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