Home December 2014 Mishnah and Monkeys

Mishnah and Monkeys

1214mayravsaarYour mother is a rhinoceros.

You heard me right. I called yo’ mamma a rhino.

Most species of rhinoceroses are endangered, meaning in a few generations there might not be any of them left. This is tragic. But then, your mother is definitely the only one of her kind on the planet. And when was the last time you worried about her?

I love animals as much as the next (meat-eating, leather-wearing) girl, but I am constantly astounded that people can get so worked up about preserving species while remaining so blasé about nurturing individuals.

This is an actual conversation I heard by actual women standing in front of a display of Gorilla Munch cereal at Trader Joe’s:

“Gorillas are, like, going extinct.”

“That’s so sad. So, anyway, my mom called me, like, 12 times yesterday and then when I called her back she was, like, ‘I don’t have time to talk to you.’ And I’m all, like, ‘You called me,’ and she’s like, ‘I know, I was kidding. This is my sense of humor.’ Ugh! I just can’t deal with her.”

If only that woman’s mother were a gorilla. The dewy-eyed primate on the box of breakfast cereal inspired more empathy from the woman than her clearly lonely mother.

There is only one of any one of us. When you die, the only you that ever existed will no longer exist. And, yet, we don’t we treat each other like the endangered creatures we clearly are.

Take a trip to the San Diego Wild Animal Park, and you’ll learn that saving a few animals in captivity is our only hope to save whole species. But in the Mishnah, we’re taught that “to save one person is to save the whole world.” Jewish sages understood the elevated importance of the individual, an appreciation that has gone extinct.

Today we are more likely to be moved by the plight of whales than by the quiet loneliness of the people we thumb-type next to at the breakfast table.

So, if it helps you understand how precious our relationships are, think of your mother as a rhinoceros. Your father is a chimpanzee. And that friend of yours that you absolutely “adore” but never have time to get together with, she’s an African wild dog.

And the next time someone calls your mother a rhino, ask yourself, “When was the last time I called my mother at all?”

Mayrav Saar is a writer based in Los Angeles.

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