”there is nothing much to argue about
when it comes to taste and smell”
– – – old Hebrew proverb
As the sun starts to set this evening, we in Israel will usher in the holiday of Passover, commemorating our exodus from slavery, and the establishment of our state something over 3000 years ago. There have been a lot of preparations for the banquet, which will be celebrated tonight, during which we will tell our children (and in my case, grandchildren), of the many things we learned on our way from slavery to freedom… and what happens when you’re not ready for freedom… and how to relate to an enemy, and how to relate to an enemy after victory. There are many things that are discussed. There is as much discussion as there is food, and there is a lot of fine food. There are also four obligatory glasses of wine. But for those who cannot drink wine for one reason or other, there are also bottles of pure grape juice, which may be drunk instead.
As I’ve already spoken about Passover, and even though there is a lot more to tell about this unique and very special holiday, I will direct my attention to two aspects that I haven’t written about in the past, celebrating the spring, and emphasizing values.
Spring has arrived in Jerusalem, and we are conscious of the warming up, the great increase in vegetation, the birds singing from the tree tops, and it won’t be long before some of the less desirable visitors will show up, checking out what’s available in human domiciles. I am speaking of the ants and the cockroaches, the flies and the mosquitoes. We have our ways of making them feel unwelcome. But it’s a long standing contest, even if we’re confident of winning.
But now, at the beginning of spring, we celebrate the renewal… all the beautiful wild flowers. Nechama accompanies me on my daily walk, and she steps off the beaten path to enjoy walking between plants and flowers, and letting the new leaves of succulent vegetation comb her fur. She doesn’t mind absorbing a little dust, and having some thorns and seeds caught in her fur. She enjoys rolling around on the ground, and rubbing her back on the hard earth while I stand guard, so that no one will take advantage of the fact that her feet are in the air, and her soft stomach is exposed. You know cats. They love a little mischief… and if I wasn’t standing there by her side, one of her friends would jump right on her soft stomach, yelling surprise! Or Happy Birthday!
Of course, a lot of the holiday discussion is about how we were slaves, and that the nobility of freedom can’t be taken for granted. And at the very beginning of the banquet, we tell our children that we are descendents of pagans, who worshipped many gods. Because it’s important to remember that there is always choice. And that we shouldn’t be too proud about where we are today, because culture is a process that is developed over generations.
And as we discuss values, we consider that values are not only the big rules… that we shouldn’t steal or murder; or be jealous of what our neighbor has. But that we should enjoy the pleasures of life with a sense of proportion. Today, extreme sports are popular, and in fact, we are often tempted and encouraged to go to extremes. There is something wonderful about climbing a mountain, for instance. You usually start at a point where the ground is still pretty level, and then as you begin the climb, there are places where you have to descend in order to reach that other place where you will again ascend. Little by little, the air gets thinner, and the vegetation changes according to the altitude, and you meet different animals who know how to take advantage of the many different variations in the environment. Looking up, there are the birds overhead, who can reach the isolated crags and peaks that are so hard for us to attain.
Now it may seem to some, that it is even more exciting and pleasurable to go up into the sky inside a plane, and then jump out of the plane at a great altitude, and feel the adrenalin come rushing through the body as the wind rushes by on the outside. I have not experienced this adventure myself. But even so, I believe that it is a mistake to always search out the extremes, and that there is much more to be enjoyed when including the many subtleties and minor pleasures that are a part of a conventional adventure. This type of choice, is also a part of studying values. Just as it is not in our interest to eat only sugar, no matter how sweet, or peppers, no matter how exciting… so in our pleasures we should try to enjoy a variety of shades and colors.
My best wishes to all, at the start of spring, and to my friend Peter, and others who are reading me in the southern hemisphere, as they begin to enjoy the fall and approach the winter. May we all find reasons to rejoice, and enjoy the changes of the seasons, and our meetings with the younger generation that has come after us… and bring strength and friendship to the older generations who went before us.