It was as if I had stumbled onto a set of an Alfred Hitchcock movie, only this one starred bees, not birds.
It was early on a peaceful Saturday morning. Nary the roar of a single car could be heard on the street below.
Birds chirped from trees outside the window. A pigeon cooed from my balcony. It was a classic, still, Shabbat morning.
I tripped out of bed and headed to the kitchen, on my way to shul, happy not to be working this day. In the hall my still-bleary eyes spotted what looked like a dead bee on the floor.
“Hmm,” I thought. “Now how did that get there?” But my mind didn’t linger too long with that thought, for it was not that unusual. This is springtime in Israel, the season when assorted creepy crawlers and flying insects infiltrate the home.
And then I saw it.
Taking another step into the kitchen, I was met not by tiles shining from the obligatory Friday afternoon sponja, but by what must have been at least 100 bees lying dead and dying on the floor.
“Holy moly,” I uttered, falling back on the exclamations of my youth, something that happens whenever I’m startled. And I was definitely startled.
This was a creepy sight: a sea of expired, or rapidly expiring, bees.
MY FIRST thought was what the heck to do. Some of the bees were dead, others in their death throes, their little wings flapping their last flap. Since it was Shabbat and I was halachically proscribed from killing them (killing anything is prohibited on Shabbat, except in life-threatening situations), I simply swept them up in a dust pan and took them down to the street below.
I took them down quickly, somewhat furtively, almost guiltily, not wanting to answer any questions from neighbors.
“Why are you running down the steps in your slippers with a dustpan full of bees, Herb?” Or, “New hobby?” Or, “Bee hunting on Shabbat?” My second thought was, what the heck is going on? It turns out that a swarm of bees had found a new home on the window ledge of our upstairs neighbor. On Shabbat we keep the fluorescent light in the kitchen on all night, and apparently the bees were attracted to the light, and figured a way into my apartment – attaching themselves to the bulb.
The heat of the light is what did the bees in, and – with a muffled plop – they fell by the scores to my kitchen floor (some were still falling as I was sweeping the others up). I made a mental note, filed it away as a “teaching moment,” and vowed to use it someday when I wanted to warn the kids about being attracted to something, or somebody, that could eventually do them harm.
MY THIRD thought, and indeed the dominant one, was who the heck to blame? I mean, bees don’t just normally swarm into your kitchen like a biblical plague and flock to the light fixture. Who’s responsible for the bees’ nest in the first place? Who left the window open a crack for the bees to fly in? Who didn’t fix the bee-sized hole in the screen? But I was stuck, because the only one home with me that Shabbat – The Wife was away at a work retreat – was Skippy, my son in the army.
And even if I wanted to blame Skippy, I couldn’t do so in good conscience. I have a hard-and-fast rule: when one of the kids is in the army, don’t ride him or blame him or overwork him. He’s surely getting enough of that already in his day and night job; that’s what sergeants are for.
That policy works fine when only one son is in the army, because that still gives me another three kids whom I can ride and blame and overwork. The real test will come at the end of this summer, when my youngest is scheduled to join up, and then I will have two sons in uniform.
I can lay off one kid for three years, but two at once may prove a bit much.
Ordinarily I would have found a way to blame the other three kids for the bee fiasco, but they, too, were not home, and even by my liberal standards it would have been a stretch to accuse them of leaving the kitchen window open a crack when they were last home two weeks ago.
THAT THE Wife was not home that particular Shabbat was most inopportune, for she is always the most convenient person to wag a finger at.
After first discovering the bees, I could have blamed her for causing the problem because she likes honey; or because she donated once to a charity trying to save the world’s dwindling bee population; or because she didn’t go upstairs and tell the neighbor to get the damn bees’ nest removed once and for all.
“Why do you always have to blame somebody?” she responded after she returned home from her retreat, and I bombarded her with the tale. “Maybe it just happened.”
Naw, I thought, silently blaming her for not being around that morning to deal with the situation. Things like this just don’t happen. Someone is responsible; someone needs to be yelled at; someone needs to be blamed. After more than three decades in this land, I had internalized this country’s penchant for always looking to find someone responsible for everything, a tendency that plays itself out in our constant demands for committees of inquiry.
The urge to blame is deeply ingrained in the human psyche, not only the Israeli one, explained The Wife, who understands from these psychological phenomena.
As humans, we are wired to blame others: it has to do with maintaining our status, protecting our self-image, evading and avoiding personal responsibility.
Husbands blame wives, parents blame kids, employers blame employees, countries blame each other, and – paraphrasing Tom Lehrer’s classic 1965 song “National Brotherhood Week” – everyone blames Israel.
“And it all starts,” The Wife continued, now on a roll, “with you wanting to blame somebody else for dead bees in the apartment.”
“But it’s not my fault,” I respond, placed on the defensive. “I get this trait from my dad. Go blame him.” A collection of the writer’s ‘Out There’ columns, French Fries in Pita, is available at www.herbkeinon.com and www.amazon.com