In the mid-1860’s, a French scientist named Etienne Trouvelot spent time raising silkworms in Medford, Massachussetts. Seeking a way to make them more resistant to predators, he decided to breed them with a hardier species of caterpillar. He therefore brought Gypsy moth eggs over from Europe.
His experiments to breed the two species failed as did his efforts to keep the Gypsy moth larvae contained. With no natural predators to kill them, the moth population grew each year until it overcame the town in 1889. There were caterpillars everywhere: covering homes, trampled underfoot on roads and steps, and completely covering trees. They defoliated every tree in town and in the 150 years since they were introduced, these devastating pests have spread throughout the east coast and to the mid-west, defoliating tens of millions of acres of hardwood trees as they continue to spread. The population is somewhat controlled by frequent pesticide usage and untold millions of dollars spent on this but they do continue to spread through the country at a rate of about 10 miles per year.
Monsieur Trouvelot thought that bringing these moths into would make him a rich man in the silk industry but in the end the results of his personal scheme became everyone else’s problem. Had he only considered the fact that there would be no way to stop the moths, we can only imagine and hope he would have thought twice before following through on his plans.
Recently we’ve been experiencing a rash of measles outbreaks. People who chose not to vaccinate their children created the setting for this disease to spread, infecting others and leading to deaths and debilitating diseases. I’m not about to get into the discussion of whether people should vaccinate or shouldn’t (they should) and I know I won’t convince anyone to change their positions. I wanted to share a sign posted by a doctor who was trying to bring out the truth of the situation – there are consequences to every decision. He wrote:
“Not vaccinating your kids leaves them vulnerable to disease their whole lives.
When your daughter gets rubella when pregnant, how are you going to explain that you chose to leave her at risk?
What will you say when she calls you and tells you she has cervical cancer, because you decided that she wouldn’t need the HPV vaccine?
What do you tell your son when he breaks the news to you that he cannot have kids, thanks to the mumps he got as a teenager?
And what do you say when he gives influenza to his grandma? How do you explain that she won’t be coming home from the hospital? Not ever.
Do you tell them that you didn’t think these diseases were that serious? That you thought your organic, home-cooked food was enough to protect them?
Do you say sorry?”
I know that some people will be upset that I shared this here, saying that vaccinations can be dangerous (though medical studies show this to be false), that they don’t do anything (same falseness), and that HaShem will protect your family from these diseases. Of course, He could also save you from the potential negative impacts of the vaccines.
The reason I shared this, however, is because this doctor pointed out that there are stark, permanent consequences for the decisions we make. The colorful New York Yankee player, coach and manager Yogi Berra is famously quoted as having said, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it!”
The thing is, I don’t see life as a straight road with an occasional fork in in. Rather, from the time we arise until the time we go to sleep, we are constantly faced with decisions and choices to make. It’s not a fork, it’s a whole set of cutlery and we should watch out not to get hurt!
Whether we should say this, do that, or go there may seem like no big deal, but just as Trouvelot’s personal decision to introduce the Gypsy moth has repercussions affecting millions of people for hundreds of years, every choice and decision we make will have some consequences that we or others will have to live with. Our natural human nature is to figure we’re not hurting anyone with whatever we do, but that’s rarely true.
If someone’s child died because they weren’t vaccinated Chas V’Shalom, or worse, if their child and the children of others died, it’s because of a choice someone made, right or wrong. If we decided to skip davening one day, and our tefilos could have saved us or someone else from pain, it was our decision.
One day each of us will have to give an accounting to Hashem of everything we did and also didn’t do and face the reality of the consequences we caused. If we said a mean word to someone and they passed it on to their spouse, we’re responsible for that lack of Shalom Bayis. If it goes downhill and they split, causing pain to their children; if those children are dysfunctional and do harm to others, that can all be traced back to our small, “insignificant” decision to say what we did.
I know this article wasn’t the light-hearted piece you might have been expecting or preferred. I made the choice to say what I thought had to be said. If you’re reading this, you made the choice to listen. I hope both our choices will generate positive results.
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