Saturday, Jul 13, 2024

The Power of the Hour

Chani Friedlander stepped out of the school building and a frigid blast nearly knocked her down. Ruefully, she eyed the icy sidewalk. She had not worn boots that morning; it was too uncomfortable to teach wearing them. Now, she regretted that decision. Cautiously, she tried to navigate over the slippery patch in an attempt to reach the gutter. There, a steady flow of traffic had already melted the glazed surface. But, inclination did not lead to realization. She slipped and landed with a hard thud on the icy patch. A sympathetic bystander had to help her get up from the ground. A visit to the orthopedist late that day validated her excruciating pain. X-rays showed two fractures of the shoulder with surgery needed for a displaced bone.

“This was definitely not on my to-do list on erev Purim,” thought Chani wryly, “but is anyone’s challenge on anyone’s agenda? No one schedules an appointment with pain or fracture or surgery any day of the year.”

Post-op now coincided with Pesach preparations. The world of scrubbing, scouring, kashering and covering coincided with the arena of rotation, mobility and flexing of the shoulder. Alternate days were dedicated for alternate goals.

While physical therapy was grueling and aching, Pesach preparations were surging ahead. And then the house was ready. The beauty and pure joy she felt literally took her breath away. The ability to stand vertically, albeit with a sling, and usher in yom tov was no longer a given. It was a cherished gift this year.

Chani wanted to cook for yom tov in her customary way. It would restore a sense of stability for her; life was slowly getting back to normal. She began with the first annual kitchen activity — Pesach crepes – hundreds of them for lukshen and blintzes. It was the first item of the yom tov protocol, the most strenuous; but it officially heralded the arrival of the festivities. She placed the ingredients on her counter, including many dozens of eggs and commenced the job. Each jerk of her arm to flip the crepe pan caused a spasm of pain but it was overshadowed by a deep sense of fulfillment.

Several hours later, the task was complete. The counters were aflow with eggshells, empty potato starch containers and oil spills, but Chani saw none of the above. She was awash with gratification that her immobilization did not impact her so harshly. Overestimating the strength of her weakened hand, she carried the overloaded tray to the table. Her shoulder resisted, jerked and the entire masterpiece fell to the floor. Chani watched with horror as several hours of painful work just disassembled itself. She was so stunned; she could neither laugh nor cry. No longer serviceable, blintzes and lukshen lay twisted on the tiles. As she began to shift from disbelief to dismay to cleanup, Chani wished someone would be home to view the scene.

“No one will ever know the effort expended and the chaos that follows.” Until her husband came home, the urgency of the morning upheaval would be lost in the evening recital. She looked around, viewed the disarray and anticipated the major rearrangement with her diminishing strength. Chani had no eyewitness to the scene. The privacy of the moment was profound.

Two days later, when the crepe mishap was already a memory, Chani Friedlander embarked on a shidduch proposal for a former student of hers, to a talmid of her husband. Both boy and girl were blessed with sterling characters and were both high-achievers. As she mulled over the idea, it appealed to her more and more. Both came from warm and gracious families and Chani began the official phone calls, despite the approaching yom tov. Using a virtual thesaurus, she aptly described each candidate. Furthermore, she wanted to get any potential unpleasantness out of the way, so she negotiated financial arrangements. Then she ironed out any newly-formed creases. The couple met several times and the shidduch seemed to develop nicely.

Chani tried to prevent racing thoughts, but as Pesach preparations were intensifying, so were her feelings of anticipation towards this match. She was thrilled to have the zechus to be the shadchan. She was joyous in helping set up a home of such caliber. As she filled up her freezer with Pesach cakes and cookies, she filled up her imagination as well. She envisioned herself blushing at the vort and responding to guests, “Oh, it was nothing. Anyone could have thought of it. It was a make-sense shidduch.”

The next morning, at 9:00am, Chani answered the phone, distracted by so many chores. The mother of one of the two parties was on the line thanking her so graciously but apologetically explaining that the match was not suitable. Oh! Double Oh! How do I dismantle imagery? No one will know how much time and effort were extended just to have it develop into oblivion, thought Chani to herself.

She hung up the phone softly. With no one home yet to share this conversation, she attempted to get back to work. The privacy of the moment was profound. And then a lesson she had taught in school before the Pesach break flitted across the radar.

Mrs. Friedlander had quoted a Gemara in Avodah Zarah describing a visit Rabi Chanina made to the elderly and ailing Rabi Yossi. Rabi Yossi reprimanded the younger sage for endangering his life by teaching Torah publicly, contrary to the Roman edict. Rabi Chanina then asked whether he has any merits for Olam Haba. To which Rabi Yossi asked of Rabi Chanina to tell him some of his deeds. Rabi Chanina told him that he had mistakenly mixed up tzedakah funds with private money set aside for a Purim meal. When he realized his error, he gave everything away to charity. When the elderly sage heard this, Rabi Yossi exclaimed to Rabi Chanina, “May my portion be like yours!”

Mrs. Friedlander had raised the question asked by many — They just discussed Rabi Chanina’s risking his life teaching Torah publicly. Why did that not rate his entry into the Next World? They had to find a single meritorious act done for charity?

The commentaries explain that a public act cannot be judged for the purity of its intent, because other reasons might have motivated the person. But if an act is done with no recognition, in total privacy, the intent had to be purely motivated.

Mrs. Friedlander went on to teach her students — “Women in particular have no idea of the reward awaiting them because their life’s work is largely behind the scenes. The sleepless nights, the action-packed days, the caring, the coping, the cleaning; all to be redone the following day, are generally performed behind the scenes. The words that she withholds to prevent bad feelings, the words that she expresses to create good ones. Who will know, who will realize, who will cheer?”

The crepes that splattered, the shidduch that dissolved and the thousands of untold stories that wives and mothers perform daily, resonate silently.

The power of anonymity defines the purity of the act. No one, but One, will know. The privacy is very profound.

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