A gray squirrel.
A full-grown gray squirrel.
A full-grown gray squirrel with a long bushy tail.
A full-grown gray squirrel with a long bushy tail staring at me.
A full-grown gray squirrel with a long bushy tail staring at me prancing across my living room floor.
Not the way I wanted to start my day, but trust me, it was a very effective attention grabber when I walked into the room and saw Mama Squirrel walking across my carpeted floor like she owned the place. One shriek from my mouth and she scurried away. The problem was that she scurried into the hallway near the bedrooms and disappeared. Careful investigation by someone else in the household with more courage than me proved that the squirrel disappeared through a floor vent into the basement.
Once my heart rate returned to normal, I thought back to the past few weeks and the sounds I heard at odd times. I heard noises that sounded like scratching when it was quiet in the house, especially in the early morning and late evening. I had dismissed these as “house sounds” and was happy not to investigate the source. Now that I had literally come face to face with the culprit, it was time to act. I will not go into the details, but suffice it to say that with the help of our friendly pest care company, the mother squirrel will not be visiting any other homes at any time in the future, and the babies she sheltered in our basement were released into the wild, far away from my home.
After the squirrels were removed and the scratching sounds disappeared, I was able to reflect and find a life lesson from the experience. How often is it that we see a warning sign—or, in my situation, hear a warning sound—but since it is not obvious or loud, we ignore it until a later time? It could be a small clanging noise in our car that turns into needing an engine overhaul, or a minor pain that does not disappear and is not treated until the pain is debilitating. Perhaps it is something more subtle and refined, like a lack of joy during davening or less concentration while performing a mitzvah we used to fulfill with devotion. It is only when we realize that we are performing mitzvos by rote—or worse, that we are not performing them at all—that we finally face our “inner squirrel” and decide it is time to change.
Yes, I confronted the squirrel problem, but I had to call an expert to resolve the situation. It was easy to find the right expert for that scenario, and in Yiddishkeit too we have many places to turn for assistance. Here are ways that have proven to effect positive change when I need a boost:
I take the words of the Alter Rebbe that “We have to live with the times” seriously and attempt to find a relevant message in each Torah portion. When I take the time to learn the parsha and reflect on it, there is always a message that speaks to me and provides me with inspiration and an opportunity to raise my spirits.
I reach out to someone in need or someone I have not connected with in a long time; these interactions provide a boost that helps redirect my energy to positive pursuits.
I choose one part of davening to concentrate on and allow the holy words to penetrate and move me. Modim in particular has provided me with hope and gratitude for everything that is positive and healthy in my life—it will do the same for you.
I read Likkutei Dibburim on a regular basis, and the lessons it contains give me clarity in my life. Choose Likkutei Dibburim or another Chabad treasure, and stick with learning it to provide you with clarity as well.
The first step is to become mindful, to be aware and recognize the early signs that something is not as it should be. This lesson may not always be as clear to learn as it was in my case. I should have investigated the mysterious scratching sound in my house and not ignored it until I literally came face to face with the problem. The end result was a squirrel-free home, but it could have been accomplished with less drama and angst had it been discovered earlier.
My blessing is that you should be able to recognize and correct any situation that may not be heading in the right direction, and may you never encounter your “inner squirrel.”
Esther Kosofsky is a Jewish educator, writer and lecturer. She served as director of the Harold Grinspoon Foundation’s Resource Center for Jewish Education. Esther and her husband Rabbi Noach Kosofsky have been emissaries of the Lubavitcher Rebbe in Western Massachusetts since 1984. Her articles have appeared on Chabad.org and she is the author of The Secret of Carlos Romanus.