On the third Saturday of the month our Torah Study group, which normally meets in a room at the synagogue, instead goes on “Torah on the Trails.” Usually, this consists of carpooling to a trailhead, taking an easy hike to a gathering place, settling in to study some Torah, then hiking back out to carpool back to the synagogue.
Last month, only a short way into the hike, the ground gave way beneath the feet of one of my friends and fellow congregants, causing her to slide down into a ravine. She broke her leg in the fall, and required the efforts of several firefighters to secure her leg and haul her back up to the trail and into an ambulance.
Although scary and painful, it wasn’t a life threatening injury. I’m still getting to the death part.
The good news is, this particular congregant still has the motorized wheelchair her mother, may her memory be a blessing, used for the last several years of her life. With the help of her roommates, she was able to get the chair out from under the tarp where it was being stored, cleaned up, and the battery recharged. As a result, even though she’s not allowed to put any weight on her leg for at least a couple more weeks, she’s been able to get around much better than most people in her condition.
It was due to these events, then, that Torah on the Trails last weekend became Torah Around the Civic Center Pond, which is wheelchair accessible. After all, since she broke her leg on Torah on the Trails last month, the least we could do was make an accommodation to allow her to participate this month. If you fall off a horse, get back on it right away, as they say.
So we walked/rolled along the path around the pond, being careful not to get too close to the water, in order to prevent any further mishaps. It was a beautiful morning. Sunny, not too hot, not too cold, not too windy. We came to a picnic table, and sat down to discuss one of the Psalms.
That’s when I looked around and saw something splashing in the pond.
The rabbi tried to get the group going with a song, but I was distracted. I kept looking at the splashing in the pond. I saw a person leaning toward the splashing while sticking what looked like a pole into the water. While I continued to watch, trying to divide my attention between the Torah group and this other scene nearby, I realized there were two people fishing. One was reeling the fish in with his fishing pole, while the other was trying to catch the fish in a net.
I tried to concentrate on the Torah Study group, but it was hard to focus. "Eitz chaim hi" we say of the Torah, “It is a tree of life.” And yet, just over there to my right, a creature was losing its struggle for its life. The juxtaposition was so jarring, I couldn’t put it out of my mind. I wanted to go save the fish, but I had no right to do so. As far as I know, fishing isn’t illegal there, and maybe the people fishing needed the food. I just wasn’t prepared to witness death while studying the source of life.