The Duties of the Heart, by Rabbi Bachye, tr. by Edwin Collins, , at sacred-texts.com
That investigation and careful study of all created beings and things is a duty binding upon us, so that we may bring out from such contemplation proofs of the wisdom of the Creator (blessed be He), is taught
by reason, by Scripture, and by the tradition handed down through the Sages of the Talmud.
Reason tells us that the superiority of the human being * over the dumb creature † consists in his superior recognition and perception, enabling him to understand, with all their subtle differences, ‡ the secrets of the Divine wisdom and of natural science; that are manifested in the facts of the universe, and in his superior power of receiving fruitful knowledge from these perceptions. . . . And when a man thinks, meditates and intelligently studies, and tests the signs of this wisdom, his superiority over cattle will be great in proportion to his understanding [of these things]. And if he hides himself from these things he becomes similar to the cattle, or even lower than they; as Scripture says (Isa. i. 3), "The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master's crib, Israel hath not known," etc.; and it is written (Isa. xl. 26), "Lift up your eyes and see, who hath created these things"; and it is written (Ps. viii.), "When I see the heavens, the work of Thy fingers, the moon and the stars which Thou hast formed," etc. . . . And from tradition we learn the same thing. Our Sages of blessed memory have said (Talmud, Sabbath 75), "Whoever understands how to calculate the course and movements of the heavenly bodies, and does not make these calculations, to him the words of Scripture apply; (Isa. v. 12), 'The harp and the viol, the tabret, and
pipe, and wine are at their feasts: but they look not at the work of the Eternal, neither consider the operation of His hands.'" And they have said, "Whence do we learn that a man is bound by the Mosaic Law to study astronomy? From the words (Deut. iv. 6, 7), 'And you shall observe them and do them, for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the eyes of the peoples, who will hear and say, surely this is a wise and understanding nation, etc. . . .' And what is the kind of science and intelligence that would have such value in the eyes of the peoples of the world? Surely it is the calculation of the movements of the heavenly bodies. . . ." And they have said (Talmud, Erubin 8), "If the Torah (revelation, especially the Pentateuch) had not been given to Israel, we should yet have been able to learn the will of God and His laws from a study of nature, learning the different virtues from different creatures, as, for instance, modesty from the cat, the marriage laws and sexual purity from the dove, honesty from the ant, and so forth."
50:* Hammedabbayr, the being who can put words in order, the speaking and reasoning being.
50:† Sheäyno medabbayer, who cannot put words in order.
50:‡ This is the meaning, beenah, understanding; compare bayn, between.