An Unwanted Visitor

It’s a problem. Don’t ask. Okay, you didn’t ask, so I’ll tell you anyway.

We are at a loss of what to do. You see, some time before Pesach, an intruder moved into our house. Like a squatter, he noticed an unoccupied area and made himself (or is it herself, or maybe even a couple?) very heimish in our property without even offering to pay a dime for rent. As it roams its new habitat, we can hear it and it gives us the jitters. We feel invaded and it makes us somewhat uncomfortable.

It all started one day, of all days, on Erev Pesach, when I tried turning on the ceiling fan in my bedroom and it didn’t work. Then I pulled the string to turn on the lights and that didn’t work. Funny, they worked fine just yesterday. Then I tried the lights of the other bedrooms on the floor and they didn’t work either. A scary thought lurked in the back of my mind, but I quickly put it aside. Surely, it must be a blown fuse, so I went down to the basement to check the fuse box, but all was in order. This called for an electrician, who quickly came down and checked it out. Just as I feared…they were in perfect order. He had no idea what the problem could be.

My scary thought was now coming to the fore. You see, we once had a problem when the central air-conditioning in one of our rooms stopped working. The culprit was a raccoon in our attic that chewed up a vent. “Could it be,” I asked meekly, “that a raccoon chewed up the electrical wires in the ceiling and that is the cause?”

“Yes,” said the electrician, “it is not uncommon for this to happen. We’ve seen this quite a number of times.”

Great! What do we do now? We’ve called an animal trapper in the past with not much success, and what would happen if he set a trap and it would work? All we needed was for our ainiklach to see the trapped raccoon throughout the entire Yom Tov. It wouldn’t make for such a pleasant scene. So we left it for after Yom Tov.

Now we’re in a conundrum. We can’t fix the electricity until we are sure the intruder is out of there. We can’t be assured that it is out of there until we close off the opening through which it entered. But we can close off the opening until we are sure it is out of there. Which came first, the egg or the chicken? On a fine sunny day, my wife tried relaxing on our deck in the backyard and spotted it climbing our roof. It gave my wife a sneering look, as if to say, “What are you doing here on my turf?”

Then there is the fear that the raccoon might have babies in our attic. Mazel tov. Then what? The trapper informed us that if that happens, it’s beyond his realm of expertise. He’d give us a number to call for further help. That’s all I need. Now, every time I hear chirping sounds, I am petrified that they are sounds of baby raccoons. My fears are assuaged as I look outside and realize that these are the sounds of chirpings of multitudes of birds singing the sweet song of spring, but I am not totally sure.

My fears intensify when a neighbor who knows about these things tells us that these creatures can chew through almost anything. Does that mean that they can chew through my ceiling?

Now I see visions of it jumping out of a hole in the ceiling onto my bed while I’m helplessly asleep. Come to think of it, were it to happen while I was awake, it would be even scarier. Then a friend tells my wife about her experience with a squirrel entering her house through a fireplace and having it sit on her kitchen table, munching on a fruit. Horrors!

Enter Tony, the nice Mexican fellow who does odd jobs for people in our neighborhood. He’s done jobs on our roof before, so we tell him about our issue. “No problemo,” he responds assuredly. He’s dealt with this before. He’ll just close up the hole.

“But how do you know,” I ask, “that it is no longer there? Maybe it will be trapped inside and won’t be able to get out?”

“No problem,” he says with an air of certainty. “They come out of there during the day, so we can close it up.”

I always thought that they are nocturnal creatures and it is during the day that they would be inside, but what do I know? He seems to be an expert.

Sure enough, he closed off the hole, and that night we hear scratching on our ceiling. The raccoon is trapped inside and trying desperately to somehow get out. My wife is frantic (and secretly so am I). We call Tony late at night and he has to reopen the entrance. As of this writing, the problem has not yet been rectified, but hopefully we will prevail, be’ezras Hashem. There is, however, a lesson we can learn from this.

First of all, on a practical note, there is the obvious: I don’t survey the outside of my house from time to time. Had I done so, I would have realized that there were a few holes on my roof that allow for animals to get in. The problem would have been avoided to begin with. Not having done that, we now have to waste precious time playing cat and mouse with this creature, trying to rid ourselves of it, spending money to fix electrical problems, and dealing with a headache.

On a deeper level, there is a spiritual lesson that one may derive from this. Every person is like a binyan, an edifice. In fact, the Kuzari says that man is compared to the Bais Hamikdosh, with various parts of the body similar to different parts of the sanctuary. The human mind is compared to the Kodesh Hakodoshim, where extra care must be taken not to allow improper thoughts to enter, for it is tantamount to defiling the Holy of Holies. If we are not on top of things, and we let our guard down, it is comparable to allowing holes to develop in our binyan through which all sorts of intrusive ideas can enter.

The Torah tells us, “Shoftim veshotrim titein lecha bechol she’arecha – Judges and officers you shall appoint for yourself in all of your cities” (Devorim 16:18).Why did the Torah have to state “titein lecha – appoint for yourself”? Why didn’t it suffice to simply say “appoint”? The Chida quotes Rav Chaim Vital, who says that this is a remez of mussar to every single individual.

The word she’arecha can mean gateways. Every person has openings in his body that can allow things to enter it. The eyes are openings that allow visions to enter the mind. The ears allow words to enter. The mouth is open to allow food to enter and words to leave it. For every one of these openings, Hashem gave us the intelligence to judge whether or not to allow certain matters to enter. He also provided us with tools to close these openings and prevent undesirable matters from entering. The eyes have eyelids that can close and shield them from undesirable visions. The ears have earlobes to cover them to prevent forbidden talk from entering. The mouth has two guards to cover the tongue and the teeth and the lips close to prevent saying what should not be said.

For this, the Torah tells us, “Shoftim veshotrim titein lecha…” Utilize sound judgment regarding your personal gateways. When to look and when not to. When to listen and when not to. When to speak and when to remain silent. At the same time, if necessary, use your shotrim, your enforcers, to close these openings and save you from any transgressions.

A chossid once approached the Kotzker Rebbe and said, “Rebbe, I am having improper thoughts and I cannot control them.” The Kotzker sent him to a certain person in a remote town, telling him that when he arrives, he should tell the man who sent him. The chossid listened to his rebbe and traveled far away through inclement weather. When he arrived, he knocked on the door, but there was no answer. He knocked again and called out that he was sent by the Kotzker. Again, there was no response. He knocked and knocked, to no avail. He was forced to sleep on the porch throughout the night in miserable weather.

In the morning, he heard sounds coming from inside. Pretty soon, the door opened and the owner came out. The chossid could not believe that there was someone in the house the entire time who did not open the door.

“Didn’t you hear me knocking?” he asked. “Why didn’t you open the door?”

The man answered, “Because I wanted to show you that in my house, I am the baal habayis. I don’t have to open the door if I don’t want to!”

The chossid got the message and understood why his rebbe sent him there. He wished to teach him that every person is a baal habayis over himself. He has full power to let into his mind foreign thoughts or to keep them out. If he really didn’t want to let in undesirable thoughts, it was fully in his power to prevent them from entering. (Apparently, this person knew that if someone was sent to him by the Kotzker, it was to teach him this lesson.)

This is so important to internalize, especially in our times. There is so much reading material and information available out there. All too often, although seemingly innocuous, the information comes from non-kosher sources, with opinions that are anti-ethical to Torah hashkafos. And what about the advertisements that we are bombarded with constantly that try to convince us that we are in need of the latest styles or amenities? They raise the bar of the general standards of gashmiyus and affect us all. This is not who we are and we must be vigilant not to be affected by them.

Like the raccoon in our attic that chewed up our wires and darkened our rooms, allowing these invaders into our life can cloud our vision and make us lose the proper perspective on life. Just as we are afraid of the creatures giving birth to more raccoons once the yeitzer hara enters, he can bring forth other distractions to derail us from the proper path. Furthermore, it can enter through an opening smaller than you think, and once it enters, it’s hard to get rid of. It is much the same with our spiritual invaders.

The Torah tells us, “If you build a new house, you shall make a fence for your roof so that you will not place blood in your house if a fallen one falls from it” (Devorim 22:8). The sefer Toldos Adam says that there is a remez here. A person’s brain, the highest part of his body both physically and in importance, is his own personal roof. He is required to build a fence around it to guard against foreign influences. Otherwise, he may fall from his high spiritual level. If we do this, we will be on constant alert and will be able to maintain our spiritual equilibrium in avodas Hashem.