Over yom tov, I was in a suburb of Philadelphia, and walking in a beautiful botanical park, unique in that various types of trees and foliage are concentrated on these grounds. A label on site names the trees and plants both in English and in their official Latin name. There is a semi-paved path that goes around the park and it is a popular spot for walkers, joggers, and people taking their dogs out for exercise.
On one side, the park is bordered by a flowing brook, (the community in this neighborhood does Taschlich there) and to the children’s delight the water is populated by minnows and other small fish, and the occasional duck or two. The opposite side is parallel to a road with frequent traffic, and across that road there are houses set up a slope.
On a pleasant fall day, I made several “hakafot” around the park, figuring each time I went around was about a third of a mile. I know that there are apps that can tell me how far I walked, the calories I burned, and the number of steps I took, but too much information can be counterproductive. Especially after many yom tov meals. I knew I was getting fresh air and figured I’ll lose whatever I gained endlessly pacing back and forth – and forth and back in my place while doing my two-week quarantine when I returned home.
The park is full of frisky, young squirrels, beyond cute with their bushy tails of blended hues of greys and browns. It’s amusing to see how these constantly-in-motion critters can abruptly stop, stand on their back legs, and use their front legs as hands to hold onto the acorns or chestnuts or whatever goodies they find in the park and with great focus, nibble on them. It’s interesting how we enjoy watching these high energy rodents as they run in the grass or scramble up trees, effortlessly jumping from branch to branch, seemingly playing tag with one another – but we recoil with disgust when we see their cousins, the rats.
Without fail, as I would approach the curve and continue on the sidewalk that was near the road, there would be one or two squirrels recklessly darting into the road, pausing and darting back as they sensed a car driving by. There were so many close calls, as some, likely the younger, less experienced ones, weren’t sure what to do and would jump off the curb again. Some stood mid-road, seemingly frozen as they had no clue as to the direction they should go.
At one point, I remember muttering, “Why are you trying to cross to the other side of the road? You have everything you need here in the park. Water in the brook, lots of trees and grass and room to run around. There is nothing better on the other side, just houses containing humans. You are risking your lives, for nothing. The grass is not greener on the other side.”
Luckily there were no other humans nearby as I spoke my thoughts out loud – although these days, it’s assumed you are talking into a minuscule device and not necessarily out of your mind.
I continued my walk, and eventually came back to the same sidewalk facing the road. To my extreme dismay, I saw one of these perky, full of life squirrels lying in the road. It must have been hit seconds earlier while I was rounding the bend, for its body was intact, not flattened yet, except for what looked like a bloody nose.
I didn’t linger to see how damaged it was and sadly continued on my way. This happened a few days before Yom Kippur and it seemed to me that there was a lesson to be learned from what I had witnessed – for what I felt was an unnecessary waste of a life.
Pirkei Avot proclaims, “Who is rich – the person who is satisfied with what he/she has.” These individuals feel that “they have it all” and don’t look for more. They appreciate and acknowledge their blessings and live with joy, b’simcha.
Conversely, one can reasonably conclude that the flip side of this statement is, “Who is poor – the person who is not content with what they have. They feel they are lacking and see their glass as being half empty, not half full, and feel they are deprived.” I believe there even is a term the younger generation uses – FOMO – fear of missing out.
There are several situations that the Torah likens to being dead , and one of them is being poor. Hence, those who are not satisfied with what they have are as if they are dead.
If you think about it, the comparison makes sense. Those who want more than what they have – who must have the latest electronic gadgets, or a bigger house, or fancier car, or designer clothes, will work hard, perhaps undermining their health by putting in 60-hour weeks, stressing out and potentially developing high blood pressure or heart disease. They have no time or energy for their spouse and children; instead of family being a priority – processions are. Their family life is on life support.
There is also the risk of spiritual death as well, as some, in order to enrich themselves, cut halachic corners, or rationalize not so ethical business transactions in their relentless pursuit of acquiring “more.” They are not yashar – honest in their dealings with other people, in their obsession with “having it all.” They lie, manipulate, break promises and cheat. Sadly, they rarely derive pleasure with what they have; chronically unable to be satisfied “with their lot.”
The squirrel who lost its life lived in a lush park, with fresh water, food, and shelter. All its needs were taken care of. Yet like many humans, it was not content. Its need for more, or its belief that there is “more out there” – led to its early demise. I know that the squirrel is an animal driven by instinct; it is incapable of logical thinking, but for me it symbolizes people who cannot be satisfied with what Hashem has provided them. And the price they pay for their lack of recognition and appreciation is beyond tragic.