10 Tishrei 5779 / Wednesday, September 19, 2018 | Torah Reading: Ha'azinu
 
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The Chameleon    

The Chameleon



The chameleon may believe that it is hiding from us though its adaptations, yet we can see it despite its costume. Similarly, we can never hide from Hashem…

 



“He teaches us from the animals of the land, and from the birds of the heavens He makes us wise.” (Job 35:11)
 
Several weeks ago as I was standing in our yard, I noticed a beautiful chameleon walking on the back wire fence. He appeared proud, courageous and in full form as he strode perfectly balanced on the thin, coated wire. That is, until he noticed me sneak up closer to him. I found the creature fascinating and wanted to take a video of it but he would have no part of it. He instantaneously went into camouflage mode as he tried to become an extension of the fence.  Like all of HaShem’s magnificent and unique creations, this reptile was a miracle to behold.  Within seconds it transformed from its full-bodied and plump self to being elongated, flat, and almost paper-thin, doing acrobatics to maneuver into the design of the lattice. All this, for the sake of survival. The chameleon is automatically programmed to adjust its appearance to blend in with the surroundings when it senses danger. Amazingly, he closely resembled the fence he was hanging on.  Another distinctive characteristic the chameleon possesses is its eyes. Unlike human eyes, the chameleon’s eyes rotate separately so it can look in different directions at the same time. It has excellent vision, rotating its eyes in a wide sphere with no need to move its head to see all around. One further interesting bit of information is that the chameleon is probably deaf since it has no outer ear, and “can communicate via vibrations which travel through solid substrates such as branches”. (Wikipedia)
 
Our sages teach that there is something to be learned from everything in the world. Aside from just getting enjoyment from this particular wonder of nature, I began to ponder what we could learn from it.  At first I thought about the chameleon’s trademark feature; its ability to take on the facade of its environs. Human beings also try to intermingle and be part of the culture around them. The Creator wisely endowed this reptile in the wild with this vital ability. Its life depends on it. For us, though, it can be detrimental to our existence since unlike the chameleon, we are not only physical beings, but fundamentally spiritual. By trying to look and act like everyone in the vicinity, we can actually harm our souls. Mankind has exclusively been blessed with the faculty to reason and make decisions. It is our option to either become part of a foreign society or to remain true to our own heritage. The chameleon, in its limited capacity, may believe he is hiding from us though its adaptations, yet we can see him despite his costume. Similarly, we can never hide from HaShem since He observes everything we do.
 
Then I considered that perhaps the chameleon is like the yetzer hara, our evil inclination. After all, it can be anything it wants to be to accomplish its goal. The yetzer has the power to change itself, to mutate according to its objective of taking us farther away from holiness and HaShem. That’s when I quickly discounted that idea. To the best of my knowledge, the chameleon is not evil so it would be an unfair comparison.
 
Wanting to delve deeper, I began to search for the wisdom of our forefathers through the ancient writings of Perek Shira. These verses give us clues as to the lessons nature has for us. Chapter six states: The reptiles say “Your wife shall be like a fruitful vine in the chambers of your house, your children like olive seedlings around your table.” (Psalms 128:3).  What was it trying to tell us? To understand the meaning of this pasuk (verse) of Tehillim, I looked at it in context of the whole perek (chapter).  Summarizing chapter 128 slightly: ‘Happy are those who fear the L-rd, who walk in His ways. Through your own hard work (for sustenance and serving HaShem), you will be happy and all will be well with you.  You will be blessed with a good wife and healthy, flourishing children, if you fear G-d. From Zion, HaShem will bless you and you will see the goodness of Jerusalem all your days. You will merit beholding your children, grandchildren and peace in Israel.’ 
 
I tried to decipher the connection between a reptile such as chameleon and these words. The central theme is fear of HaShem and adherence to His statutes. The chameleon, like us, must rely on our Father in Heaven for everything.  The reptile in Perek Shira stresses the significance of living our lives according to G-d’s Will. In so doing, we will merit a righteous mate (‘like a fruitful vine’) who will bring forth blossoming, devoted children (‘like olive seedlings around your table’). It knows how strong and sturdy a vine is and how resilient and bountiful olive shoots can be, for they climb on them often. It is reminding us that the joys of life are ripe for the picking, provided we heed HaShem’s Word. By clinging to the Almighty we will have nothing to fear and everything to gain.
 
As stated above, the chameleon communicates through vibrations within the branches. By attuning our senses, we too can receive messages, Divinely sent through an ethereal conduit. The chameleon has no alternative but to trust in G-d yet he happily melds to the task. We, on the other hand, have freedom of choice so doesn’t it make sense that we should choose this route above all? If we yearn to fill our lives with kedusha (holiness), we can make changes that even we won’t recognize. With emuna, anything is possible. Take it from the chameleon! 





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