• ben-Avraham

Exile: Canary in the Coal Mine?

So where have we been lately? You may have noticed that we haven't been posting as much as we had previously. Well we have some good news to share!

We've had a new addition to the family in the last few weeks - so we've been trying to juggle the newborn in with the other 3 and learning to adapt to 4 little ones. And make Aliyah. It's a little busy.

Anyhoo, I decided I would share this little event below, because it could be a little funny, or perhaps a little weird, but definitely a whole lot of interesting.

Not long ago on Shabbos morning, we awoke as normal with the sound of little feet running in the hallway and climbing into our bed (B"H). I planned to take all of the kids to shul that day as it was getting increasingly harder for my pregnant wife to be mobile and chase little ones around.

We started our morning routine to get the day underway. I got the kids out of bed, and got them dressed. We did our morning Brachot (Modeh Ani and Al Netilat Yadayim), and got down to the table. Shabbos cerea l was on the menu, which always means a yummy sugary breakfast for the kids which they love, and gives them something to look forward to.

During this time we were still on the fence regarding Aliyah. We were strongly leaning towards it I would say we but hadn't committed yet. We worried about all of the normal things; how would our kids fare? What about extended family and friends? What about parnossa? Would we have money? How would we navigate a country where we don't speak the main language? And culture shock. Let's not forget about that.

It was under the backdrop of the "Great Aliyah Debate" in our household that I decided to check the weather before getting the kids dressed for the walk to Shul. Normally we just bundle them up and take them out, or we've checked out the weather before Shabbos so it's no surprise, but I had forgotten to before Shabbat. And so I opened to the door to check the weather.

And there it was. In the middle of our front porch no less.

A little dead bird.

Not just any bird. A golden yellow bird. What looked like a yellow canary……in the fall.

For those who don’t know a lot about these little birds – they are uncommon/rare in the spring in our area. We might see 1 or 2 yellow birds in the spring time, but until this point, I had never seen one in the late fall/early winter. In fact, a little research shows that they should not have their yellow/golden color at this late stage in the year. But here he was. Dead on our doorstep, on Shabbos.

I went from perplexed to slightly disturbed. Why would there be a yellow bird on the middle of our porch on Shabbos!? What does that mean? Was the bird sick? Do I need to be concerned for my children? Is there symbolism there? Is it just a dead bird? My mind immediately went to 'canary in the coal mine' but I thought perhaps I was over-reacting a bit.

I called my wife and told her what I had discovered. I wanted her interpretation on what I had found. She started thinking through the symbolism as well, and she laughed as she said:

"Canary in the proverbial coal mine?"


"Every single thing that a person sees or hears, is an instruction to him in his conduct in the service of G‑d." – The Baal Shem Tov

If it hadn't been Shabbos I might have dismissed the notion, but Shabbos is different. It's special. We should take the things that are shown to us and said to us seriously, especially on Shabbos.

After Shabbos I did some research. Indeed, canaries are part of the finch family. What's more, the goldfinch is…a canary. And thus this would be the type of bird that might have been used in the coal mine in days gone by to determine when the carbon dioxide levels had reached a lethal point, and it was time to evacuate the miners.

I once heard an adage about what it was like to be Jew in the material world – to sum it up in my own words, it goes something like this:

'A Jew in the material world is like a miner, in the dark, digging through the dirt, trying to find tiny diamonds in among the muck and rocks. Its dangerous, it's dirty, and hard back breaking labor. But we do it all for the name of the Holy One, blessed be He'

Canary? Hmmm….

Watch: Chassidic Coal Miners

"The Previous Rebbe gives a parable for what it means to be a Chabad chasid:
A miner digs deep into the ground for coal, which provides warmth and light. Where and how to dig, however, is decided by an expert manager, who has not only the success of the endeavor in mind, but also the welfare of the miner. But even the most expert manager cannot breathe for the miner – the miner himself must always be connected to an air supply.
The Baal Shem Tov explains that every Jew is “a land of delight” with vast treasures hidden within. It is the chasid’s job to dig and reveal those treasures – both within himself and others."

© 2018 by ben Avraham.