Last Shabbos was my father-in-law’s tenth yartzeit. In its honor, my husband asked me to invite his family for Shabbos dinner. I surprised myself with my eagerness–Shabbos preparation takes a lot of time and effort, especially given my newfound commitment to writing. But, thank G-d, no doubt in the merit of Chaim Leib ben Yehuda Avraham, everything came together.
You see, every week there’s an important pre-Shabbos to-do list. Things like turn off the house alarm, set the refrigerator to Sabbath mode, plug in the hot water urn. Because three of our married children and their families would be staying in our house for Shabbos, I figured we’d need our larger urn so there would be enough hot water for the whole Shabbos. I rarely offer tea after Friday night dinner just to make sure there’s enough hot water for the essentials– warm baby bottles and, especially, instant coffee on Shabbos morning.
Shabbos morning breakfast is a treat in our house. I’m not sure where they got their information, but my kids tell me it’s practically a mitzvah to have cake on Shabbos mornings. Which, of course, means there should be hot water for coffee, too.
This usually doesn’t present a problem. Plug in the urn before Shabbos and finished. Although I typically use a smaller urn, I didn’t think anything was wrong with the larger one because I saw that the green light was on. Nisson, our newest son in law, had dutifully plugged it in. It was only when our daughter Rivky went to get some hot water after Shabbos had started that I heard these awful words: the water’s not hot.
I put my hand to the urn. Green light or no green light, the metal was cold to the touch. There was nothing I could do; Torah law forbids me to start the cooking process on Shabbos.
When the men returned from shul, the house was filled with the smell of warm, fresh challah and chicken soup. But it didn’t matter. I greeted my husband Zev with the grim news, made all the more difficult by the fact that he had just walked in from the frigid temperature and snow covered ground outside.
With his coat still on, he looked at the urn incredulously, then removed his frozen, fogged-up glasses to examine it more closely. He showed me the dial next to the green light, the dial that allows you to heat the water to the desired temperature, the dial that hadn’t been touched. We’ve used this urn before and there were many cooks in the kitchen last Friday, but the right pair of eyes didn’t see that the dial hadn’t been turned. He started to ask how such a thing could happen but he stopped himself. Thank G-d, every other detail of our Shabbos meal had come together seamlessly; somehow, we would get through this.
It was G-d’s will. There would be tolerable coffee in shul, cold coffee at home. No, it wasn’t what anybody would wish for on a freezing Shabbos morning, but we would have to accept it with joy. It would be our chance to show Him how much we love keeping the laws of Shabbos, even when it involves mesirus nefesh, self-sacrifice.
Of course, this is just a teeny-tiny test, but even teeny-tiny tests share the same essence: they’re not what we want.
In this case, it didn’t take long for everyone to recover, even see the good in it. Soon we were making jokes and I had the feeling I would have something to write about. (And, thank G-d, although we didn’t know it on Friday night, cold coffee is very drinkable.)
But what about real tests? For all the good G-d has done in the world, the fact that He created suffering gives Him a bad name. So bad that a lot of people don’t want to have anything to do with Him.
Just the word “suffering” sends shivers up my spine. There’s the physical kind, the spiritual kind, psychological, emotional, explainable, unexplainable. The kind that should go away, could go away, or G-d forbid, looks like it’s in for the duration.
We’re told to pray that G-d doesn’t test us, making it sound like tests are the worst things on the planet.
As Jews, we have known a disproportionate amount of tests, which makes G-d look really bad. One could argue that if this is how He treats His chosen people, better to not be chosen.
And yet, we’re still here.
This is what I say to myself every time I’m in shul. Not a “we’re still here” in that we haven’t been obliterated, but a “we’re still here” in that, despite all the reasons He’s given us to send Him packing, we still want to be close to Him. Even though He shows His love for us by testing us.
As I was writing, my daughter Elkie called from California. She was trying to sit and finally eat breakfast at 11:30, but one of her two-year-old twins knocked over her bowl of cereal. I heard the familiar groan that only a mother can make.
I have often wondered, if G-d wants us to have children, why did He make it so difficult? When I told my kids to get out of the bathtub, why didn’t they just do it?
Apparently, there’s a satisfaction that comes after enduring these difficulties, when the children are grown and we see that we didn’t do such a bad job after all. But this joy can only be experienced in retrospect.
I recently read a story about a Jew who endured tremendous hardships and yet accepted them lovingly as G-d’s will. Nearing the end of his life, he said he was grateful for a special merit: despite his travails, his love of G-d was unwavering.
Which brings me to my last point.
We are getting close to the end of our Jewish “life” as we know it. The long-awaited Redemption is imminent, a time when we will be able to look back on all of the indignities, all of the tests, all of the suffering, and know that we withstood them all. We didn’t give up on G-d.
And when Moshiach actually does come, when G-d finally fulfills His original promise, this knowledge will be the source of our great joy.
Tomorrow is the 10th of Teves, a day of mourning which marks the day that the Babylonians surrounded the city of Jerusalem almost 2500 years ago. The Holy Temple was ultimately destroyed, resulting in the phenomenon known as golus, exile, which, after 2500 years, means that we’ve been down so long it looks like up to us.
It is typically commemorated as a fast day, but maybe, just maybe, tomorrow it will be celebrated with the ultimate joy of Moshiach’s arrival.
If not, it’s just another test. And I’ll try to learn from last week’s and be sure to check the urn.