The first 50 years of my life I lived in great cities: New York, Miami, Los Angeles. Eight years ago, my wife and I moved to Ashland I became a country Jew.
It was a big change. No more big temples, big parties and big shots in the entertainment business. Instead, there was nature, lots of it, everywhere I looked. Trees, plants, mountains, rivers: all the stuff mentioned so portentously in the Bible. Now, at last, my wife (a true country person) informed me, I would be able to observe Hashem’s fine hand close-up and personal and comprehend its noble purpose.
Well, I try. Here’s an example: We live near Highway 66 which, most of the year, is so lightly travelled as to allow safe high speeds. One Spring afternoon, while returning home, I ran over a squirrel. It was unavoidable. I was heading west to eas t at about 65 MPH; the squirrel was dash north to south at maybe 30. I caught only a flash of tail before it was under the right front wheel. I heard a crunch, as if I had run over a large nut.
I felt the required Jewish guilt for several miles. As a city dweller, my association with animals has been limited to the usual assortment of frantic hamsters, stolid turtles (a reptile, I know), suspicious cats and unruly dogs. Never a hunter, this was the first time I had knowingly caused the death of a creature larger than a mouse
What, I pondered, was my lesson from this? Drive more slowly? Be aware of the small creatures with whom we share this wonderful planet? Bike the 20 miles to town? More important, what was the reason that an innocent animal had been rendered lifeless by a poor-reflexed Jew? Was this a sign such as Moses was always getting? A symbol worthy of interpretation by Joseph? An Abrahamic fest I had flunked?
I thought I had the answer the next morning when, on my way into town, I saw a bird picking over the squirrel’s carcass. Here, I realized, was a big clue to Hashem’s plan. Nature was being recycled and I had contributed to it. I was not only absolved but actually a vital player in the eternal game of Life to Death to Life. The glow of purpose stayed with me all morning.
Then, on the way home, I passed the same spot where the squirrell had perished so that the bird could dine. Now there was a new carcass on the road. It was the bird—smashed by some vehicle,probably while enjoying the feast I had provided.
I was really befuddled. “Where’s the higher equation in this?” I asked my wife. “Will tomorrow bring a new creature to dine and be destroyed in the endless cycle of destruction I began? Has Hashem launched a purge of the kingdom and I’ve been selected as the prime executioner?”
“Lighten up,” she suggested. “It doesn’t always have to do with you.”
It occurred to me that since Nature was her specialty, she might be right. Hard as it ws to accept, maybe in this one instance, I ws not the subject and the real teaching was to the birds and beasts. And the lesson? Perhaps the obvious one that every city dweller has known for years: Don’t play in traffice.