Accomplice

4th of Av, 5776 Hanoch Ne’eman, Jerusalem

Last week a couple who was between apartments stayed with me for two days. Among their possessions were three house plants which had sat in their ground floor windows. They also had two cats, one of which I saw one day pawing at my bathtub drain as if something had just retreated there. That night I spotted a little praying mantis on my bathroom floor. I put him back in the plants, from which I assumed he came. The people, cats, and plants moved out again.

On Shabbat morning I spot a little praying mantis climbing up my backpack, which is sitting on a chair in the corner of my salon. He looks pretty pale, more than a few days ago, it seems to me. I am thinking to myself – what is a praying mantis going to do in an apartment? He needs to be outside, in a garden area. But it is Shabbat, and insects are muktzah, something you can not move on Shabbat. What to do?

I would like to move him outside, both for his sake and mine (I don’t want to find him on my nose while I am sleeping). So I try to think of a halachic justification to move him. It is permissible to milk cows on Shabbat because not being milked causes the cows pain. Maybe I can move this praying mantis so he does not starve to death. I decide to move him by getting him to climb on a washing cup which I hold with my left hand, hoping the change of hand will mitigate the prohibition of moving muktzah.

I walk him (or her?) downstairs to the entrance garden. People are walking on the sidewalk on their way to shul. Before putting him down I hold up the cup to look at him close up at eye level. He looks like an alien from a movie. I put him down on the top of the stone wall, where, by chance, some occasional ants are walking by. The mantis sits there just sort of swaying for a minute, until he suddenly lunges at a passing ant, grabs him in his forehands, and starts eating him! Horrible! I feel like an accomplice.

Now other thoughts start going through my head. One sin leads to another it says in Pirkey Avot. Perhaps I was not justified in moving this muktzah on Shabbat? This is not a praying mantis, I realize, but a preying mantis. One person’s freedom fighter is another person’s terrorist. How can I criticize Benjamin Netanyahu for releasing terrorists if I myself just released this murderer onto the Jerusalem streets?

Maybe next time I won’t be so smart.

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