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The "Pious" Parakeet

In the joyful spirit of the approaching holiday of Purim, I am sharing with you the following true story. 

Dear Friends,

I live in Bayit Vegan, Jerusalem, and I have four parakeets that are temporarily living in my apartment. One of them has become especially "pious", however, before I tell you his particular story, I need to tell you how these parakeets came to me. My friend, Hershel Zvi Chernofsky, was living in another neighborhood of Jerusalem, and this past summer he went to visit family and friends in Canada. He was unable to find someone who would take care of his parakeets when he was away, so I volunteered. Hershel was supposed to return before Rosh Hashana, but due to illness in his family, he had to extend his stay in Montreal. In the meanwhile, the parakeets are with me, and I am doing my best to nurture them.

The oldest parakeet is "Georgie" – the name that Hershel gave him when the parakeet was still a baby. When Georgie was very young, Hershel, who is a teacher of English and skilled with languages, was pleased to discover that Georgie learned how to say, "You're so cute!" Hershel therefore taught him a few other phrases.

A week before Georgie and friends were to move into my apartment, I began to imagine Georgie yelling in his high-pitched voice, "You're so cute!" Is this the message that is to be proclaimed in my holy dwelling? In a humorous spirit, I decided have a "heart-to heart" talk with Hershel. I reminded Hershel that my neighborhood of Bayit Vegan is a very spiritual neighborhood; moreover, almost all its residents are pious people. I therefore requested that Hershel teach Georgie to say some words that would be more appropriate for the neighborhood. Hershel asked, "What do you suggest?" I replied, "Teach him to say, "Good Shabbos!" Hershel promised me that he would try, and he succeeded. Hershel calls me by the nickname, Yossi, and on the day the parakeets moved in, Georgie called out, "Good Shabbos, Yossi!"

Since I have a Master's Degree in Education, I felt that I should continue to teach Georgie to say other spiritual phrases. For example, during the Festival of Succos, I taught him to say, "Chag Samayach" - A Joyous Festival. Some of the other Hebrew and Yiddish phrases that he learned are the following:"simcha" – joy, "l'chayim" - to life, "gevaldig" – great, and "zei gezunt" - be well! Georgie usually says these phrases to his mate, and I notice that she is very impressed by his mastery of human language.

He also learned how to say, "Baruch Hashem" – Blessed is the Compassionate Divine Name. I was especially proud when he began to say, "Learn Torah!" I was once in the middle of preparing a Torah lesson, and feeling very tired, I decided to take a rest. Suddenly, Georgie yelled out, "Learn Torah! Learn Torah!" I immediately felt a resurgence of strength and went back to writing.

Georgie's newest phrase is, "Gan Eden" – The Garden of Eden. Given his growing spiritual vocabulary, I decided that I should make a greater effort to take care of Georgie and the other parakeets with a spiritual consciousness. For our tradition teaches that we should do all our mitzvos – Divine mandates - with the awareness that we are serving the loving and just purpose of our Creator. For example, when I feed the birds before I eat, I remind myself that I am fulfilling the mitzvah to feed one's animals and birds before one sits down to eat.
In addition, before I start to feed the birds, I have the intention that I will be fulfilling at least two other mitzvos of the Torah. My friend Hershel Zvi is happy and relieved that someone is taking care of his birds; thus, when I feed and take care of the birds, I am fulfilling the mitzvah to "Love your neighbor as yourself" (Leviticus 19:18). There is also a mitzvah to "go in His ways" (Deuteronomy 28:9), and this means that we are to emulate the compassionate and nurturing ways of the Creator. When I nurture the birds, I am fulfilling this mitzvah, as it is written, "The Compassionate One is good to all, and His compassion is on all His works" (Psalm 145:9).

There is a special pleasure in having creatures in my home who love to sing; in fact, whenever I play my tapes of spiritual melodies, the birds begin to sing loudly. I also have a daily choir practice with them. For example, I go over to the birds and start to chant, "Baruch Hashem!" The other male, who is younger than Georgie, then bursts out with beautiful chirping and whistles. I call him the "cantor" of the group. And when the other birds decide to join in, it's truly beautiful. With a little more practice, I could take them on a performing tour.

I am grateful for all the pleasure that the birds give me, and I therefore have my feathered friends in mind when I sing the following words from a traditional song which is sung at the Sabbath table:

"Praises shall I prepare morning and evening, to You, O Holy God, Who created all life: holy angels and the children of humankind, beasts of the field, and birds of the sky." (Kah Ribon Olam)

When the Compassionate One created all life, all creatures dwelled in "shalom" - peace and harmony - in the Garden of Eden. This realization helps me to feel a special kinship with Georgie and his friends, for I remember that my ancestor and their ancestor were neighbors in the Garden. I also remember the prophecies which state that human beings and all creatures will once again experience the shalom of the Garden after the arrival of the messianic age. The following prophecy of Isaiah can serve as an example:

"The wolf will live with the sheep, and the leopard will lie down with the kid; and a calf, a lion whelp and a fatling together, and a young child will lead them. A cow and bear will graze and their young will lie down together; and a lion, like cattle, will eat hay. A suckling will play by a viper's hole; and a newly weaned child will stretch his hand towards an adder's lair. They will neither injure nor destroy in all of My sacred mountain; for the earth will be filled with knowledge of the Compassionate One as water covering the sea bed." (Isaiah 11:6-9)

Before the arrival of the messianic age, Georgie and his friends - who were raised in bird cages – would find it difficult to survive if they were returned to the wild, as studies have shown that birds raised in captivity lose some of the instincts and skills that they need in order to be protected from birds of prey and other dangers in the wild. This situation will change, however, with the arrival of the messianic age of shalom, for when the earth will be filled with knowledge of the Compassionate One, creatures will no longer prey on one another, "and a lion, like cattle, will eat hay." The new spiritual consciousness, explains the Malbim, a noted biblical commentator, will affect even the animals. Georgie and his friends will therefore be able to leave their cages and enter into a renewed and elevated world, where no creature will ever harm them.

And just as they will be liberated from the confines of their cages, so too, will we human beings be liberated from the "cages" that confine us, whether they be physical, intellectual, or emotional. For in this new age, our souls will soar high like the birds of the sky, for "the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Compassionate One, as water covering the sea bed."

Have a Happy Purim,
Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen



Hazon - Our Universal Vision: www.shemayisrael.co.il/publicat/hazon/

Stories of Kiddush Hashem


Today is Rosh Chodesh Adar 2 - the first day of the Hebrew month of Adar 2. This year is a leap year in the Hebrew calendar, and we therefore have two months of Adar. May we be blessed with a Chodesh Tov - A Good Month. The mailing for today includes three stories which describe how a Torah observant gem merchant, a progressive Jewish journalist, and a group of non-Jewish parents performed acts of kiddush Hashem:

1. Jakob deVries was a gem merchant who lived in Amsterdam in the 18th century.  He had good relations with all his customers and particularly with his main customer, the local Duke. Jakob was a Torah observant Jew, and it was well-known that he could never be induced to do business, or even to talk about business on the Sabbath.

One Sabbath morning Jakob was sitting with his family as he made the morning kiddush, when a ducal herald accompanied by two army sergeants appeared at the door. The herald cried out, "A message from his Grace the Duke for Mijnheer Jakob de Vries!" Jakob read the message and his face grew pale. It requested him politely, but firmly, to appear before the Duke within an hour with a selection of his choicest gems, since the Duke had urgent business to transact. A very large profit for the merchant would be forthcoming.

"My humblest respects to the Duke," said Jakob to the herald. "Tell him that there is nothing I would like more than to oblige him, but he knows that I never do business on the Jewish Sabbath. As soon as the Sabbath is out I shall be glad to do his bidding."

But the Duke would not take no for an answer. Within the hour another delegation arrived, more numerous than the first. "The Duke's business brooks no delay," they said. Jakob again politely refused.

Throughout the day additional messages came from the ducal palace, and they contained the following threat: "Jakob de Vries should know that if he disobeys this command, the Duke will break off all business relations with him and revoke his license to sell jewels in the whole province."
Beads of perspiration stood out on his forehead, but Jakob de Vries stood firm. "Tell the Duke, " he said, "that I am loyal to him, but I owe a higher loyalty to my God."

After the termination of the Sabbath - and Jakob did not curtail any of the ceremonies and songs with which Jews say farewell to the Holy Sabbath - he hastened to the palace, not knowing what to expect there. To his amazement, as soon as he entered the great hall, the Duke arose rose from his throne and clasped him in a warm embrace.

"Thank you, my friend, " said the Duke. "You were great! And what's more, you have added 10,000 guilders to my coffers. You see, I had a guest here today, the Duke of Brabant, and I told him about your loyalty to your Jewish laws. He laughed and said that no Jew could resist making a big profit, and he bet me 10,000 guilders that a combination of monetary incentives and threats would surely break your resolve. I had faith in you and bet 10,000 guilders that you would stand firm. Thank you for living up to my expectations!"

(The above story is cited in "Masterplan" by Rabbi Aryeh Carmell. "Masterplan" discusses how the mitzvos of the Torah form a dynamic and comprehensive system designed to elevate human beings and establish a just and caring society that can serve as a model for all humanity to emulate. It is published by Feldheim, and a review of this book appears on the Hazon website: www.shemayisrael.co.il/publicat/hazon/ )

2. The late Paul Cowan was a popular progressive journalist who wrote for the Village Voice. He came from an assimilated Jewish home, but during the 1970's he began to explore his Jewish roots, with the encouragement of his wife, Rachel. He began to learn about the mitzvos, and he also began to study Hebrew. In 1979, the Village Voice sent him to cover the story of the near nuclear meltdown at Three Mile Island in rural Pennsylvania. The story was big news, as people feared that the nuclear power plant would explode. His wife Rachel went with him, and she was the photographer for the story. They came to the area during the intermediate days of Passover, and in the following excerpt, Paul describes how he and Rachel tried to observe some aspects of Passover:
"In our own lives, Rachel and I had both decided to refrain from eating hametz (leavened food) during Passover. The act of giving up leavening enriched the story of the Exodus by incorporating a daily reminder of it into our lives. We brought our own matzos to rural Pennsylvania, and were careful about the food we ate... As we got to know the people in the area - devout Christians, who were extremely generous about inviting us into their homes - we found that they were glad to help us fulfill our dietary requirements. It turned out they couldn't understand Jews who weren't observant...We might be big-city journalists, employees of an avowedly left-wing newspaper, but we had roots in something that was real to them, the Bible."
(The above excerpt appears in "An Orphan In History" by Paul Cowan. It is published by Bantam Books. In this autobiographical work, Paul Cowan tells the story of his search for his Jewish roots.)

3. During the summer of 1967, when I was 21 years old, I worked in a Head Start program for pre-school children from poor families who lived on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. My role was to assist the social worker in visiting the homes of the children enrolled in the program, and to socialize with their parents when they came to relax in the "parents room." The parents were not Jewish, and they represented most of the ethnic and racial groups who lived in the neighborhood, including Puerto Ricans, African Americans, and Chinese Americans. The administrator and the social worker were secular-oriented Jews, and when they saw my yarmulka, they were somewhat concerned whether I, a Torah observant college student, would be able to relate to the parents. They were pleasantly surprised to see that the parents gravitated towards me and liked to talk with me. They were even more surprised when the parents became more relaxed with me than with them! I knew that one of the reasons why I got along well with the parents was because I had grown up in poor, racially-mixed New York neighborhoods like the Lower East Side, and I therefore felt very much at home with the children and their parents. I soon discovered another reason why the parents gravitated towards me. Most of them were religious people, and they preferred to talk to me, a religious Jew, about their spiritual experiences and struggles than with the secular-oriented Jewish staff.

At the first staff meeting, I was told that I would also accompany the parents on special subsidized trips, which included visits to various restaurants. The staff knew I could not eat at these non-kosher restaurants, and they were worried whether this would interfere with my duties. I reassured them that although I could not eat with the parents, I would sit with them. I also made a mental note to wear a hat instead of my yarmulka when we went to the restaurants, as I did not want to give strangers the impression that an Orthodox Jew was eating in a non-kosher restaurant!

When the first parents' trip was scheduled, the parents met with the staff to decide where they would eat. During the meeting, one of the mothers asked, "What about Yosef? What will he eat when we go to the restaurant?" Other parents also began to express their concern that I would be deprived of a meal. Both I and the staff reassured them that there was no problem, and that I was perfectly happy sitting and talking with them, even if I couldn't eat the food. To the amazement of the other Jewish staff members, all the parents then decided to go to a kosher restaurant so that "Yosef would be able to have a good meal."

Throughout the summer, the parents demonstrated much respect for my religious beliefs and practices. I now realize that their respectful attitude was actually a kiddush Hashem - one which made a positive impression on the other Jewish staff members and caused them to become more aware of their Jewish heritage.

Good Chodesh!

Hazon - Our Universal Vision: www.shemayisrael.co.il/publicat/hazon/








The Song of the Little Sukkah:


Introduction:

The Torah records the following mitzvah – Divine mandate – regarding the Festival of Sukkos: “You shall dwell in the sukkos (huts) for seven days; every native in Israel should dwell in sukkos. So that your generations will know that I caused the Children of Israel to dwell in sukkos when I took them from the land of Egypt; I am Hashem, Your God.” (Leviticus 23:42,43)

“Every native in Israel” – including converts (Rashi).

Dear Friends,

We are to dwell in the sukkos for seven days in order to remember how Hashem – the Compassionate One – protected us when we dwelled in the sukkos during our journey through the wilderness to the Promised Land. In honor of this mitzvah, I will share with you the following excerpt from an article by Rabbi Avi Shafran about the song, “A Little Sukkah”:  

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There is simply no describing the plaintive, moving melody to which Yiddish writer Avraham Reisen’s poem was set. As a song, it is familiar to many of us who were introduced to it by immigrant parents or grandparents. And, remarkably, the strains of “A Sukkeleh,” no matter how often we may have heard them, still tend to choke us up.

Based on Reisen’s “In Sukkeh,” the song, whose popular title means “A Little Sukkah,” really concerns two sukkot, one literal, the other metaphorical, and the poem, though it was written at the beginning of the last century, remains tender, profound and timely.

Several years ago, thinking about the song, as so many invariably do every year this season, it occurred to me to try to render it into English for readers unfamiliar with either the song or the language in which it was written. I’m not a professional translator, and my rendering, below, is not perfectly literal. But it’s close, and is faithful to the rhyme scheme and meter of the original.

Here goes:


A sukkaleh, quite small,
Wooden planks for each wall;
Lovingly I stood them upright.
I laid thatch as a ceiling
And now, filled with deep feeling,
I sit in my sukkaleh at night.
A chill wind attacks,
Blowing through the cracks;
The candles, they flicker and yearn.
It’s so strange a thing
That as the Kiddush I sing,
The flames, calmed, now quietly burn.
In comes my daughter,
Bearing hot food and water;
Worry on her face like a pall.
She just stands there shaking
And, her voice nearly breaking,
Says “Tattenyu, the sukkah’s going to fall!”
Dear daughter, don’t fret;
It hasn’t fallen yet.
The sukkah’s fine; banish your fright.
There have been many such fears,
For nigh two thousand years;
Yet the sukkeleh's still standing upright.

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The covering of the sukkah – the s'chach – must be composed of materials which grew naturally from the earth and are now detached from the earth. The s’chach must be porous enough to enable one to see the stars at night – a reminder that it is not this temporary covering which is protecting us, but the One Who protected us on our journey to the Promised Land. In this spirit, Rabbi Shafran concludes his article on the song with the following message:

So, no matter how loudly the winds and the tyrants may howl, no matter how vulnerable our physical fortresses may be, we give harbor to neither despair nor insecurity. No, instead we redouble our recognition that, in the end, G-d is in charge, that all is in His hands.

And that, as it has for millennia, the sukkah continues to stand. 

The sukkah still stands, and it serves as a reminder that our true security is not in our human power and wealth. This is a universal message, and in this spirit, Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch teaches that our sukkah still stands not just for our sake, but for the sake of the world. Based on the teachings of our prophets and sages, Rabbi Hirsch explains that in the future age of spiritual enlightenment, humankind will finally realize that Hashem is the Source of their strength and security; thus, in this new age, writes Rabbi Hirsch, “They will move into the sukkah.” (Horeb). Rabbi Hirsch adds, “Then will the One God receive them all in the Tabernacle of Shalom, as their Father.”

During the intermediate days of the Festival, the traditional Hebrew greeting is Moadim L’Simcha – Festivals for Joy,
Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen  (See below)

Related Teachings and Comments:

1. The Torah gives the following reason for the annual mitzvah to dwell in the sukkah: “So that your generations will know that I caused the Children of Israel to dwell in sukkos when I took them from the land of Egypt; I am Hashem, Your God.” (Leviticus 23:43) The Talmud cites the following two explanations of this verse:

According to Rabbi Eliezer, the Torah is referring to the spiritual sukkos – the “clouds of glory” – which protected and led us through the wilderness. (As we shall explain in note 2, the clouds of glory were a manifestation of the Shechinah – the Divine Presence.) We have an annual mitzvah to dwell in the sukkah in order to commemorate the Divine protection of the spiritual sukkos that sheltered us in the wilderness.

According to Rabbi Akiva, the Torah is referring to the physical sukkos that we lived in during our journey through the wilderness; thus, we have an annual mitzvah to dwell in the sukkah in order to commemorate the Divine protection which took place through the physical sukkos which sheltered us.

Rebbenu Bachya, the noted 13th century sage and biblical commentator, states that both explanations are true, for each mitzvah has both a revealed and a hidden aspect. The explanation regarding the physical sukkos that sheltered us in the wilderness refers to the “revealed” aspect of the annual mitzvah to dwell in the sukkah, while the explanation regarding the spiritual sukkos that sheltered us refers to the “hidden” aspect of this mitzvah – one which has deep mystical meanings. (Kad HaKemach)

2. Regarding our journey through the wilderness, it is written: “Hashem went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way” (Exodus 13:21). The ancient Aramaic translation and commentary, Targum Yonasan, states: “The Glory of the Shechinah of Hashem went before them by day in a pillar of cloud.” Midrash Tanchuma teaches that we were surrounded by seven clouds of glory: There was one above us, one below us, one on each of the four sides, and one in front of us, leading the way (B'Shalach 3). In other words, we were enveloped by the Shechinah Who led us and protected us on our journey to the Promised Land. Each year, we connect to that loving and profound experience through living in the sukkah for seven days.

As Rebbenu Bachya explained, the clouds of glory are the hidden aspect of the mitzvah to dwell in sukkos, and he adds: “Because there were seven clouds, we have been charged to perform this mitzvah for seven days in the seventh month” (Tishrei). Rabbenu Bachya discusses some of the deeper mystical meanings of this teaching in the chapter on the sukkah in his work, Kad HaKemach. Rabbi Dr. Charles B. Chavel did an English translation of this work titled, “Encyclopedia of Torah Thoughts” (Shiloh Publishing House).

3. Rabbi Avi Shafran, through “AmEchad Resources,” sends out a weekly article to the Jewish media which offers a Torah perspective on a contemporary issue facing our people, or an article about the life and challenges of Torah-committed Jewish men and women. Individuals can also subscribe to this service, and there is no charge. Write to Rabbi Avi Shafran at: shafran@agudathisrael.org

4. Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg is the name of the environmental and peace activist that we mentioned in the previous letter, “Living Waters,” who is confronting the anti-Semitism that has emerged in some leftist circles. 

5. A previous Hazon letter – “Succos and the Seventy Nations” – appears in the archive on our website, and the following is a direct link:  http://www.shemayisrael.co.il/publicat/hazon/tzedaka/succos.htm  

6. A related letter – “The Role of the Rainbow Nation” – also appears in the archive, and the following is a direct link: http://www.shemayisrael.co.il/publicat/hazon/tzedaka/role.htm  

A copy of one or both of the above letters - with larger print - can be sent to you upon request.

7. The following website can provide you with additional information on the Festival of Sukkos, as well as on the concluding Festival of Shemini Ateres/SimchasTorah:: http://www.aish.com/holidays/sukkot/


Hazon - Our Universal Vision: www.shemayisrael.co.il/publicat/hazon/