From the Heart with Rabbi Liebowitz, May 2017
“Sticks and stones will break my bones but names will never hurt me.” This is a lie. What we say matters. The unkind things we communicate can soil the best of relationships; even with the deepest of regrets……what lingers is a stain of hurt that may fade but will never truly go away. The wounding words we say are like feathers released in a harsh wind, once said; we will never get them back. ― Jason Versey, A Walk with Prudence
The late Rabbi Richard Israel was an accomplished Hillel director for decades. Adding to his skills as a college leader was his prowess as an author, publishing more than 130 articles, some of which appear in his very funny book The Kosher Pig and Other Curiosities of Modern Jewish Life. One chapter is devoted to his hobby as a beekeeper (technically called an apiarist). Academically minded, Rabbi Israel traced the practice back to ancient biblical times and earlier noting how long it took for biologists determine how it is bees make honey and the nature of the Queen Bee once thought to be a male or a King Bee. More than this, he reviews its supposed medicinal qualities.
For Jews, the associations with bees mostly are at Rosh Hashanah with the indulging of sweet honey, its famed product. The other Jewish associations from the bible are less pleasant. Here are a few:
“The Amorites shall chase you like bees.” (Deuteronomy 1:44)
“The nations………… have surrounded me like bees.” (Psalm 118:2)
And to add insult to injury the famed warrior and prophetess Deborah means among other things, “a stinging bee!’ However, the post biblical writings of the Talmud were a bit kinder to the little bee even making an effort to deem honey from an unkosher insect creature permissible. (Consider that milk from a pig is not kosher or less offensive an egg from an Ostrich, it too being unkosher.)
I was fortunate not to suffer a bee sting (the first of five) until I was fifty. Not a pleasant experience, but far less painful than the stinging words that come before me;from Hebrew school children who report that once again they were told they were not going to heaven (or worse); from a minister of the gospel who wrote a most bigoted anti-Jewish polemic against Torah tradition asserting the same hellfire condemnation for non-believers.
I can go on citing the insensitivity of citing UN Holocaust day without mentioning Jews or referring ignorantly to Concentration camps as Holocaust centers.
A bee with its limited IQ which acts by instinct does not know better. Human beings can and should. If you comb the rabbinic literature you will find a copious number of references to gossip, slang and other misuses of language. The time between Passover and Shavuot, the time of the reception of Torah is our counting of the Omer. This fifty day period is a time to reflect on growth in nature and on our inner spiritual growth. It is a time to consider, as a title of one book would have it, “Words that heal, words that hurt.”
Wishing one and all a good spring time.
Yossi Liebowitz, Rabbi