Wednesday, May 20, 2009

For the Birds

I left the house at 7am today and returned home at 9pm, as I do most weekdays; except that this morning I apparently forgot to close my bedroom window. And so when I walked in the door tonight, exhausted and eager to collapse on my couch with Steinsaltz (the book), you can imagine my dismay when I discovered that two pigeons had made a home for themselves in my humble abode. One was perched atop my Shabbat hot water heater, its beak tucked underneath its neck contentedly; the other sat on my book case between my bentchers and my Jastrow Dictionary, as if it were prepared not just to teach itself Zmirot, but also to learn what they mean.

I do not react well to unexpected guests, and so for the first few minutes I simply shrieked at the top of my lungs, hoping that I would frighten away the intruders. But no such luck. These birds were the pictures of perfect equanimity, and even when I began flailing my hands wildly in their direction, they merely cocked their heads at me curiously as if wondering whether the entertainment I was providing was free of charge, or whether I'd be collecting contributions later on in the evening. I was still shrieking, apparently loud enough to attract the attention of my neighbor, who rapped on my door to find out what was going on. "TZIPORIM!!!" I screamed, pointing towards my doorway and grabbing on to his arm for dear life.

My neighbor tried to calm me down, but when he realized his attempts would prove futile, he told me that he was running out to find some equipment. "Sit down," he encouraged me, and somehow I managed to take his advice. I gazed up at the birds, neither of whom had moved even an inch. Seeing as they didn't seem to be going anywhere, I picked up a volume of forgotten lore and decided to make my best attempt at resuming my regularly scheduled evening activity.

One might have thought, "Shale'ach Teshalach" teaches that one must go to mountains to seek to fulfill the Mitzvah - "Ki Yikarei" teaches, this is not so, only if it presents itself. (Chulin 139b)

Well well well, wasn't I lucky! The mitzvah of sending away the birds had presented itself to me; I didn't even have to seek it out. The Torah teaches that if a person comes upon a nest with a mother bird and its eggs, the person is obligated to send away the mother bird before taking the eggs. I had been planning on preparing an omelet for dinner, so clearly I was justified in my attempts to banish my feathered friends. Unfortunately, though, it looked like dinner was going to have to wait….

I realized that I ought to learn more about my never-flitting fowl. I have always thought that the only aspect of owning a pet that I would actually enjoy would be naming the creature. Well, here was my opportunity! Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night's Plutonian shore… I had just returned that evening from a seminar about Moshe and competing prophecies, and in the Torah reading cycle we are about to enter the wilderness of Sefer Bemidbar, so I decided to name my birds Eldad and Meidad. This way I could cry out in outrage, with the appropriate Biblical cadences, "Eldad and Meidad are roosting in my apartment!"

Eldad and Meidad, I decided, had been inside for a while. They were perfectly comfortable in their present perches (certainly more comfortable than I was in my own home at present, and I was the one paying the rent!), and they weren't making much noise—no rapping, tapping at my chamber door. Moreover, though I am no expert in such matters, it seemed that they had left several hours' worth of icky green goop all over my windowsill, my kitchen table, and my shtender. My Sifrei Kodesh, rest assured, remained blessedly untouched, which led me to wonder – was this a sign from Shamayim? Let me see what threat is, and this mystery explore-- Was Someone trying to tell me something?

I heard a voice wailing like a dove and saying, "Woe unto my sons because of whose sins I destroyed my home." (Brachot 3b)

In the Talmud, the dove is often a symbol for the Shechina, since doves are loyally monogamous their whole lives. Perhaps my pet prophets were there to rebuke me for blogging at length about the delight I take in my solitary state? Were the birds attempting to destroy my home lest I become too comfortable in my present accommodations? Leave my loneliness unbroken!... "Prophet!" said I. "thing of evil! – prophet still, if bird or devil." I thought for a moment. Maybe I should not be so quick to paint my visitors raven-black. Maybe they were intended as some sort of atonement, echad l'chatat v'echad l'olah. Still, was that really fair? It may not be good for man to be alone, I wanted to cry out in my own defense, but it's certainly worse for man to live with pigeons!

One may trap domesticated Herodian pigeons [on festivals]….. One may not trap pigeons that live in dove-coats and pigeons that live in attics. (Beitzah 24a)

I wondered if Eldad and Meidad were Herodian pigeons, that is, formerly wild birds who have learned how to live with human beings. These birds (and here I translate from Steinsaltz' zoographic marginalia) make their home in human habitations and are protected by their masters. They are named for Herod, the first to bring birds into his home. But I am no Herod, and my home is no Herodian mansion. If Eldad and Meidad were planning to stay in my one-bedroom apartment, then I would have to find a new place to spend the night…. Be that word our sign of parting, bird or fiend!

Just as I was plotting where I might find moorings on Night's Plutonian shore, my neighbor burst in with a broomstick , a wig, a towel, a laundry basin, and a can of anti-roach spray. A curious approach to the problem, aimed both at making me laugh and at banishing the offending creatures. He sent me out into the hallway (with Steinsaltz, of course), and when he summoned me back a few minutes later, it was to reassure me that alas, I would not need to sleep over in his apartment that evening after all…..

Now it is a full three hours later, but last I checked, Eldad and Meidad were still perched patiently on my windowsill, as if hoping to appeal to my Herodian sympathies. And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting. I am not a cruel person, but it was with some degree of triumph that I drew the casement tight and collapsed into bed with Steinsaltz, a pencil, and a cry of Nevermore.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

From my mother's guide to our Jerusalem apartment:

"Use the screens AT ALL times when the windows are open. Pigeons in Israel have an interest in entry into upper floor apartments with dreadful consequences. (THINK HITCHCOCK’S “BIRDS” CROSSED WITH THE ISRAELI DEFENSE FORCES.) This is critical."

7:58 PM  
Anonymous Salome said...

Uch, how gross! I can't get past the part where they shat eveywhere to appreciate the poetry. I hope you disinfected everywhere.

6:45 AM  

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