Archive for September, 2012

I must admit, when I first got married, I was a lazy bum. I didn’t help around the house at all, not with cleaning, not with cooking, not with laundry. I even remember having a conversation with my wife-to-be, during the period of our engagement, about who would change diapers when the time came, G-d willing, that we would have a baby. “No way,” I said. “No, Ma’am. There will be no diaper changing for me. That’s the mother’s job.” As a matter of fact, when the baby did arrive, I wouldn’t even get up at night when the baby cried. “The baby’s hungry,” I would say, “and I can’t really do anything about that myself.” I did like burping the baby, though. That was fun. As for the rest, well, “I just can’t do that stuff.”

Fast forward nearly nine years and four kids later, and over the course of time I learned that the key to success and happiness in marriage (and really all things) derives from hard work and sacrifice. And now, you wouldn’t believe it, but for the last two weeks I cooked the chicken for Shabbos (in fact, two weeks ago I made two kinds of chicken), and it came out absolutely phenomenal! So what changed?

Real life involves real challenges and a real man steps up to the plate and meets the challenge. There were those times that my wife got sick, or was wiped out after an exhausting week, or maybe just plain didn’t feel like cooking that day, when I, as the dutiful husband, had to just say, “I’ll take care of it.”  The same goes for cleaning house, doing laundry, or changing stinky poopy-pants. Nowadays, I do it all, and I’m gosh-darn proud of it!

Back to cooking. You know you’re a good cook when your kids start to compliment your cooking. I hear their excitement when I cook supper. “Tati (‘Daddy’ in Yiddish) is such a good cook!” One day my daughter watched me in awe as I prepared supper.

“Tati, how do you do that?” she asked, reverently.

“Talent,” I responded, arrogantly.

She paused, thoughtfully, then retorted, “But can you do a cartwheel?”

I was simultaneously stunned and shamed into silence. Indeed, despite all my arrogance, I cannot do a cartwheel, while my six-year-old daughter can.

Normally, an adult would brush off a comment like that from a child, but I am no normal adult. (Just ask anyone who knows me.) I take what kids say seriously, because kids are very honest; they haven’t yet learned the finer points of dishones– I mean, diplomacy. So I try to take the kernels of truth from children’s innocent statements and apply them in order to live a more truthful life.

The normal reaction to such a statement from a child would go something like this: “Cartwheel? ME?? What do cartwheels have to do with me? I’m not a cartwheel kind of guy.” And we move on, with no introspection, and thereby, no attempt or effort toward change. While this makes sense (perhaps) for something like cartwheels, I believe we too often do this in much more important areas of life. “Judaism? It’s interesting, it’s cool, I like being Jewish, I’m proud to be a Jew, but actually practicing Judaism? That’s not for me.” “Learning? Torah? That’s not my thing.” “Shabbos? I just can’t.”

But imagine if I had kept that attitude throughout my marriage. I don’t think I would have the nine wonderful years and four beautiful children I now have to show for it. Because being in a real loving relationship means giving everything you have to one another. And if you’re not willing to do that, if you’re only willing to take, something’s missing from the relationship.

We must remember that we are in a relationship with G-d; we are His children, we are His beloved. Of course an infinite G-d doesn’t need anything from us, but if there was no give-and-take between us, there would be no relationship. G-d gives us everything we have in this world (not too shabby — sight, sound, smell, taste, touch, arms, legs, ice cream, hot dogs, rainbows, waterfalls, sunsets — you get the point), and He asks in return a few small tokens of allegiance. Again, not for His own benefit, but for ours, so that we can connect to Him and live our lives imbued with a feeling of closeness to G-d, whenever and wherever we are, no matter what we may be going through. And, truth be told, when we analyze the actions we are “commanded” to perform by G-d (Sabbath, dietary laws, marital guidelines, etc.), we find that they very much enhance our physical pleasures and enjoyment in life. So even when G-d “takes,” He continues to give and give.

Rosh ha-Shanah, the Jewish New Year, is a time for re-inaugurating our relationship with G-d and with our fellow man (or woman). Let us reflect upon some of the things we’ve learned this past year or any year past and thought, “I would like to do that, I really should do that, but I just can’t,” and realize that we really can. It’s not easy, it requires hard work and sacrifice — but it’s worth it! The rewards in our lives will be great, if we are willing to work to achieve it.

So just as I once said, “I can’t, it’s not for me, it’s not my thing,” to cooking, cleaning, and changing, and yet I have proudly achieved them all since, it is my hope that one day I will look back once again and be able to proudly answer my daughter and say, “Yes, I can do cartwheels.” Perhaps not a physical cartwheel, but at least one in spirit.

This year, and in the years to come, may G-d grant all of us the strength to perform spiritual cartwheels, overcoming all of our self-imposed limitations, and may we merit to be inscribed in the Book of the Good Life in this world and the World to Come.

The following is a classic Jewish folktale I heard again and again since, probably, the 1st grade, usually known as “Hannah and Her Seven Sons.” In the classic telling of the story, we hear of a woman with seven sons that are coerced to bow to an idol by the abusive heathen overlord upon pain of death. Yet even under duress, these righteous young boys all faithfully adhere to their conviction not to bow down to an idol and thereby meet their death, sanctifying the name of the One True G-d in the process. Just beautiful. However, decades later, perusing through some Midrashic literature, I discovered the source for this story, and let me say, when examined in its original detail, the story, I found, is much more meaningful and moving. Here’s my loose translation of the text from Tana d’Vey Eliyahu Rabah, Ch. 30:

Hadrian Caesar came and seized a widow with her seven sons.

He said to her: “Who are you?”

She said to him: “I am a widowed woman.”

He said to her: “What are these children to you?”

She said to him: “They are my sons.”

Immediately he brought the first [son] and said to him: “Bow to this deity.

The child said to him: “G-d forbid! I will not bow to the handiwork of man! For so it is written in the Torah: ‘You shall know today and you shall set it into your heart that the Lord is G-d in the heavens above and upon the earth below — there is no other’ (Deuteronomy 4:39).”

Immediately [the Romans] took a sword and killed [the child]. 

He then brought the second [son] and said to him: “Bow to this deity!”

He said to him: “G-d forbid! I will not bow to the handiwork of man, for so it is written in the Torah: ‘For the Lord your G-d, He is the Power above all powers and Lord above all lords, the great, mighty and awesome G-d Who will not show favor nor take a bribe, Who performs justice for the orphan and widow’ (ibid v. 17-18).”

Immediately [Hadrian] commanded and they killed [the child].

He then brought the third [son] and said to him: “Bow to this deity!”

[The child] said to [Hadrian]: “G-d forbid! I will not bow to the handiwork of man, for so it is written in the Torah: ‘For you shall not bow to a foreign god, for Jealous G-d is His name; He is a jealous G-d’ (Exodus 34:14).”

Immediately, Hadrian commanded and they killed [the child].

[Hadrian] then brought the fourth [son] and said to him: “Bow to this deity.”

[The child] said to him: “I will not bow to the handiwork of man, for so it is written in the Torah: (verse missing from text).”

Immediately [Hadrian] commanded and they killed [the child].

[Hadrian] then brought the fifth son and said: “Bow to this deity!”

[The child] said: “God forbid! I will not bow to the handiwork of man, for so it is written in the Torah: ‘One who offers sacrifice to the gods shall be annihilated, except for [sacrifice] to the Lord alone’ (Exodus 22:19).”

Immediately [Hadrian] commanded and they killed him.

[Hadrian] then brought the sixth [son] and said to him: “Bow to this deity!” [The child] said: “God forbid! I will not bow to the handiwork of man, for so it is written in the Torah: ‘The Lord shall reign forever and ever’ (ibid. 15:18).”

Immediately [Hadrian] commanded and they killed him.

[Hadrian] then brought the seventh [son], the smallest of them all, and said to him: “Bow to this deity!”

[The child] said to him: “God forbid! I will not bow to the handiwork of man! We swore to the Holy One Blessed is He that we would not worship another god, and the Holy One Blessed is He swore to us that he would not trade us for another nation, as it says: ‘You (Israel) have chosen the Lord today to be your G-d, to go in His ways and to guard His statutes and His commandments and His ordinances, and to hearken to His voice, and the Lord has chosen you today to be for Him a treasured nation as He has spoken to you, that you should keep all of His commandments, and to set you most high over all the nations that He made, for praise, for a name, for splendor, and for you to be a holy people to the Lord your G-d as He has spoken’ (Deuteronomy 26:17-19).”

The Caesar said to [the child]: “If you will not bow to this deity, behold, I will throw for you this ring before [the idol] in order that [when you bend down to pick it up] those standing before me will say that you obeyed the words of the Caesar and bowed to this deity.”

The child said to him: “Shame on you, Caesar, for the words that you say to me! You are flesh and blood and are ashamed of flesh and blood like yourself (i.e. you are trying to save face through this charade because you are embarrassed that even young children will not obey you)! How then shall I not be ashamed before the King who is King of Kings, the Holy One Blessed is He?”

The Caesar said to him: “Is there indeed a G-d in the world?”

[The child] said to him: “Have you seen a haphazard world?” 

[Hadrian Caesar] said to him: “If indeed your G-d has the power, why has He not saved you from my hands?”

[The child] said to him: “You world-class fool! You are not worthy that [G-d] should render miracles on your account! Furthermore, we have [clearly] been found liable to death by the Holy One Blessed is He, and if you would not kill us, the Everpresent One has many agents of death — bears and tigers and snakes and scorpions and many lions that could strike us!”

Immediately [Hadrian] commanded to kill [the child]. Immediately their mother came and said to the Caesar: “By your life, O Caesar, give me my son so that I may kiss him first!” Immediately they gave him to her and she caressed him and hugged him and kissed him and put her nipple into his mouth, and honey and milk fell to the ground [i.e. together with her milk that dripped down, the child’s words, that were sweet as honey, fell upon deaf ears and were not heeded (according to Tuvey Chayim citing Meorey Esh)]…

[The widow] then said to [Hadrian]: “By your life, O Caesar, put the sword upon my neck and upon my son’s neck together!”

The Caesar said: “G-d forbid! I will not do so for so it is written in your Torah: ‘You shall not slaughter an ox or lamb and its child on the same day’ (Leviticus 22:28).”

The child said to him: “You world-class fool! Have you upheld any of the Torah other than this verse?”

Immediately they cut off [the child]’s head. The Sages calculated the years of the child and found that he was two years, six months, and seven and a half hours old.

At that time, the heathens began pulling out the hair [of their heads] and their beards and crying a great cry. They said: “How great are the deeds of the Father of these [Jews] and how great is His praise that they [allow themselves] to be killed so over Him.” …

At that time, their mother said to them: “My sons, go and say to our forefather Abraham, ‘Do not think highly of yourself, saying, ‘I built an altar and brought up my son Isaac upon it,” for I built seven altars and brought up upon them my seven sons in one day. And Abraham was only tested to do so and did not carry out the action, but I carried out the action.” She then said to them: “My sons, fortunate are you that you carried out the will of your Father in Heaven, and you only came into the world so that His holy name would be sanctified through you, as it says: ‘Through those who are close to Me, I am sanctified’ (Leviticus 10:3).” She immediately ascended to the roof and fell and died. A heavenly voice came forth and said, “The mother of the children is happy” (Psalms 113:9).


One of the Most Dangerous Roads

Posted: September 9, 2012 in Uncategorized