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                                                                                                                                            In the Good Old Summertime—After the Monumental “Shinui Vessess” of 5780

Rabbi Hillel L. Yarmove 

What is a “shinui vessess”? And why have I have attached a picture to this month’s column of the dreaded COVID-19 virus? 

Let’s start with my first question. Our great Sage Shmuel would answer you as per his dictum in four places throughout Shas: “Shinui vessess t’chilas choli [mei’ayim]: A change in one’s [eating] regimen promotes [digestive] illness.” (See Rashi, Bava Basra 146a.)

Now I don’t know about you, but the remarkable, once-in-a-lifetime change in all our lives has affected not just what we ate — or, better, how much food we  consumed while isolated in our homes — but more importantly how we understand the meaning of the word “normalcy.” On the one hand, we grew to appreciate the importance of each member of our family as a fascinatingly uniquely endowed individual; on the other, we pined for the “normal” interactions of society as once we knew them. (Nonetheless, for many of us, our learning regimen actually thrived — what with the diminution of “schmoozing” and “coffee-station visits”!)

And we also discovered that if Hashem so wills it, kings and elder statesmen are essentially helpless before a miniscule creature reminiscent of the tiny yatush that afflicted and punished Titus Harasha (see Gittin 56b). 

Sounds familiar?  Pelledig!

So how do we return to a “semblance of normalcy,” a “vessess,” a routine which takes into account the fact that, as I had heard from one adam gadol me’od, “Chazal understood that human beings are by nature social creatures”? Especially in light of the coronavirus COVID-19!

Perhaps the answer may be found in my snapshot printed here of what appears to be a COVID-19 viral particle. 

But wait a minute: The subject of that photo is not the virus. It turns out that what looks like the horribly destructive coronavirus pathogen is really the spiny fruit of an American sweet gum (Liquidambar styraciflua) tree, a member of the witch hazel family, which grows in my Lakewood, New Jersey, neighborhood! Of course, this fruit is not edible—but it is the germ—the very beginning—of a future American sweet gum tree.

How intriguing! So, there are germs that are catastrophically destructive—and there are other “germs” (organisms that germinate) which betoken growth and hope.

But there’s more! The resinous gum “produced in pockets in the bark after bruised or incised is used medicinally. . . . [and is ] considered expectorant, antiseptic, antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory. Children sometimes chew the gum in place of commercial chewing gum.” Wow! The fruit of this tree might bear an uncanny resemblance to the COVID-19 virus—but the sap from the American sweet gum tree has an amazing power to heal. Why, it has even been deemed “antimicrobial”!

Maybe, then, the new post-pandemic “normalcy”—this new “vessess”—should actually be a return to the thankful appreciation of the fantastic ecological marvel of trees, flowers, birds, and animals which the Bascheffer has created to enhance our planet. For as long as we concentrate on the horrors of the plague which we have recently witnessed, we shall be unable to fully give thanks to Hashem Yisborach for the everyday wonders that are clearly apparent all around us, particularly in the summertime, traditionally a time of growth and accomplishment.

And that, my dear readers, may be the biggest “shinui vessess” of all—the return to a through-going appreciation of the natural world around us and a concomitant concentration once again on growing not only as individuals — which we may well have done during the pandemic-inspired “lockdown” — but now as an integrally holy nation with the overriding purpose of being m’sakein the world around us.

Ah, summertime!

Questions or comments? I may be reached at hillyarm@yeshivanet.com. A healthy and productive summer to us all!

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