Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

27 Kislev 5766 - December 28, 2005 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network











Home and Family

Pinecone Philosophy
by Dan Neuman

One evening, not long ago, I was walking home from yeshiva to rendezvous with my wife at our local supermarket. As I passed the bus shelter for the Number Four, I looked down and found a huge opened pinecone sitting on the sidewalk. Being in one of those playfully good moods that I occasionally bring home from yeshiva, I bent down to the sidewalk and scooped it up, with the hope that my bizarre behavior would go unnoticed by passersby. After briefly appreciating the mass and flawlessness of the pinecone, I looked up, naturally, hoping to find the source of the small botanic wonder in my hand. There above me stretched out a massive Pinyon pine tree. I had probably passed beneath this particular tree about a thousand times without noticing it. A wave of fuzzy-warm romantic home sickness for the lush coniferous forests of New England passed through me.

On a side note, if you ever happen to be in Jerusalem and would like to look as out of place as possible, I'll give you a few simple tips: First, stop to pick up a pinecone in the middle of a busy urban sidewalk. Then, firmly gripping the pinecone in one hand, tilt your head backwards 90 degrees and dreamily gape at the tree from which it came. If this doesn't get you some stares, then you're in need of expertise beyond the scope of this author. But I digress.

A few minutes later, I met up with my wife at the supermarket. "What's that in your hand?" "It's a pinecone." My wife, bless her soul, has learned not to ask too many questions when I get like this. I casually slipped the pinecone into our stroller basket. Sometime later that evening, the pinecone took its place on the marble mantlepiece above our wall radiator. Every home needs a nice big pinecone.

I know what you're thinking: How can this story possibly get more exciting? Well, a few days later, while mulling around the house, I paused to admire the pinecone. I turned it on its side and suddenly six or seven enormous wooden seeds slipped out from between the scales of the cone, making a sound like glass marbles as they hit the floor. Apparently, the dry heat of our apartment had loosened the otherwise sticky resin which normally holds the seeds in place. This was a profound event.

As I stood there looking down at the seeds strewn across my living room floor, I couldn't help but feel like I had just been privy to the very intimate culmination of a course of natural events starting with the germination of that gigantic Pinyon pine probably about 50 years ago. Every four to seven years, the Pinyon pine develops pinecones that take about four months to ripen and several more to dry out and release their seeds. Thank you, Encyclopedia Britannica. As it turns out, Hashem designed this pine cone as an ingenious seed delivery system that not only ensures the survival of the tree, but also provides nourishment for various species of birds, small mammals, and as of about a week ago, this author.

When shaken, the seeds rattled, and being the sort of inquisitive person who brings home pinecones in the first place, I had no choice but to crack one open with a hammer. I did so, and out came a familiar looking oblong kernel.

"Well, well!" I remarked to my wife, "it looks a lot like the pine nuts they sell in the store for 15 shekels an ounce. Hey! It's entirely conceivable that pine nuts get their name because they look like the seeds that come from pine trees. In fact, maybe they actually come from pine trees. I wonder if they're edible like the ones in the store. There's only one way to find out!" Yes, I did, and they were, and it was delicious, and all was well with the world. But then something odd occurred to me.

Why, I ask, does it seem more reasonable to us that nuts should come from a cellophane bag than from a tree? The biological phenomena that help to sustain us go largely unnoticed, except of course when one accidentally occurs in the middle of someone's living room. Hashem created and gives life to a miraculously intricate natural ecosystem, which in the course of its seasonal cycle manages to produce delicious little nuts that come sanitarily packed in a hard protective casing. And who gets the credit? Supersol.

Urbanization has put us out of touch with the sort of things that demonstrate the miraculous nature of our world, the everyday miracles that put us in touch with our Creator. The Reform movement in Germany and Eastern Europe's Industrial Revolution both began in the early 19th century. There's a reason America's "Bible Belt" is located where it is. There's more than just coincidence at work here.

It takes a lot of work to connect with one's Creator, and a major step in that process usually involves recognizing the difficulties inherent in one's particular position. Most of us live in big artificial cities where meat comes from a freezer and fruit grows neatly on shelves. A person could go his whole prime-rib and mashed-potatoes-eating life without ever having to come in actual contact with a potato plant or a Black Angus. I've never even seen a picture of a potato plant. [Ed. You left your Britannica behind in New England?] How can we truly appreciate the sustenance Hashem provides us with if we're so distant from the miraculous process through which He does it?

As daunting as this can all seem, Hashem would not cause so many of us to live in cities without giving us the tools to appreciate His world. And He hasn't. At the very least, the blessings we make over the foods we eat, as well as other natural phenomena, practically guarantee an elevated appreciation in a world where far too much of our physical comfort is taken for granted. If we can generate an appropriate level of awe for Hashem's methods, our brochohs will transform the world. Avrohom Ovinu did it. So did R' Avigdor Miller zt'l. You and I can do it too.

I consider myself very privileged. I get to be the benefactor of this beautifully elaborate system in which Hashem lovingly provides for His creations, while the rest of the world just eats. The idea that brochohs can literally determine our reality may seem strange, but it can prove to be momentous. Sort of like picking up a pinecone off the sidewalk.

"Blessed are You, Hashem our G-d, Who creates the fruit of the Tree."


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