Q. I was puzzled when I read in Pir’kei Avot that if a person is walking along rehearsing his studies and stops to look at a tree and remarks, “How beautiful that tree is!” deserves to lose his life. What has he or she done wrong?
A. The saying is in Pir’kei Avot 3:7. There are different versions of who said it but regardless of the name of the author, there can be no objection to a person praising a tree or any other part of nature.
Nature’s grandeur reveals the greatness of God. There are b’rachot to say when one sees something beautiful.
So what is the sin in taking a walk and acclaiming the trees?
The clue is in the opening words of the passage,
“A person is walking by the way and rehearsing his studies…”.
When you study Torah you should be concentrating. If you are easily distracted, you have a problem and need to do something about it.
The sage quoted in Pir’kei Avot does not actually say that the person concerned deserves to die; what he says is “mit’chayyev b’nafsho” – “he jeopardises his life (literally, his soul)”. Letting one’s mind be diverted is bad for the mind and soul.
However, the Ba’al Shem Tov, who spent years of his life communing with the outdoors, has another approach. He quotes a verse from the story of Noah, “Tzohar ta’aseh latevah” – “make an opening for light in the ark” (Gen. 6:16).
He points out that “tevah” sometimes means “a word” and he therefore reads the verse as if it said, “Make an opening for light in every word that you speak“.
If, then, one thinks of a tree as a source of inspiration, the tree is no longer an interruption but an integral part of one’s learning.
Q. What is the Jewish view of divorce?
A. Judaism would of course prefer every marriage to be solid, stable and lasting, but it accepts that not every marriage succeeds, and in such cases it is better to bring the chapter to a polite and tidy end.
Judaism cannot agree with the Christian idea that “those whom God has joined, let no man put asunder”.
We do say, “When a couple divorce, even the altar in the Temple sheds tears” (Gittin 90b).
But the Torah teaches (Deut. 24) that when divorce is necessary it should take place.
A couple should keep working on their marriage and not lightly resort to the divorce courts.
I have to say that have seen divorces happen when the couple should and could have worked harder on finding a modus vivendi.
One of the tragedies is that people don’t always realise that they are unlikely to find the perfect partner, nor is anyone likely to be the perfect partner… but the marriage can still work. It takes time, tolerance (and maybe tears) to find and enjoy each other’s good points and learn to live with and rise above their less good points.
Yes, there are still problems when a husband refuses a “chained” woman a divorce, but these issues are high up on the rabbinic agenda.
HERETICS WITHOUT CHOLENT.
Q. Why did Jews develop such an indigestible food as cholent?
A. Cholent (pronounced “tsholent”) is a stew that simmers overnight on Friday in order to have hot food on Shabbat.
The word may be from the French “chaud” (“warm”), a corruption of the German words “shule ende” (“end of synagogue services”), or from the Hebrew “sheyalin” (“that which stays overnight”).
Though many people insist that cholent needs meat, it is quite feasible to have a tasty vegetarian cholent.
Not everyone, however, would go as far as Rabbi Yehudah ben Barzillai of Barcelona who says in his Sefer HaIttim,
“He who does not eat chamin (cholent) on Shabbat should be excommunicated. He should be removed from the community of Israel.”
Rabbi Apple served for 32 years as the chief minister of the Great Synagogue, Sydney, Australia’s oldest and most prestigious congregation. He was Australia’s highest profile rabbi and held many public roles. He is now retired and lives in Jerusalem. Rabbi Apple blogs at http://www.oztorah.com