What can rats teach us in a time of pandemic?

Though rat bites can cause a nasty condition called hantavirus, we are healthy, thank God a million times, but our furry frenemies? They are with us.

Cartoon rats (Illustrative) (photo credit: TNS)
Cartoon rats (Illustrative)
(photo credit: TNS)
Yes, along with the other curses of this season we have rats. You know – those long-tailed, furry creatures that brought us the bubonic plague.
Some of my neighbor have been invaded by the same critters but they call them mice, as in Mickey and Minnie. That sounds less menacing.
Though rat bites can cause a nasty condition called hantavirus, we are healthy, thank God a million times, but our furry frenemies? They are with us. We can’t see them, but we see their telltale signs in our dishwasher – they have eaten the wires causing damage necessitating a costly repair. They also leave droppings in other spots. I’ll spare you the gory details, but yuck and double yuck.
Why have they come? Is this just bad luck, the result of living around never-ending construction or perhaps bad housekeeping? Maybe – but maybe there is more.
Perek Shira or the Chapter of Song, an ancient mystical text possibly penned by the poet laureate of the Jews, King David, posits that all of the universe, rats included, form a giant choir singing to God. Perek Shira even gives us the rat’s solo. “Let every soul praise God.”
WHAT LESSON does this teach? That we must love this most unlovable of creatures, perhaps? I’m not there, but here are a few lessons I have learned from my latest teacher, the rat.
1. Have no pride. Until they squatted in my kitchen, I assumed that humans who coexisted with rats were defective or at the very least were clueless about the basics of keeping house. No more. I keep a clean house. I even have cleaning help – yet here they are. I am powerless.
2. No more blind faith in experts. I’ve called in exterminators. The first set out poisoned bait traps sending the rats to die a slow and excruciating death deep in their holes leaving a terrible stench. That method was neither humane nor smart. Seven months later their progeny or perhaps their second cousins returned. Not knowing better, I called back the original exterminator – he’s left the business. Now he’s selling candy – yes, truth is stranger than fiction. The new exterminator used a poison-infused steel wool, apparently gentler, as the next day I found droppings. I wonder if we’ll ever get through this. Oy vey.
3. Keep an open mind. One of my sons introduced me to a 10-hour long video of a strange-sounding high-pitched whistle that rats and other critters hate. It has scored more than two million YouTube hits – apparently, I’m not alone. I’ve been running it each night So far, no action but we’re trying and for good measure I’ve also hung up a magnet picture of Rav Shayaleh Kerestir, the early 20th-century Hungarian rabbi whose sweet face causes rodents and pests to depart. At this point I’ll try anything (or almost anything).
4. I am stronger than I think and I can do things I never believed I could do. Last week, one the rats crawled into a trap. We use live cages (similar to the ones in which the US government scandalously houses illegal immigrant children). Unlike the snap trap with its instant kill, the cage traps cast the owner as angel of death. Yes, I drowned the rat– perhaps I should print this factoid on a T-shirt. I’ll spare the details but rat euthanasia goes quickly. I never thought I could but then again, I never thought I could make aliyah, drive a car, push out babies or raise them. Life is about the stretch and this certainly was one.
5. I’ve learned to calm down. To quote my late mother, “You get used to the tzuris and you live in contentment.”
6. And I’m beginning to understand my late mother-in-law’s cleanliness fetish. When the rats invade, we must become warriors.
IN THE grand scheme of things, my rodent problem is but a hiccup worthy of attention – but not obsession. My mental health thrives when I focus on the flowers rather than the proverbial weeds.
Let the old year and its curses depart. Let the new year and its blessings arrive. 