After my guinea pig, Oreo, died three months ago, I went to the animal shelter where I adopted my other guinea pig, Squirrel, and picked out a new buddy for Squirrel. The new pet was known as Pollie (we changed his name to Slinky because when he stood on his hind legs he stretched like a slinky).
Squirrel had a seamless transition with Oreo. Years earlier, my daughter had gotten Oreo for her other guinea pig, Chestnut. Based on these experiences, I did not expect any problem having Pollie interact with Squirrel, despite the warnings that I have read about introducing two adult males to each other. I had picked Slinky out based on seeing him in the cage with the other guinea pigs as well as his record. He seemed to be a scared docile pig. Well, I was wrong. I repeatedly tried getting them to meet in a neutral area such as the corral. Slinky was territorial and would bully Squirrel. Squirrel was stressed dealing with Slinky. In contrast, when it came to dealing with people, Slinky would squeal with excitement. I think he only associated me with food though, because he did not like to be held. It was a hard decision to give Slinky back to the shelter. However, the current situation was doing neither one any good. Hopefully, both of them will find another male guinea pig with whom they can get along.
I was disappointed with the outcome and felt that maybe I could have done something different. Then I thought of my experiences of being introduced to new roommates. In this respect, guinea pigs are no different than humans. You never know for sure if people who live together will get along. I dormed while I was in high school and in college and part of the time in law school. I had some very good roommates. I am still in touch with two of my roommates. I go to their children’s weddings, and they come to mine. I also had some duds. I remember guys who came to school as friends but did not get along as roommates. There are no guarantees.
On an unrelated topic, Tisha B’Av will be coming next week. The most famous story involves Kamtza and Bar Kamtza, which is mentioned in Talmud tractate Gittin 55b-65a. What is less well known is that the story is also mentioned in Midrash Eichah with some significant changes, some of which I will mention. The relevant part of the story for this column is that Bar Kamtza was an enemy of the host of a large event with many important individuals, including rabbis. Kamtza was supposed to be invited. Instead, Bar Kamtza was accidentally invited and came. The host saw him and wanted him to leave. Bar Kamtza tried to convince the host to let him stay so he would not be embarrassed, and raised the ante by offering to pay for the entire event. That showed that Bar Kamtza was also a man of means. The host refused his offers. The Gemara in Gittin said the host physically removed him.
In the Talmud it says that Bar Kamtza was upset that the rabbis did not do anything, but did not mention any particular rabbi. Rabbi Zecharyah ben Avkulas was mentioned in the Talmud as being too humble, which caused the destruction of the Temple and the fall of Jerusalem. However, the conduct listed did not relate to the banquet. Interestingly, the midrash listed this rabbi as being present at the banquet, but due to his modesty, he did not speak up. This failure to speak up caused the destruction. In the midrash, it states that Bar Kamtza was not only upset with the inaction by the rabbis who were present but with all of the guests. Rabbi Zecharyah’s failure to say anything was due to modesty. However, there is no mention why no one else wanted to speak out. Were they afraid of upsetting the host who was clearly politically connected? Did they think that it would be waste of time to speak out? Did they think that this was a minor incident and that they needed to use their energy for more important things?
We will never know why they did nothing, but we see the ramifications. Imagine if one person had the courage to speak out. It probably would not have changed the host’s actions, but it would have stopped Bar Kamtza from his vengeance. Bar Kamtza thought the host was a jerk. Therefore, he would not have been upset if the host had not listened to someone who told the host not to embarrass Bar Kamtza. What upset Bar Kamtza was that no one lifted a finger to say anything, and instead let him be publicly humiliated. This may be an extreme example, but it gives guidelines that apply in other situations. Every person matters. Don’t think that even if the person who you are addressing does not listen to you that it is a futile effort. It may have an effect on a third person, which may be more significant.