I had the misfortune of walking into a store one day and encountering the woman behind the make-up counter. No, she did not have the shampoo I was looking for. No, she was very sorry, but wasn't I interested in some new make-up? After all, said the seller, I was looking very pale.
Pale? Moi? "But I'm wearing blush!" I protested. "And bronzer!" A quick glance in the mirror revealed my burnished face looking, at least in my sometimes humble opinion, just fine.
"Oh my!" exclaimed my self-appointed alter-ego. "Look at you! Your hair is blonde, your skin is pale--you can't wear THAT bronzer! You look positively washed out. Don't you see? You need a blush that's purpleish, like THIS!"
I took another long look in the mirror. And wilted. She was right--my skin looked sallow, almost yellow. How could I have been so misguided, wearing a terracotta bronzer when all this time I should have been wearing purpley blush? She quickly brushed on the wonder product.
"So I'll ring it up for you!" she said cheerily. "It's gorgeous!"
I mumbled weakly something about thinking it over and left the store, disheartened. A pause is a wonderful thing, a balm for the distressed soul. At least that's what I've found millions of times in my life. A few blocks away from the store, I suddenly had a little reality check: my blush was fine! I didn't need anything purple! In fact, I've gotten lots of compliments on my natural-looking bronzer. And yet the pressure to convert me into a purple person had swayed my whole worldview, if for a brief, blushing moment.
I could go lots of ways with this thought. I could look at peer pressure, at the influence of society, at the fragility of the human ego, or the importance of staying away from shopping. But I think the lesson I'd like to focus on is the critical need to surround myself with people whose perspectives and attitudes enhance and complement my own. Because otherwise my own ground is in danger of shifting and beauty can fast become monstrous in the eyes of the beholder.
There are two boys and a father
Who wait every morning
For the school bus
They are perfectly dressed
In matching clothes
Belts. Polished shoes.
Neatly folded socks.
White, white pants.
Hair perfectly combed.
Little boys, brothers
With their father
And their perfect schoolbags
For their bus.
One morning, there is a perfect cake
Borne aloft by the father
Lovingly prepared by a perfect mother
To accompany one of the perfect boys
On mornings when I wait at the stop for my ride to work
I gaze at the perfection
Of the morning sky
And the luscious trees
And the birds serenading the traffic.
And I watch the perfect boys standing together
With their father
Who gazes at them.
And says, "Stop running around--you'll get dirty!"
And "Be quiet! Sit down!"
And "What's wrong with you? You're being wild!"
And never once smiles.
And I sigh.
A friend and I were shmoozing on her couch about various and sundry things, as friends do. And then she said the following:
Today, I am a woman. What I mean, of course, is that last night I single-handedly chaperoned twenty screaming eleven-year-olds to their teacher's wedding in Jerusalem. Yes, you may have my autograph.
We arrive at the mini-bus to find a group of anxious, cheeping girls who breathe loud sighs of relief upon glimpsing my adult presence, telling me that the driver "looks scary". As I alight, I am handed: two cameras, a cellphone, a card for the teacher's gift plus a pen, an envelope filled with the money for the scary-looking driver, a package of tissues and one of those rolls of gum that looks like tape.
"Can you hold this, Mrs. Pomerantz?"
"Can you hold this, Mrs. Pomerantz?"
"Mrs. Pomerantz, can you hold this, please?"
"Do you have a cold?" I ask Little Miss Entire Packet of Tissues.
"No," she says breezily.
It is a half-hour drive to Jerusalem. A very long and loud and lusty half-hour drive, and the scary-looking driver, initially quite cantankerous, turns out to be a raging speed demon as well. I say Tefillas Haderech (Prayer for the Traveler) with heartfelt concentration. The girls, unused to being out and about town at 9:30 PM, and excited at the thought of seeing their beloved teacher wed, are literally bouncing out of their seats.
Do you remember being eleven? I don't, but I imagine it's something very similar to what I am experiencing.
The "talk", which is another way of saying, "the excessive pitch and volume of twenty hyper voices" turns, of course, to weddings.
"I always joke with my mother about why she never invited me to her wedding!" giggles one girl. When eleven year olds congregate, I notice, they like to giggle.
"Ugh, you should see pictures of my mother's wedding! My aunt was wearing, like, a GREEN shirt! Everything was so old-fashioned!"
"I know. And those HAIRSTYLES! They're so funny!"
I gulp. These girls--y'know, the ones with the mothers with the old-fashioned hairstyles? Their old-fashioned mothers got married the same year I did. It's what? Twelve years ago? And we've already become the object of ridicule.
"Tell them not to leave me any garbage on the floor!" the driver exhorts, keeping a careful thirty kilometers above the speed limit.
I barely hear him. My mind is on another time and place, twelve years ago, when my husband and I swore that WE would always be cool, never old-fashioned. OUR kids would never look back at us and laugh. NEVER! No ridiculous bumps, leisure suits, or frilly-dillies. WE would be the coolest parents to ever hit Planet Earth.
Uh, I think we should start setting smaller goals.
Now they're eleven. They think they're on top of the world. One day I hope they'll have the privilege of overhearing twenty eleven-year-olds burst their bubble. It's a rite of passage.
On Friday afternoon, my hands deep in challah dough, there was a quiet knock on the door from a quiet man whose cause we happily support. He has a Kollel Chatzos, an erstwhile group of men who rise at midnight to learn Torah and Kabbalah all night long. We figure since we're unable to perform this beautiful feat ourselves, we are happy to have a share by proxy in this wonderful endeavor.
He is an assuming man, short and bearded, with kind eyes and an ever-apologetic countenance. He is sorry to disturb on a Friday, but he is not disturbing and we are happy to see him. While he lingers at the door, I venture away from my challah dough.
"Tell me," I ask, "In your kollel, you learn kabbalah. What is being said about...", I gesture vaguely, uncertainly. "About...Moshiach."
He smiles, sadly. I am searching for something deep and mystical; what he offers me is deep and classical.
"It is as the Navi describes," he says, referring to the many passages in Prophets where the era before the Redemption is described in vivid color.
I know it is what the Navi describes. The nations of the world ganging up on defenseless Israel, the mockery and scorn, the impending sense of doom. That is exactly what the Navi describes.
Then he says, "I have heard that Rav Mordechai Eliyahu awoke from his coma briefly and said that he had a dream that Moshiach was supposed to come on Pesach." My husband and I draw a bit closer to the door. "But two great tzaddikim (righteous scholars) prayed that Moshiach would not come."
"But why?" I ask, aghast.
"Because they saw that if Moshiach (Messiah) were to come, not enough of the Jewish People would survive."
It is a deflating moment, a moment that lingers long after the challah has risen and baked. I am reminded of the stark urgency of these turbulent times. When the Jews left Mitzrayim (Egypt), 600,000 strong, that number reflected only ONE-FIFTH of the Jewish nation. Four fifths died. It's a sobering thought, immediately followed by another one: What can we do to be amongst those who will be privileged to greet Moshiach? I really want to find the answer to that question. It is more than a question. It is a plea.
About Riva Pomerantz
I'm a freelance writer, widely published in several magazines including the internationally-distributed Ami Magazine and Mishpacha Jewish Family Weekly. Riva's work also appears on the award-winning website www.aish.com, amongst others. You can buy my books here.