A Visitor to Beit Adar

Image: One very unhappy skunk. Photo by Rabbi Ruth Adar. “Beit Adar” means “The house of Adar.”

I woke this morning to the sound of three poodles barking. They were going absolutely bananas – something was wrong. I got my cane and went out back to investigate.

To my horror, the three of them were gathered around a skunk. I waded in and hollered “Leave it!” and when that didn’t work on one of them, used my cane to push her away. I locked the dogs in the house, much to their annoyance.

It seemed odd that the skunk had been sitting still for all the barking until I saw that she was stuck in a hole in the old wire fence. She had apparently used up her spray earlier, probably during the night, because I couldn’t get more than a slight whiff of the odor. She seemed exhausted.

(No, I do not know the gender of the skunk. I’m assuming, and perhaps projecting.)

I called Animal Control. The police department picked up, and they informed me that (1) Animal Control had been budget-cut out of existence and (2) I should call a pest control company. I called a couple of pest control companies, and they “don’t do skunks.” Slightly relieved (exterminators?!) I texted friends and family looking for suggestions.

My friend Jake texted me and said he was coming over. He threw a cloth over the skunk’s head and nipped the wires holding her. She backed out and headed down the hill. Now he’s out mending the fence for me.

So why put this on the blog? A couple of Jewish values came into play here.

  1. Chesed – kindness. Jake was kind to come over and help me. There was a time when I might have gone out there and cut the skunk free myself, but I am no longer able to do that sort of thing. He took time out of his day to help.
  2. Tza’ar ba’alei chayim is a negative commandment. We are commanded not to be unnecessarily cruel to animals. I did not let the dogs torment the skunk, even after I knew that she was unlikely to spray them. Jake was as gentle as he could be to the creature.  Leaving her caught in the fence would have been wrong. Killing her would also have been wrong, unless there was no way to free her.

Torah is not just about “spiritual” matters. In fact, within Torah there is no distinction between spiritual things and other things. Torah applies to all of life, even to a little skunk stuck in a fence.

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Rabbi Ruth Adar is a teaching rabbi in San Leandro, CA. She has many hats: rabbi, granny, and ham radio operator K6RAV. She blogs at http://coffeeshoprabbi.com/ and teaches at Jewish Gateways in Albany, CA.

12 thoughts on “A Visitor to Beit Adar”

  1. God bless Jake! I’m so glad the skunk didn’t have to die. I did NOT know that Animal Control is gone! That’s not good. I guess that’s something else to work on in the new year.

    Shana Tova!

    1. One of the things I love about Torah is that kindness is a part of the law. Sometimes we have no choice but to do something hurtful, but we are commanded to do things as kindly as possible. For instance, Maimonides teaches that if we have to say “no” to a person asking us for food, we must do so with compassion. No matter our opinion of the request, speaking scornfully or ignoring their humanity is not an option.

  2. I love your story. The skunks regularly come through my yard picking up the birdseed left at the base of the bird feeder. I make sure my dogs are in so they cannot bother them and wait until they have passed through. I understand skunks to be peaceful creatures. I’m glad you and Jake were able to find a way to send her on her way. Bless you both.

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