Mosquitoes and Teshuva
Something was different about this morning’s walk on Mount Royal in Montreal. The scenery is, of course, different. I walked 1.5 miles up the mountain trail before turning around; I forgot that climbing up a mountain is far more tiring than my usual laps around the park. The people were different. The signs and conversations were in French. There was no garbage on the mountain. It was also a lot colder. Something else was different about the quality of the walk and it took a while for me to pinpoint the difference.
There were no mosquitoes. My arms are usually as tired as my legs when I return home from all the hand waving necessary to brush the tiny irritating insects away. I am not the only one working out my hands and arms each morning. New York actually has a mosquito problem this year, and, according to the NY Times science reporter, it’s because of the bats. A serious infection is killing many of NY’s finest bats, and the mosquitoes are celebrating. At last they can live in relative safety. They usually hide from the bats in Pip’s (my dog) hair. He still has his mosquito farm, but he is not as overbooked as in past years. The City Council is investigating whether the mosquitoes actually planted the infection to kill off the predators.
An infection kills bats. Mosquitoes are safe. My arms are tired. It is amazing to consider how something many of us consider insignificant can affect the larger picture. Edward Lorenz termed this the “Butterfly Effect”. The phrase refers to the idea that a butterfly’s wings might create tiny changes in the atmosphere that may ultimately alter the path of a tornado or delay, accelerate or even prevent the occurrence of a tornado in a certain location.
It is amazing to observe the butterfly effect on families when one member wants to change. The entire family is affected by the change of a single factor.
Consider what happens to a family when one member decides to become observant: Family gatherings change. Parents often feel an inherent criticism of their way of life. The extended family doesn’t know what to serve because they don’t know anything about Kashrut. Holiday gatherings often cannot continue, as the newly observant person will not drive on a religious holiday. I have watched people lose long friendships because they won’t socialize as in the past.
It doesn’t take such a drastic change to “Butterfly” a family. Picture a family that has accommodated a member’s constant anger. The person actually learns to manage his anger and it takes time for the rest of the family to feel safe and adjust to the “new” person.
So what happens when a person takes his or her Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur preparations seriously enough to actually change into a new person? It will take time for the family to acknowledge and trust the change. Parents, children, siblings, and friends, will continue to relate to the “old” person. The “new” person become frustrated and feels disrespected and voices his anger and a destructive cycle begins.
It is not the one person who changes; it is a family and broader social milieu. Teshuva, real change, isn’t easy for anyone. It is also a “Butterfly” that will alter the lives of a family, and the extended friends of the family members and so on.
Even a positive change will “Butterfly” many others.
Perhaps this is why we stress the importance of repairing relationships as part of our Rosh Hashana – Yom Kippur preparations. We remind ourselves of the complexities of life and that we do not live in a vacuum. We affect others as they affect us. We are all connected. Our Teshuva will “Butterfly” them, as theirs will alter our lives.
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