediterranean Sea. Ground eventually formed around this area, and this became Italy. Thus, as the region was not included in G-d’s original creation, one cannot recite the Beracha of “Oseh Ma’aseh Bereshit” in reference to its mountains.
Another interesting question discussed by the Poskim relates to the recitation of the Beracha upon seeing the Grand Canyon. Geologists claim that the canyon was formed over time by the Colorado River, and thus did not exist at the time of creation. However, they believe that this process occurred over the span of hundreds of thousands of years, while we believe that the world is not that old. Therefore, we may assume that the Canyon has existed since creation, and thus the Beracha is recited."
This discussion is based upon the premise that the blessing of "Who makes the work of Creation" can only be pronounced upon something that has existed since Creation. However, it appears to me that it makes little difference whether one believes that the world is a few thousand or several billion years old. The blessing is referring to the entirety of Creation, not the beginning of Creation, and it therefore includes the end of Creation. So whether one believes that mountains and the Grand Canyon and Victoria Falls were created as they appear now, or one believes that they developed over long periods, it's still part of Creation.
The numbered red lines show the past locations of the falls.However, once you look at a satellite map of the area, it's really hard to deny that Victoria Falls reveals the world to be much, much more than a few thousand years old. The satellite image shows that Victoria Falls has been in eight different locations over history. The explanation for this is that the plateau over which it flows has many large cracks filled with weaker sandstone, some of which run north-south and others which run east-west and are larger. The river runs north-south, so as it erodes the rock, it cuts back to the north, but when it reaches an east-west crack, it opens it across the entire width of the crack. This is something that continues to take place, extremely slowly and gradually, and the seven past locations of the falls clearly show that it has been doing so over a very long period indeed.
There's more to discuss on this, but it's been a very long day, with a riverboat safari and a game drive in neighboring Botswana in which we saw hippos and elephants and crocodiles and kudu and giraffes and impala and eagles and buffalo and baboons, so I'll leave it here, with just a few photos!
View from the riverboat safari
"Behold now, Behemoth!" (Iyov 40:15)
But can he jump?
This is exactly how I looked as a kid. Now I have less hair on my head.