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Lessons from an Ant

Lessons from an Ant

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I live in an old house. It has its charm, moldings, trim work, wooden window frames, you know…

It has something else, however, that isn’t so charming. It has ants. I’m told my problem with these fascinating bugs isn’t unique; but quite frankly, it drives me crazy.

The children and I have learned many interesting things, in observing our housemates. We have found that spiders can be our friends, particularly since they seem to enjoy feasting on ants. Yes, we watched the various stages of the process, beginning with:”Oh! There’s a spider web in the window,” then, “Look! There’s the spider that must’ve spun it,” then, “Hey! -There’s an ant caught in the web,” and finally,”Ooh! What is the spider doing to the ant?”

There is another interesting feature I have noted about these insects. I call it the “Silent Scream.” While the term conjures up horrific images of unspeakable proportions, or famous paintings by dead artists, I can only imagine that from the ants’ perspective, having a human hand descend upon it is a horror of unspeakable proportion. The manifestation of the feature is as follows: Upon discovering a number of ants in various stages of traversing my kitchen walls and countertops, I methodically begin removing them, one by one, with a well placed piece of paper towel.

No sooner, however, have I picked off one, then the others in the area freeze. That’s right, they simply stop moving. Sometimes they stay like that until I reach for them, but often, they begin, as if forewarned by some silent scream of warning, to scurry away in any which direction. What I want to know is why do they often stop moving? How do they know that one of their comrades has been put out of action? Perhaps there have been scientific explanations of this phenomenon. If so, my other question is, what makes the ants search out fallen comrades and carry them back behind the window molding cracks from whence they came? And what do they do with the dead bodies?

I am certain there has been extensive research into ant behavior. I remember the ant farm mazes available for purchase, offering young explorers opportunities to observe insect behavior. I am struggling to find deeper wisdom through observations of our ants. I could perhaps comment on the unflagging loyalty they seem to have for one another, rescuing their injured (or worse) from an ignominious fate. Then I could extend the comparison to how we as people care for one another, but to be quite fair to our humanity, perhaps there are separate communities of ants on various blocks of the neighborhood, and they would never venture so far as to rescue a fellow ant from the other side of the street. Maybe they really are not much more thoughtful than us. Maybe I would rather not compare myself to an ant.

Many a pensive moment has been spent observing these insects, and wondering what the purpose of my observations is. We are taught that everything we see around us is there in order to teach us something. What am I possibly supposed to learn from these small social insects? Contrary to my initial cynicism as to the manner in which we as humans care for each other, I forced myself to take a deeper look at myself, and our Jewish community at large. Is the seemingly silent scream comparable to our stunned reactions as we initially watched missiles falling on our cities and towns? Was this the necessary action to jolt many of us out of our complacency? Have we, the universal “we”, of world Jewry forgotten that we are really one nation, that we must help care for one another. Have we not learned anything from the lessons of 2,000 years ago, knowing that the Temple was destroyed as a result of our lack of caring for one another? Why did we need the reassurance of the world powers to tell us that we are not overreacting to the theft of our brethren by enemy hands?

Perhaps there is a certain aspect of ant behavior that I shouldn’t be ashamed to emulate. After all, there is something to be learned from all of G‑d’s creations. Fortunately, we have scurried into action, and are doing what we must in order to return our fellow Jews home, G‑d willing, safely.

Tzvia has a M.A. in Special Ed. and has been teaching general studies in a local Jewish day school for several years. She is the mother of 5 children from whom she has the privilege to learn and gain new insights.
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Anonymous St. Paul, MN June 28, 2010

The Loyalty of Ants Yesterday, I also observed that apparent loyalty, when an ant came to the rescue of its fallen comrade which I had just killed. It tried to haul the little body away until it saw the huge hand coming down on it, then quickly scurried off. As you can probably imagine, I didn't have the the heart to kill the little comrade in arms. Proverbs tells us to use the ant as an example in diligence. I have to admit I was touched by the little creature's behavior, albeit instinctive. The rest of your post was very interesting, as well. Reply