Sunday, May 29, 2005

Feather Light

The Torah tells us to do many things that may seem illogical to us. The Mitzva of Shiluch Hakan (Dueteronomy 22:6.7.) could be a prime example. If you come across a nest containing fledglings or eggs, don’t take them while the mother is there, the Torah says, scare the mother off and then take them. The promised reward of longevity that finishes it off seems to indicate that this whole is a commandment rather than the first being a prohibition and the second a suggestion. It is a great reward though and it is easy to see why our warriors can be so eager to fulfil this divine exhortation.

The last time I saw this mitzvah actually carried out was when I was in Yeshiva. An excited young man came rushing down from the dorms where he had been observing a pair of pigeons who had planted their nest on a drainpipe right next to his second-floor window. He had eagerly kept his secret until the hen had laid her eggs and now he was beamingly inviting the Rosh Yeshiva to take the mitzvah. A noble deed on his part indeed, if he truly believed he was giving the old sod long life.

The circus that followed was priceless. The whole Yeshiva was mobilized and a ladder appeared from nowhere. The, suddenly sprightly, old man climbed bravely up the ladder, wobblingly stabilized by a hundred shoving hands. From every window in the place shouting, black-hatted and bepeyosed heads screamed excited instructions interspersed with louder shouts of “Be quiet, you’ll scare them!!”

The pigeon, with all the commotion, flew off as soon as the Rabbi was half way up the ladder and took up a perch on a tree a few yards on. All this information was relayed to everybody within a square mile by the mass of, by now, hysterical youth hanging out of every aperture. A crowd had also begun to gather on the street below and a team of shgatzim was immediately dispatched to act as spokesmen.

The red-faced elder, within plucking position of the nest, was hanging on to his quivering ladder for dear life and wondering how on earth he could scare the mother away from the nest if she wasn’t on it. A long shouted debate ensued between those parties who could hear each other and a consensus was reached that what was now needed was silence. If everybody would be quiet for five minutes the bird would return and the procedure could commence. You might as well have ordered them to stop breathing. The cacophony of silence that ensued could have put a frozen chicken to flight. A million shushes and screams of “Be quiet you!” kept on for a good ten minutes while another few helpful sparks went off on their own initiative to chase the mother off her tree and so drive her back to the nest. For good measure meanwhile, some others brought breadcrumbs and crisps and started throwing them into the nest to entice the mother back.

The poor creature was never seen to return to her nest although it was closely watched for days after that. I was not privileged to see my spiritual leader grope his way haltingly back down the ladder, his adrenaline spent and his instinct of self-preservation kicking back in, just in time to save his sorry arse but too late to save his ever reddening face, and I regret that.

There are many that would understand exactly what the motivation is to focus on this particular Mitzvah. The Torah does command us (Duet. 4:15) to take good care of our bodies. This is read, by the same who consider it God’s will that the eggs should be taken away from any bird unlucky enough to build a nest next to some frummers, to mean that we are obliged to look after our health. I agree that to ensure one’s demise at a ripe old age amounts almost to that. Still I believe that if we were to be really honest with ourselves we would have to admit that to that particular end it might be advisable to also lose some weight, brush our teeth regularly and partake of aerobic sports at least once a week. Anyone who has studied the Chassidic physique for more than 3 nanoseconds will testify that there is little evidence of good health practices in the Chassidic male community and in the female only marginally more.

Ironically it is the hyperreligious who have forbidden sports. They teach us it is goyish to watch our weight and indeed insist it is God’s very will that we eat all those foods the doctor begs us not to. They stroke their fat bellies lovingly as they solemnly invoke the holy spirit to forbid the very things God himself so blatantly begs and then they call us shgatzim for not being convinced that what He really wants is for us to chase His birds.

No comments: