Monday, March 27, 2017

Now We Are Free Men/A Personal Story

By An Anonymous Yid

Last Pesach was an especially uplifting and inspiring experience, and although I am somewhat ashamed to write my story, I feel obligated to share it, so others can learn from it as well. It was erev Pesach and the beginning days of spring. I was ambling down the streets of my neighborhood laden with bags and packages. While stopping for a minute to clean my glasses from the yellow dust that covered the lens, with my shortsighted vision I tried to dodge the rushing rivers of soapy water flowing from the nearby houses. I was making my way home, but as slowly as possible, trying to extend my time outdoors for as long as possible… just a few more sweet moments of freedom…. I knew what would be waiting for me at home. Total chaos: screaming overtired kids, an overworked, starving wife, and lists upon lists of undone chores. The house would be turned inside out and upside down and I would not be able to find a single place to put myself down to rest. 

A shrill sound shattered my moments of calm – my cell phone. It was my irate wife on the line. “There is so much to do! Why aren’t you home yet? And the kids! They are driving me up the wall! You must come home and help me take care of things. Please, do something!” She hung up without a goodbye, and as I slipped my phone back into my pocket I recalled the message I got earlier that morning from the bank, informing me that I was coming too close to the end of my savings. I hurried up, kicking the pebbles that rolled beneath my feet. While walking up the driveway, even before I opened the door, I could hear the ruckus coming from within – screaming and crying, and thuds of items falling all over. Bedlam. I walked in and I am ashamed to tell you how I looked – it was good I had no mirror close by. My utter exhaustion, the bank warning, and the total pandemonium all caught up to me and weighed me down like a ton. My face turned red as I tried to control myself, but I didn’t succeed and began to scream at everyone. “That’s IT! It’s too much for me! I can’t take this anymore!” The rag pile with her big eyes, otherwise known as my wonderful wife, was on the receiving end of most of my not-so-pleasant “comments.” So was my three-year old with his big, innocent eyes. I really couldn’t take it. Just then, my red face grew even redder as I saw my chubby eight-year-old walk out of a kosherl’Pesach room holding a chocolate-covered wafer in his hands. Not kosher anymore. The crumbs made a trail after him and he ran up to me with bright wide eyes. “Look, Daddy! Look what the neighbor just gave us! A whole crate of chocolate-covered wafers! All for us!! Isn’t it great?!” He looked up at me, his eyes expectant, but all that came out of my mouth was a blood-curdling scream – “Get that stuff out of the house immediately! IMMEDIATELY, you hear?” I couldn’t recognize myself. This was the situation that erev Pesach, day in and day out. We were emotionally wrecked and I pledged to do everything to not have to make Pesach the following year, even if it meant finding a way to go to a hotel, which I abhorred. My days passed angry, depressed, and cranky. Oh, yes, I helped plenty, but everything was with a frown and complaint. I just couldn’t stop. Perhaps I was just addicted to my negative behavior. 

And then it happened. It was five days before Pesach. I went to take out the trash and while crossing the road to the bins, a car came careening down our quiet little street and I was suddenly catapulted into the air. One minute I was standing on my own two feet, and the next minute I found myself lying on a white hospital bed, looking up at my wife’s worried face. Two days passed in mock-relaxation in the hospital, where I was kept for observation and tests. I couldn’t stop thinking of all the work that needed to be done at home, and how my poor wife was dealing with everything all alone, without my help. But, baruch Hashem, virtually all the tests came back clear, revealing only minor injuries. I was soon discharged from the hospital with only a cast on my hand.

It was “only” a fracture of the hand, but it was my right hand and I couldn’t use it. Suddenly I couldn’t lay my tefillin, wash my hands, or even sign a check properly! No more could I be of much help at home. And suddenly I realized how crucial our hands are, able to do as many as twenty things a minute! How is it that I never thought of saying “Thank You” to Hashem for that simple – not-so-simple – hand? Before”hand”, I was depressed because of all the work. Now, all I could think of was my hand, and oh, how I wished to be able to carry more groceries! As soon as I realized my hand was fractured, I could not stop appreciating the gift called a “hand.” And after realizing that it was truly a gift from Hashem, I began noticing all the gifts in my life, gifts I had been given by Hashem in His magnanimous grace and love for me. How had I been so blind? How could I have failed to see Hashem’s kindnesses to me? Why had I spent so much time walking around and complaining? I cried tears of stupidity and blindness, and with them, the bitterness and complaints must have washed away…. 

As soon I was discharged from the hospital, I shared with my wife this new revelation and she said that she had been thinking the same. We decided that this had to change and from now on we would try to focus on the wonderful gifts in our life. Upon arriving home, before anything else, we both sat down at the breakfast table. My wife had a pile of paper and we each took some sheets and we both started writing our thanks to Hashem for what we were grateful. My wife filled her pages much faster than me (how fast can you write with your left hand?), but I persisted: “Thank You, Hashem, for Your great kindness in giving us chag HaPesach, the glorious yom tov that will soon be coming! Thank You, Hashem, that we are able to clean our house. Thank You for our family’s healthy hands (I underlined that one a few times for emphasis)! We are able to work, baruch Hashem!” I stopped for a minute to peek at my wife’s paper, but she didn’t notice. She was going full speed ahead – “Thank You, Hashem, for the five sweetest gifts that You gave us in Your infinite mercy! Thank You that they are normal and sometimes make clean places dirty and make healthy messes out of neatness… thank You that they scream when they are tired and kvetch when they are hungry…thank You! There are no greater gifts in the world than them!” I looked up at the living-room crowded with items that had come from all over the house. “Thank You, Hashem, for all the things You gave us, all the items we use to do our jobs, and in such abundance, straight from Your wide-open Hand.” I stopped and smiled. “And above all, Ribbono Shel Olam, I thank You from the deepest place in my heart for the strain and toil for the sake of a mitzva! For the zechus of having been able to prepare for Pesach and it all is a mitzva! Some people do spring cleaning without the reward of a mitzva, but we merit the reward for a mitzva for each and every action we do lichvod hachag, in honor of Pesach!” I hung my paper near my bed and every morning when I opened my eyes, the first thing I would see were my own words of gratitude. The following days were especially beautiful. We started the mornings with “Thank You, Hashem, for…”, and continued this way throughout the day. The kids, with their creative minds, cheerfully helped us along. Now it’s almost Pesach again. We won’t be going to a hotel. 

We are again preparing for this magnificent yom tov, baruch Hashem. But this time we have a different perspective, a perspective of gratitude to Hashem Yisbarach. We are no longer slaves to the problems and difficulties, chained to our discomfort and frustrations. Now we are free men. We know how to lift up our eyes and see above it all, to see our blessings everywhere. Dear readers, soon we will be celebrating Pesach, b’ez”H. On Seder night, we will be sitting before a beautifully laid table covered with wine and matzo and we will joyfully recount yetzias Mitzraim, our departure and freedom from Egypt. Will we also bring to these holy moments grumbles, complaints, and arguments? Or, will our hearts be overflowing with profound thankfulness to Hashem, feeling that everything is good and that we are truly b’nei chorin? The choice is ours. May we merit to truly be free.

[Kol Toda Number 23]