Last year, I shared with Hazon participants and other friends a story about an amazing bird, and in this letter, I will share with you some new information and insights regarding our feathered friend.
The Lesson of the “Scholarly” Bird:
As we discussed in the previous letter, the Creator teaches us through the example of the angels how we are to become messengers of service. With regard to our service, the Creator also teaches us through the example of each and every creature, and the Talmud – Eruvin 100b – cites the following verse which supports this idea: “He teaches us from the animals of the land, and from the birds of the heavens He makes us wise” (Job 35:11). Rashi, in his commentary on the Talmud, explains, “He gave them wisdom in order to teach us proper conduct.”
How do we know what we are to learn from “the animals of the land and from the birds of the heavens”? As human beings created in the Divine image, we have the ability to recognize the trait within each creature that can serve as a good example for us. In this spirit, I wish to share with you the story of how one of “the birds of the heavens” has brought me added inspiration and delight through his special service on earth.
I live in Bayit Vegan, Jerusalem, and I have four parakeets that are temporarily living in my apartment. One of them is a special “scholar”; 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. 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 still with me, and I am trying to take good care of 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 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 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 spiritual phrases. For example, during the Festival of Succos, I taught him to say, Chag Samayach - A Joyous Festival. Some of the other phrases that he learned are the following:
Simcha" – Joy
L'Chayim – To Life!
Zei Gezunt - Be Well!
Baruch Hashem – Blessed is the Name of the Compassionate One
Gan Eden – the Garden of Eden
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, whenever 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 witnessed Georgie’s devotion to learning, and one father called over his youngest son and told him to learn from Georgie’s example.
When Georgie is not busy learning, he joins his friends in singing. The other male bird, Baruch, is the best singer of the group, and he usually leads the choir in their songs to the Creator. When I sing my own songs to the Creator at the Shabbos table, they “chirp” along with me. The delight of Shabbos is a “taste” of Gan Eden – the Garden of Eden, and their singing adds to my Shabbos delight. It is an even greater delight when Georgie will suddenly cry out in the middle of the Shabbos meal, Gan Eden, Gan Eden!
I am grateful for the inspiration and pleasure that my feathered friends give me. I therefore have them in mind when I sing the following words from a traditional song which is sung at the Shabbos 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)
Before Georgie and my other feathered friends go to sleep at night, I sing to them a special song which has the following blessing:
“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 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; moreover, 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 spreading of the knowledge of Hashem – the Compassionate One:
"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)
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.” This is a return to the shalom of the Garden of Eden, for as the Malbim, a noted biblical commentator, explains, the spreading of the knowledge of Hashem will affect even the animals who prey on one another; thus, their nature will change. 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 the knowledge of Hashem as water covering the sea bed.”
Although I bless the birds, my primary task as a kohen is to bless people. I therefore wish to 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.
Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen