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What Kind of Fruit Was It?
Parshat Bereishit 5779

We all know what it’s like to have your car impounded. You park at what you think is a legal spot and come back to find it missing. You search high and low, and then find a No Parking sign half a block away. You call the police, and they tell you that they indeed did tow your car, but they have the towing and impounding handled by a private company, and give you the number for Murphy and Sons Towing, LLC.

You call them, and they tell you that you can pick up the car from a lot in a terrible part of town, and you need to bring $427 in cash or money order. “Isn’t that a bit steep, you only towed it half an hour ago?” The guy on the other end of the line says, “The tow fee is $200, the lot storage fee is $99, and we added on $128 because we can.” He usually then says something to the effect of, “Listen, I’m sorry, but I don’t make the rules, I’m just doing my job.” When you ask for his name and to speak to his supervisor, he tells you his name is John Murphy Jr and he is the supervisor. You can either pick up your car or leave it here, but each extra night adds a $75 storage fee. It’s not fun.

But imagine if you were impounded? Imagine if you were towed to an impound lot and not let out until you paid a ridiculous fee? That is the solution to public drunkenness floated by the Adrian Lee, the police chief of Northamptonshire in England and the UK’s national police lead on alcohol harm. He recommended that instead of cops picking up drunks off the street and putting them in jail overnight to sober up, they should be dropped off at “drunk tanks” run by private companies, where they would be given medical attention, and after sobering up, let out after paying a steep fee. The idea was that this would be a deterrent to public drunkenness the same way that impound lots are deterrents to illegal parking.

Although the idea was endorsed by David Cameron, former Prime Minister of Great Britain, and had support of the Association of Chief Police Officers, it never happened. Someone probably reminded the police and politicians that many chronic alcoholics don’t have the money to buy themselves out of a drunk tank, and have burned bridges with all friends and family members. The drunk tanks would simply continue to fill. You can sell an impounded car if it is not picked up in 30 days, you can’t sell an alcoholic.

Here in the US, we do have drunk tanks, but they don’t charge any fees for getting out. The owners of the drunk tanks, which are often private citizens, are told to “monitor the drunk subject until signs of drunkenness abate, and then to open the cage and let them out.” The drunk tanks are very small, the recommendation is to use a hamster cage, or a shoe box with holes cut into it for air flow. And the drunks being put into them are birds, usually smaller ones like thrushes, warblers, and waxwings. Evidently birds get drunk too, but in a very different way than humans.

Alcohol is a byproduct of yeast consuming sugars. Wine is made by yeast consuming the sugar in grapes, whiskey is produced by yeast consuming the starches, which are complex sugars, in grains. Even the production of bread, which involves yeast consuming the starches in dough, produces alcohol, but it gets broken down when the bread is baked. Alcoholic berries are created by yeast meeting the sugar in berries.

Usually, berries have a skin that keeps out the wild yeast that is found everywhere in the air. But when berries freeze, two things happen. The water freezes first, leaving behind a more concentrated sugary syrup (this is how icewine is made). Often the skin of the berry is broken by the expansion and contraction of freezing and thawing, and into the holes in the skin, wild natural yeasts creep. They find a rich sugary syrup, start feasting on it, and the process of fermentation begins. Soon the berry has a bit of alcohol in it.

Often, by the time berries begin to carry alcohol, most birds have migrated south, but when an early frost hits before the birds have migrated, the birds soon find themselves munching on alcoholic berries. This is especially a problem for young birds whose livers are not fully developed, as the liver is the part of the body that processes alcohol and breaks it down. The result is drunk birds.

Drunk birds are remarkably similar to drunk humans. Just as a drunk human can’t walk a straight line, a drunk bird can’t fly a straight path, because their internal clocks that time their wing flapping is thrown off. Just. And just as a drunk driver often misjudges distances, drunk birds do the same and fly straight into buildings. And like drunk humans that often simply collapse, drunk birds have been seen simply dropping out of trees to the ground below.

Often drunk birds die through fatal crashes into buildings or cars, or the impact of falling out of a tree. But other times they simply knock themselves out. In those cases, public health officials recommend that concerned humans help them into drunk tanks so that the alcohol can wear off while they are unable to hurt themselves further. No need to charge any fees to get out of the drunk tank, no ones coming to pay their fees, and you can’t sell a black throated thrush if no one bails it out after 30 days.

So please keep a look out. If you see a drunk bird bouncing off your window and knocking him or herself out, don’t suspect fowl play, it is simply unintentionally drunk. You can leave it alone, but the National Audobon Society recommends that if you think it is in danger from local cats, racoons, or other predators, please pick it up gently with a towel, and deposit it in a homemade drunk tank. Matthew Dodder, a bird expert from California, explained to the Washington Post, “Sometimes, they just need a bit of time in a quiet setting to recover.” Hmmm… That sounds familiar.

G-d created the world with many wondrous compounds and elements, but alcohol is one of the most complicated. It is used to mark many joyous occasions, from the sip under a chuppah, to a baby boy’s first sip of wine at its bris (although I think most babies would rather forgo the bris and the wine!), to Kiddush every Shabbos and Yom Tov. It is also a compound that causes untold human suffering.

In a 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, close to 90% of adults reported having a drink at some point in their lives, and over 70% in the previous year, but 26.9 reported binge drinking in the previous month (four drinks for a woman, five for a man, in two hours or less). Seven percent reported heavy alcohol use, which is binge drinking at least five times in one month.  About 15.1 million adults and 623,000 adolescents in the US suffer from Alcohol Use disorder, resulting in 88,000 deaths a year, including a third of all car crash fatalities.

In this week’s Torah portion, we read about mankind’s original downfall, the eating of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. There is a great discussion regarding what exactly the fruit was. The Talmud, (Sanhedrin 70B) brings a few different opinions, including wheat, figs, and grapes. Rabbi Meir states that it was the grape, “for there is nothing that brings wailing to man like wine.” This means that of all the natural substances, wine causes the most suffering, and the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil caused mankind’s descent into darkness, mortality, and suffering.

The Zohar indicates that it was grapes, and says that when Noach planted a vineyard immediately after exiting the ark, he was trying to start over the new world order by atoning for Adam’s mistakes that started the old world order off with a tragic start. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out well for him either, as it led again to tragedy. The Talmud (Ibid) brings the following statement, “Rabbi Zakkai says: The Holy One, Blessed be He said to Noach: Noach, shouldn’t you have learned from Adam the First whose [banishment] was caused only by wine?”

If wine is all evil, why are we supposed to use it to mark our holiest occasions, from Shabbos and Yom Tov to brissim and weddings?

In Judaism, we believe that everything in this world is created with parallels. There is great destruction in wine, it can bring someone from a functional human into an incoherent and dangerous drunk in a few minutes, but there is also a power that wine has. Wine represents spiritual attainment in that wine defies the normal physical world where everything breaks down over time. Wine gets better as it ages, just like spirituality becomes more and more valuable the longer you foster it in yourself.

We drink wine to indicate things we want to get better with time. A child starts his religious journey at his bris, and we hope that he will get better as time goes on. A marriage starts with a glowing moment under the chuppah, but it is our fervent prayer that the marriage gets better as it goes forward. Shabbos and Yom Tov are incredible, but they are meant to build us into better people throughout the coming weeks and days.

The greatest testament to mankind’s powers is that he can drink in moderation, he can have a l’chaim at his Shabbos table, and use it to feel the spiritual power of Shabbos without following the bottle all the way down to the gutter. No one blames a bird for being drunk because it doesn’t understand what is happening to it while eating those alcoholic berries, but we do look at a human being who staggers drunk in the street and recognize that we are seeing the destruction of the human spirit, someone who is not investing in his long term growth, but rather throwing it away in a moment. We humans have free will, that is inherently what separates us from the animal kingdom. Our ability to drink wine in a spiritually uplifting way, our ability to use something destructive in a constructive way is what we do when we are at our best.

Wine is where mankind’s tragedy and greatness cross paths, the battle between chaos and order, the struggle between short term pleasure followed by pain and the investment in slow and regular growth. Our triumph in that area is how we fix the Original Sin and bring Tikkun to our world.

 

Parsha Summary

Breishit starts off with the Creation of the Universe and all that is in it. G-d completed all His work in six days (this was way before zoning laws and building codes). Here is a quick rundown on the daily creating schedule for those first six days. On the first day He created light and darkness. On the second He created the heavens and separated the lower waters (oceans, which at that time covered the globe), from the upper waters i.e. the water found in the atmosphere.

On the third day G-d pulled the waters back to reveal dry land and created all vegetation (yup, Tuesday is when cauliflower, sprouts, and lima beans appeared on Mother Earth). On the fourth day G-d created all the celestial bodies, including the sun, moon, and all the stars. On day five G-d created all the flying creatures and water-based creatures. He even blessed them that they should multiply and be fruitful.

The sixth day of creation is special because not only did G-d create all animals of the land on that day, He also created mankind in His image. This special gift gives us an infinite amount of abilities that are unique to man, such as the ability to create, to give to strangers (generally, animals only take care of their own), and the power of speech.  On the seventh day G-d ceased from all the work that He had done, and in order to emulate G-d we also rest on the Shabbos, and spend that time evaluating our week and seeing how we can grow in the coming one.

G-d obviously didn’t need the rest, He didn’t feel worn out from a week of creation, but rather for us he ceased to work to help us understand the concept that there are two distinct modalities, working toward a goal, and experiencing the goal. Shabbos is a time where we experience the arrival at the spiritual locus of our week, and we can experience it fully, while still engaged in the creative process.

When G-d created Adam (the first human being), He gave him everything he needed and only asked one thing of him – that he not eat from the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Man gave names to all the beasts and found no mate. After this experience, which taught man that without women he is totally lost, G-d created Eve (the first woman) out of one of Adam’s ribs. G-d didn’t create woman out of Adam’s head, lest she feel she could dominate him, nor out of his feet, lest he feel he could trample her. Instead, He created her out of his rib, right next to his heart, so that he would protect her, love her, and treat her with equality.

While still enjoying their honeymoon, Adam and Eve were led into sin by the serpent, which was the external representation of evil at that time. Through a manipulation technique still used by sleazy salesmen today, the snake enticed both Adam and Eve to eat the forbidden fruit. G-d punished them by making humans mortal, by giving women birthing pains and by forcing men to work for their sustenance (prior to that fully prepared pastries would grow on trees! Weight Watchers would have had a real crisis!)

Adam and Eve gave birth to two children, Cain and Abel. Cain was a farmer and Abel was a shepherd. They both decided to give gifts to G-d but, while Cain gave inferior fruit, Abel gave the best of his flocks. G-d accepted only Abel’s gift. (Quick lesson: G-d wants you to mean it when you give to Him, so save your week-old pancakes for your brother, and give to G-d with all your heart. He doesn’t need a lot, but He wants to see you putting up your best effort!).

Cain got angry and jealous, and quickly became the world’s first murderer by killing his brother. Back then there were no good trial lawyers, and Cain had to deal directly with G-d, who didn’t take his excuses but rather told him that there are two paths one can take after sin – repent and be forgiven or don’t improve yourself and sin will constantly hound you.

The Torah then goes on to mention the ten generations of mankind from Adam until Noah. After that description, the Torah tells us how human beings lost all morality, and people did whatever they pleased. It got so bad that soon only Noah was righteous from his whole generation. Next week, will tell us more about where the world went (hint: think underwater) and more about Noah (hint: think above water), but before we stop, one last tidbit about Noah: he invented the plow, thus saving mankind billions of man-hours in the field planting by hand!

 

Quote of the Week: The proper function of being is to live – not to exist. ~ Jack London

Random Fact of the Week: Your thumbnail grows slower than any other fingernail!

Funny line of the week: How come wrong numbers are never busy?

Have a Stupendous Shabbos,

R’ Leiby Burnham

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