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
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.