June 13, 2024
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Eikev: The Flight of the Hornet

Kovi Rappaport did not consider himself a particularly fearful fel­low. He had gone rock climbing in the Ozarks, had spelunked into deep caves in Thailand, and had even bungee-jumped off a bridge in New Zealand, though he never planned to repeat that feat. He was not acrophobic (afraid of heights), agorapho­bic (crowds), arachnophobic (spiders), astrap­ophobic (lightning), claustrophobic (confined spaces), coulrophobic (clowns), dentopho­bic (dentists), gatophobic (cats), glossophobic (public speaking), hypegiaphobic (responsibili­ty), or xenophobic (foreigners), but he did have issues.

Kovi was spending the summer working as the Division Head for the older boys at Camp Moledet, up in the mountains. He had worked at the camp the last three years, the first year as a life guard and the next two as a counselor. Now he had risen to a position of responsibility.

One sunny summer day, on his way from his bunk to the dining hall, Kovi spied a hor­net. Now Kovi was not ichthyphobic (fish) or bufonophobic (toads). He wasn’t even com­pletely entomophobic (insects). But as fate would have it, he was cnidophobic (fear of in­sects that sting). The hornet flew by, and Kovi altered his path to give it a wide berth. The hor­net turned and followed. Kovi looked behind him and saw the insect closing in. Attempt­ing to remain calm, he walked quickly toward the dining hall, with the bug in hot pursuit. He made it through the screen door, leaving the hornet just outside the portal, buzzing against the mesh.

Lunch was vegetable soup, potato blintz­es with sour cream, and–dare I say it?–bug juice. Kovi sat with his fellow staff members, chatting about activities and programming ideas, and enjoyed his meal as much as any young adult can savor camp cuisine. Af­ter saying Birkat Hamazon, the Grace af­ter Meals, Kovi left the dining hall with a group of 14-year-old campers, hoping to escort them to a rope-climbing activ­ity. Sure enough, right outside the front door of the dining hall, as if waiting for him to finish eating, the hornet hovered. Was it possible? Could it be the same in­sect? Could one bug be that smart, that cunning? Species Vespa crabro was not renowned for its great intelligence in the animal kingdom. These hornets were hard workers for sure and were said to at­tack only if they or their hive were threat­ened, but to wait outside for one par­ticular homo sapiens to return? Highly unlikely.

Kovi walked with the campers toward the ropes course. He tried not to look be­hind him (“if you ignore it, it will go away”), but he couldn’t help himself. There it was, two feet back at eye level. He could feel his heart beat­ing hard in his chest, and sweat was collecting on his forehead and in his armpits.

They say that one hornet sting is painful but not nearly fatal. Still, multiple stings (sever­al hundred) could be fatal due to the accumu­lated amount of venom.

Kovi broke away from the campers and veered toward Boy’s Campus. The hornet also left the group and followed Kovi. Was it the new deodorant he was wearing? Did it have pollen or tree sap in it? Was he emitting arthro­pod pheromones? This was bad. He could hear the hornet buzzing in his ear. It was so loud. He had to make it stop.

The dash across campus was frantic. With a look of terror on his face, Kovi began to sprint past the boy’s bunks and down the hill, toward the lake. He didn’t dare look, but he knew his multi-winged nemesis was hot on his trail.

Most phobics don’t know when their fears begin. It is, after all, irrational by definition. But as Kovi ran the length of Camp Moledet with all his remaining strength, stunned campers staring at him as he flew past, he knew exact­ly when his cnidophobia began. It was second grade, and Rabbi Danowitz, sweet old Rabbi Danowitz, was teaching them parshat hasha­vua, the weekly Torah portion. The rabbi was explaining how God vanquishes Israel’s ene­mies. He told the story of the tsirah, the swarm of hornets, who would sting the Canaanites in the eyes and kill them. Sometimes, the rabbi said, quoting Rashi, they would spew their poi­son from far way, killing Israel’s enemies from a distance.

As if that wasn’t enough to scare a 7-year-old out of a year’s growth, Rabbi Danowitz pulled out The Little Midrash Says, an illustrat­ed book of stories attributed to the great sag­es of Talmudic times. There, in volume two of the series (page 162– Kovi had consulted that page many times in his life) was a drawing so frightening, that as Rabbi Danowitz held it up to the class to see, one student (Debby Strum, a shy, cute little girl with a pony tail) actually started to cry. The insects were giant, the size of large farm animals. They had stingers as large as javelins, and they were chasing Canaanites with a vehemence that would make a horror movie director smile. The caption on the illus­tration read, “The tsirah-insects squirt poison into the Canaanites’ eyes when the Jews con­quer Eretz Yisroel. Our artist has drawn the in­sects extra large in order to give you a better understanding of the happenings.”

Enough said.

The lake was coming up fast, and Kovi did not break stride. He ran in fully clothed, sneak­ers and all, and didn’t stop until he was fully submerged. Was the hornet gone? He couldn’t see it anywhere.

The water felt good. As he trudged out of the lake, to the amazement of the 8-year-old girls who had instructional swim that after­noon, his sneakers squished with every step. He didn’t care. He was just glad to be alive and insect free.

As he sloshed back to his bunk to change his clothes, Kovi tried to find a silver lining to his extremely public, excessively embarrassing phobic escapade. Thank God Rabbi Danowitz didn’t show his second grade class scary pic­tures of the 10 plagues as well. He had a lit­tle bit of hemophobia (fear of blood) as it was. He really didn’t need to add the other nine plagues to his list.

Although, he wasn’t exactly crazy about the dark…

Larry Stiefel is a pediatrician at Tenafly Pediatrics and writes the parsha story blog Themaggidofbergenfield. com. He actually has no fear of insects, although he could live without snakes.

By Larry Stiefel

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