At the Shabbos table on Friday night, it is customary to sing the song, “Kah Ribon Olam” – God, Master of the World. It was composed by Rabbi Yisrael ben Moshe of Najara, a great sage and kabbalist who lived in the Land of Zion during the 16th century. This song contains the following verse:
“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 Heaven.” (Kah Ribon Olam)
“Birds of Heaven” – When I sing these words on Friday night, I am reminded of the period when I had several parakeets living in my Jerusalem home. Taking care of these parakeets during that period helped me to gain additional understanding of some Torah teachings regarding our life in Zion, and I therefore sent to our mailing list the attached letter. The teachings and insights cited in this previous letter can remind us of the future sweetness and joy awaiting us in Zion. Given the stressful period we are living in – a period of the birth pangs of the approaching messianic age – I decided to share this letter with you again, with a few minor additions. I am also sending it for the benefit of new participants in our study program. Information on an MP3 recording of a related song appears at the end of this letter.
I live in Bayit Vegan, Jerusalem, and I have four parakeets that are temporarily living in my home. One of them is both “pious” and “scholarly”; however, before I tell you his particular story, I need to tell you how these parakeets came to me. My good friend, Hershel Zvi Chernofsky, was living in another neighborhood of Jerusalem, and one 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. Due to illness in his family, Hershel had to extend his stay in Montreal. In the meanwhile, the parakeets are still with me, and I am trying to take good care of them.
Each morning, before I start to take care of the birds, I have the intention that I will be fulfilling at least two 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, “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 ways of Hashem, the Compassionate and Life-Giving One. When I nurture the birds, I am fulfilling this mitzvah, as it is written, “He gives nourishment to all flesh” (Psalm 136:25).
The oldest parakeet is “Georgie” – the name that Hershel gave him. 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” – a phrase that Hershel would often say to him. 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!” In a humorous spirit, I decided have a “heart-to heart” talk with Hershel. I reminded Hershel that Bayit Vegan is a very spiritual neighborhood, and I therefore requested that he teach Georgie to say some words that would be more appropriate for Bayit Vegan. Hershel asked, “What do you suggest?” I replied, “Teach him to say, “Good Shabbos!” Hershel promised me that he would try. Hershel often 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 – specializing in Jewish culture – I felt that I should continue to teach Georgie to say other pious phrases. For example, during the Festival of Succos, I taught him to say, Chag Samayach – A Joyous Festival. Some of the other Hebrew phrases that he learned are the following:
Simcha – Joy
L'Chayim – To Life!
Baruch Hashem – Blessed is Hashem (literally – Blessed is the Name)
Gan Eden – the Garden of Eden
In addition, he learned how to say the following Yiddish phrases:
Zei Gezunt – Be Well.
Gevaldik – Great!
I was especially proud when he also learned how to say, “Learn Torah!” I was once in the middle of writing 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 has great enthusiasm for learning. For example, when I approach the cage to give him a lesson, he jumps up to greet me, even if he is in the middle of eating! He then inclines his head to listen to the latest lesson. Some of my friends have heard about Georgie’s devotion to learning, and one father called over his youngest son and told him to learn from Georgie’s example.
Georgie is a friendly bird; moreover, when I wave my hand to greet him, he lifts up one or both wings and waves back. He usually extends this courtesy to those who come to visit him, including the children from the neighborhood.
The parakeets love to sing, and the other male parakeet in the group sings with special fervor. He leads the others in singing, and I call him the “cantor” of this small “congregation” of parakeets. When I sing my own songs to the Creator at the Shabbos table, the parakeets chirp along with me, and Georgie adds to my Shabbos delight when he yells outs, “Good Shabbos!” I therefore think of the parakeets when I sing the following words:
“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 Heaven.” (Kah Ribon Olam)
Before Georgie and my other feathered friends go to sleep at night, I sing to them the following song which has a blessing for a return to life on this earth in Gan Eden – the Garden of Eden:
“Be well, my little friends, be well. May Hashem bless you and protect you, my friends, and may you all be well. May Hashem bring us together once again on this earth in Gan Eden.”
When I sing these words, I remember the Torah teaching that all creatures dwelled in “shalom” – peace and harmony – in the Garden of Eden. I therefore feel a special kinship with my little friends, for my ancestor and their ancestor were neighbors in the Garden. And I long for the day when we will once again dwell together in the Garden. This longing is based on the following prophecy concerning the messianic age and the return to the shalom of the Garden of Eden:
“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 Hashem as water covering the sea bed.” (Isaiah 11:6-9)
“Knowledge of Hashem” – The spreading of the knowledge of Hashem will affect even the animals that now prey on one another; thus, their nature will be elevated, and they will no longer be violent. (Commentary of Malbim)
Before the arrival of the messianic age of universal enlightenment, 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 Hashem, creatures will no longer prey on one another, “and a lion, like cattle, will eat hay.” 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. In this new age, our souls will soar high like the birds of the sky, for “the earth will be filled with knowledge of Hashem as water covering the sea bed.”
The process of returning to the ideal state of the Garden of Eden will begin in the Land of Zion; thus, the Prophet proclaimed:
“For Hashem will comfort Zion, He will comfort all her ruins; He will make her wilderness like Eden and her wasteland like the Garden of Hashem; joy and gladness will be found there, thanksgiving and the sound of music” (Isaiah 51:3).
As my name indicates, I am a Kohen, a member of the family of ministers within the Tribe of Levi who descend from Aaron. The Kohanim were given the mitzvah to daily bless the people, and in this spirit, I will conclude this letter with a blessing for all of you:
Be well, my friends, be well. May Hashem bless you and protect you, my friends, and may you all be well. May Hashem bring us together once again on this earth in Gan Eden.
Have a Good and Sweet Shabbos,
Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen (See below)
A Related Teachings and Comment:
1. The Talmud - Eruvin 100b - cites the following verse concerning the One Creator of all life: “He teaches us from the animals of the land, and from the birds of the heaven He makes us wise” (Job 35:11).
2. There is an MP3 recording of my singing the above “Gan Eden” blessing. If you would like a copy, please send me your name and e-mail address.