Nurturing Georgie and Friends
Received via e-mail from Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen:
I live in Bayit Vegan, Jerusalem, and I have four parakeets that are temporarily living in my apartment. One of them has developed a pious vocabulary, but 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 of that year, 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 give them proper care and nurturing.
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 decided to have a humorous “heart-to heart” talk with Hershel about Georgie’s vocabulary. 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. Although my name is Yosef, Hershel occasionally calls me by the nickname, Yossi, and on the day the parakeets moved in, Georgie called out:
“Good Shabbos, Yossi!”
After Hershel left, I realized that I had a new mission. I have a Master’s Degree in Education, specializing in Jewish culture; thus, 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 – mostly Hebrew – are the following:
Simcha – Joy
L'Chayim – To Life!
Zei Gezunt – Be Well! (Yiddish)
Gevaldig – Great! (Yiddish)
Baruch Hashem – Blessed is Hashem
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, and it seems that the lessons I give him are nurturing his spirit. 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.
This pious parakeet can remind us that true piety must include good character traits. For example, when anyone waves to him, Georgie will lift up one or both wings and wave back. You can therefore understand why both adults and children love Georgie. In general, he is warm and friendly to human beings and to his fellow birds.
During the songs at the Shabbos table, the birds chirp along, and Georgie occasionally adds to the Shabbos delight by crying out, “Good Shabbos!” I am therefore grateful to the Creator for the inspiration and pleasure that my feathered friends give me, and I 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 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 Hashem, 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 and prevent us from fulfilling our spiritual potential. 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.”
In the spirit of the above prophecy, I would like to give all of you the following blessing:
“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. ”