Saturday, May 25, 2024

Carrots and Kishke

Not long ago, this author's family came upon a vast quantity of carrots. While they were surely appreciated, it was simply too much. After all, there are only so many carrots one family can use. Thankfully, a number of friends and neighbors were glad to have some carrots as well, which was a win-win situation: they got some carrots, while our pile of carrots diminished - at least somewhat.

Upon delivering a full bag of carrots to one particular home, the housewife – always upbeat – excitedly exclaimed, “Ooooh, we’re going to make kishke!”

I must confess that this statement led me to figure that carrots must have something to do with kishke, although it wasn’t necessarily something I could have told you on my own. After arriving home, though, the culinary experts indeed confirmed that with carrots one can create delicious kishke.


It was at that moment that I experienced an epiphany: We’re all aware of the famous adage that when life gives us lemons, we should make lemonade. Well, by the same token, when life brings us carrots, shouldn’t we be making kishke?


After all, this kishke recipe, as I had learned, contains not only carrots, but onions as well. Onions? Aren’t onions sharp and not necessarily pleasant to eat? (Our apologies, of course, to those who love onions in any shape or form.) Turns out that when blended with the rest of the kishke ingredients, the onion adds flavor while losing its individual sharpness.


Is that not what life is all about? Life is not a bed of roses. Who has everything just perfect for all their lives? Who isn’t thrown an onion or two – or ten! – every so often? What to do? Should we become bitter and sharp-edged? No! We can instead blend the onion with the rest of the kishke in our lives. This would add flavor – challenges, opportunities for growth and self-improvement – to the mix, but the overall dish would be a tasty kishke rather than simply onions.


When it comes to chinuch as well, shouldn’t our chinuch resemble our kishke? Cold chinuch is like cold kishke. Bleh. True, our chinuch must be precise. It must follow an exact recipe or risk ending up a disaster. At the same time, it must also be warm and flavorful, and it is best served as an appetizer for an even more exciting main course.


Okay, okay. So maybe we got a little carried away here. Seriously speaking, though, the incident did bring to mind a rut into which we all too often allow ourselves to fall and how to climb out of it.


We’ll illustrate this with the story of Yankel, an enterprising young boy, who wanted, more than anything else, to build his own wooden clubhouse in his backyard. To this end, Yankel made an exact reckoning of how much wood he would need, in which sizes, and what tools or other odds and ends he might need to construct his dream clubhouse. With his list and plans in hand, Yankel began collecting and scavenging extra bits of wood, screws and materials thrown away by builders and construction workers at various sites around his neighborhood.


It didn’t take long before Yankel had amassed a huge pile of materials in his family’s backyard. Still, he could not embark on his project just yet, because he was missing a number of major pieces of wood in the sizes he’d worked out for his clubhouse.


Yankel kept scouring the neighborhood, the construction sites and the areas around dumpsters. The collection of materials in his backyard grew and grew until he soon had an immense potpourri of wood, hardware and even some great tools. Everything sat, though, as Yankel shlepped and shlepped, dreamed and imagined, and spoke about the amazing clubhouse he was going to build – just as soon as he finally got the pieces he really needed. For although Yankel had way more material than he even knew what to do with, he still did not have some of the basic pieces that were on the original list of his master clubhouse plan.


One day found Yankel complaining to a friend about the unfairness of it all. He so very badly wanted to build his clubhouse. He’d been working for months on it, sweating and shlepping, and would it all be for nothing? Would he never obtain the pieces he needed with which to build his clubhouse?


The friend – a handy chap himself – walked out to Yankel’s backyard to check out the stash. He was absolutely amazed at the collection.


“I don’t get it!” he turned to Yankel incredulously. “You have all this in your backyard, and yet you keep shlepping and krechtzing, whining, complaining and dreaming of what you’re going to build ‘one day.’ Why, you have enough here to build the most amazing, most awesome, absolutely coolest clubhouse ever! Just look. If we put these pieces of wood here, we can use these pulleys to fashion a custom awning on this side. We can even put in a window with these materials here. I mean, you have enough stuff here to build almost anything you can dream of! I can’t understand why you’re still carrying and hoarding more stuff and haven’t just started building.”


Yankel stood stock still, in shock. Put this way, why indeed hadn’t he realized what an amazing and eclectic collection he’d amassed and what possibilities were open to him with these items? Here he had a phenomenal collection right under his very nose, but rather than jumping for joy, he was shlepping and sweating and dreaming of what would be “one day.” Hadn’t that day arrived ages ago? Where had he been?


The answer, he realized, was that he’d been so set on what he thought he needed, to build what he thought he was going to build, that he’d completely blinded himself to the many opportunities that had been open to him for months now. Where he could have already been enjoying various original and exciting creations, all he had was a pile of junk and an accumulation of broken dreams.


Almost all of us are Yankel at one time or another. We dream of accomplishing X, Y or Z. We reckon that with certain tools and opportunities we will be able to reach our goals.


What happens then?


Somehow, we get stuck in what we wanted, what we thought, and what we planned, and we may be completely blind to a whole host of phenomenal opportunities and possibilities that have opened up to us in the meantime. We become frustrated, angry, and upset at how our dreams are slipping away and remaining unfulfilled, while we totally overlook the massive amount of talent and opportunities Hashem has sent our way, which we’re too distracted to even realize.


We could have been far along on an exciting, fun and fulfilling path, and yet here we are, still waiting for what we thought “could have” or “should have” been.


Perhaps we had planned on putting up a kugel and we’re still waiting for the potatoes. If life sent us carrots, though, why not create some delicious, mouth-watering kishke?


Life is too short to waste waiting for what we think is best for us. Hashem knows exactly what we need, what we can accomplish, and what tools are best suited for our purposes in life. Why decide that when we’ll finally have the money of X, the talents of Y or be part of the crowd like Z, then we’ll be able to reach our preconceived dreams or desires? Hashem does not need us to be X, Y or Z. He wants us to be ourselves, to use our talents, abilities and sensitivities to accomplish our goals in this world.


If it’s difficult, then that’s our challenge. Of course, had something been easy for us – like it is for So-and-so – we’d have been able to accomplish that particular goal long ago. Had Hashem wanted that of us, though, He would have only created So-and-so and left us out of the picture entirely! Why create us in the first place if someone else can just as easily accomplish our purpose in life?


No. We have our job, the challenges that will bring us fulfillment, excitement and contentment, and everybody else has their job. If they’re given bones, they’ll make p’tcha (as in galleh, not as in gezundheit!), while we might broil a steak with the cow we’ve been given.


Each his own creation with his own individual tools.


– – – – –


Oh, and if anyone knows of another use for carrots, besides carrot kugel, carrot muffins, carrot cake, tzimmes, carrot salad and kishke, I believe we still have some carrots left waiting to be turned into something exciting…



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