Tuesday, May 24, 2022 -
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Trees, vaccines, recipes…

The other day NPR featured a report on the world’s oldest tree. I forget precisely where it’s located, but it’s somewhere deep in the southern hemisphere. The report, in an interview with the scientist who discovered this tree, explored the ways of determining the age of an ancient tree, for which, apparently, the rings of a tree do not reveal this.

This reminded me of a passage in the Talmud (Sotah 46b) in which the sage Rav Kahana asked Rav Shimi bar Ashi, “Is it true that these palm trees of Babylonia are in existence from the time of Adam, the first man?” The answer: not necessarily. Adam decreed that certain areas of Earth be settled and others, not. But of the non-settled areas, some are fit for palm trees.

• • •

Surely not for the first time, the newspaper recently reported on an unvaccinated person who died of COVID. He did not get vaccinated because, he said, he was “more afraid of the vaccine than of the disease.”

Not a good move.

This reminded me of a passage in the Talmud (Sotah 47a) in which the Prophet Elisha is punished with three diseases for having acted improperly. In one incident, he treated his attendant Geichazi harshly — overly harshly — for an error Geichazi had made, whereupon Geichazi left the fold. Later, Elisha tried to welcome Geichazi back into the fold by urging him to repent. Geichazi threw it back at Elisha:

“You taught me that a person who sins and causes others to sin lacks the opportunity to repent.” Elisha was punished with illness for his inappropriate treatment of Geichazi.

This incident is delineated among three illnesses that culminated in Elisha’s death. Elisha was more afraid of Geichazi’s initial sin, triggering Elisha’s overly harsh punishment, than of its consequences for Elisha himself.

• • •

I often wonder about these gorgeous, scrumptious photos of food that appear regularly in cookbooks and on recipe pages in the newspaper. Are limitless thousands of recipes really that good? Do the pictures lie?
These photos reminded me of a passage in the Talmud (Shabbat 199a).

Caesar said to R’ Joshua son of Hananiah, “What’s with this alluring aroma in your food cooked for Shabbat?”

“We have this one spice, it’s called Shabbat,” said R’ Joshua. We throw it into the Shabbat food and its aroma is penetrating.”

“Great,” said Caesar, “give me some!” (Caeser need not ask politely for the ingredient. He is Caesar, after all, and can simply demand it.)

R’ Yehoshua said, “The spice is effective for whomever observes the Sabbath, but for one who does not observe Shabbat, it is not effective.”

• • •

Other photos also make me wonder — the photos of the five million dollar homes. (In Aspen, make that, sometimes, 25 million dollar homes.) I wonder, what do today’s 2.76 people per family do in 22 rooms?

True enough, in Denver a boat-like home was going up. Out of curiosity I stepped in to see what it was like. I met the owner, who kindly gave me a tour of the home under construction. I was stunned to learn that this four-floor home had one bedroom. What else?

An exercise room.

A pool room.

An entertainment room that could hold 80 people.

An aviary.

(I cannot recall all the rest of the designated rooms.)

This reminded me of a passage in the Talmud (Eruvin 53a). The burial plot that Abraham bought for Sarah was called Me’arat ha-Machpela, “the double cave.” Rav and Shmuel disputed how was it configured.

One said it was two rooms on one floor, one room right in front of the other. The other said it was two stories, one room on top of the other. The Talmud says that a “double cave” implies two stories, so why would a one-story, two room configuration be called a “double cave”? Because four couples (“doubles”) were buried there (Adam, Eve; Abraham,Sarah; Isaac, Rebbecah; Jacob, Leah) — two rooms sufficed for the founders of humanity and of monotheism.

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IJN Executive Editor | hillel@ijn.com

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