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.