Trees to their Knees
I watched mesmerized for hours through my large windows as the snow descended upon the many and mighty trees that line the back of my building. The snow began ever so lightly and lovely but soon the trees were masked for Halloween and they much resembled a glistening white-powdered paradise. I wished I could have gone outside to catch a snowflake with my tongue as I did as a child. But as the day wore on, the tranquility of the perfect snow globe day was interrupted by snaps, crackles and pops which crescendoed into a frightening semblance of a cannonade as tree trunks snapped in half--after over 60 years of standing proud they were brought to their humble knees by the ever gentle snowflake.
Perhaps it is no coincidence that nature acted out on the very weekend the story of Noah is read in synagogue. Rain drop by rain drop the world was destroyed. The lessons should be clear to us all: little things should never go underestimated or unguarded. They are like little docile pellets that cumulatively act as a war of attrition for that which they seek to bring down.
The Palestinians first fought their war of attrition against the mighty Israeli army with pebbles; men can whisper soft sweet nothings and woo open brassieres fashioned in Fort Knox; little droplets of water over time will eat away at solid stone; it was a tiny gnat that brought down the great Roman Emperor, Titus, by slowly eating away at his brain for seven years.
We learn this week in the story of Noah that God did not destroy the world because of rampant and brazen BIG sins but rather, the world was destroyed because the people were guilty of chamas (not to be mistaken for chummus or Hamas). Chamas means “taking” something of an insignificant amount which cannot really be defined as stealing. For instance, someone goes to a market and tears off a grape and eats it — not much damage done. However, then the next person comes along and does the same thing, and so on. It is not long before that bunch of grapes, or nuts or olives is diminished both in appearance and quantity — and the owner really has no one to blame for the theft. Nonetheless, the damage is done.
In our own lives, we too must remain vigilant to the tiny tests that surround us and not let them trick us into thinking, “Ah it is so small and irrelevant that I have nothing to worry about.” These tiny tests dress for Halloween all year long and cloak themselves as being innocuous. That “harmless” person you shouldn’t be friends with, that small sip of alcohol that can do no harm, that married woman with whom you are “just” emailing — all these benign little things that twirl around you like a soft summer breeze can eventually pick up momentum and ensnare you in a hurricane and whisk you away. And then we awake one morning too late and question: “How in the heck did this happen to me? I didn’t see it coming.”
Yet, all this talk of mighty little things should give us hope, not despair. Using the same argument, we must realize that no challenge is too great for us, whether it be keeping a diet, conquering corporate America, winning the woman of your dreams, or felling large trees — sometimes showing up as consistently as a snowflake instead of a chainsaw will lead to a steady and sure victory. As a society, we are trained to think in Costco sizes, but I say, "Think small friends, and you will soon find that 'little strokes fell great oaks.'"