I'm in my second teenagehood, minus the pimples, thank G-d. When my two oldest kids stepped up to the plate for braces, I decided to join them. BAD idea! :-) Now I know why you do these things when you're young and stupid! Seriously, it hurts, it's annoying as anything, and I'm stuck with this for about a year!
This week, I have an article in the main Mishpacha magazine that tells the amazing story of Rabbi Yehuda Simes and his family, who were involved in a terrible car accident on their way home to Ottawa. I don't want to give away too many details, but suffice it to say that Rabbi Simes was injured to a very great degree, and parts of the article focus on his gratitude for the "simpler" things in life--uh, like breathing on your own, and like swallowing.
Well, braces has been a good lesson a la Rabbi Simes, in appreciating the gift of...chewing. Who knew how much effort it actually takes to chew, when you've got wires prodding into your gums and your teeth all feel loose!
Thank you, Hashem, for the gift of chewing. And for the gift of straightening out my teeth. My kids are thrilled--at least I can empathize with them all the way through! :-)
I'm moved to write about something that I haven't sorted out yet. Perhaps you'll be moved to help me come to clarity. To jump right in, the crux of my question is this: Do the laws of supply and demand apply to valuable, essential services in the Jewish community?
Yeah, I know, it sounds a little weird. Like am I wondering if milk should go down in price in Orthodox supermarkets, or if computer technicians should give away their services free. Okay, let me try this again. It's like this:
My ten-month-old baby is a serious impediment to my nighttime sleep. One morning, I woke up and decided that enough was enough; I needed help. So who does a savvy 21-st century woman ask when she needs help? Mr. Google, of course! In my search, I came across my potential savior, a "baby sleep trainer" who promised to put my worries to rest and have my little one sleeping sweetly in no time at all with no more input than a simple hour-long phone session. The cost? $180!
One hundred and eighty dollars for one hour of phone time, plus a week of email followup, which tacks on, say, another hour of Mary Poppins' time. That means that this woman is charging approximately $90 (315 shekels) an hour for a skill she has acquired through no formal training, for a service that could literally change an entire family's life! My PLUMBER charges 180 SHEKELS an hour, and toilets are really, really important. A personal trainer charges the same. Sleep is a basic need like food and shelter--lack of it drives parents to desperation (not me, obviously, just other people! :-)). Does that mean the cost for restoring sleep should skyrocket and a person who has a wonderful service to offer others should charge an astronomical fee for it?
Is it okay?
My husband is a psychologist with lots of degrees and talent and experience. He purposely charges 200 shekels a session, which is at least a hundred shekels less than anyone else I have ever heard of in our city, simply because he knows it's hard for people to pay. The going rate is between 300-400 shekels, with some charging even more. I heard about an "expert" psychologist who charges upward of 800 shekels a session. And he gives no breaks. Again, is it okay to charge a lot of money for a life-changing, life-saving service when it might deter people from availing themselves of it? Is it morally okay to take a service that people desperately need and milk that need for a lot of money?
I recently read an article about an implant dentist who was candid about the fact that he charges less to patients who can't afford his regular prices. I applaud this doctor. I think that the line between chessed and profit has become much too blurry. If you have a service that will change people's lives for the better, why not give it to them at a price which you can profit from but don't have to get rich off of. If G-d wants you rich, He'll make sure you get there even without skinning others.
But that's just my opinion. What's yours?
Funny thing, women, no? We're so...female. We like jewelry and clothing and purses and...helping people.
Do you detect a faint note of...cynicism, perhaps? How astute! Okay, here's the scoop: I was out with hubby when I spotted an able-bodied young man, struggling valiantly against an enormous load of cartons on one of those wheeled things I'd call a dolly if it didn't sound quite so...girlish! ;-). Well, what's a girl to do when she sees a fellow human in distress?
"Help him!" I commanded my husband.
I mean, he was really struggling.
Tell me something: If you were a woman, struggling to move some heavy boxes, and a passerby moved in to give you a hand, what would you do? Smile with relief and say something polite like, perhaps, "Thank you!"?
OR WOULD YOU GIVE THE GOOD SAMARITAN A DIRTY LOOK THAT SAID, "SCRAM!" AND GRUMBLE, "I'M FINE!"?
"What did you think, Riva?" My husband gently snorted. "You insulted him!"
What is it about an offer of assistance that ruffles those male feathers so easily? Is it better that he grunt and groan and move the ten-ton box himself? Does that affirm that latent masculinity so prized and...fragile that it crumbles in the face of a little help? Interesting, cuz G-d, who actually created men, commands us, in the book of Shemos (Exodus): "When you see the donkey of your enemy collapsed under its load ... you must raise it with him." Notice that last word: "HIM". As in, uh, a guy. Full of that wonderful, capable male pride that gets our men in and out of all sorts of messes--single-handedly, thank you very much.
So the next time I see a guy who looks like he could use a hand, I will not make the same dumb mistake I made last time. Instead of expressing my annoying female nurturing instinct, I will walk on stoutly by and let those male muscles handle everything with aplomb. Hey, come to think of it, I may even throw on an extra carton or two. Just to up the ante. Wouldn't that feel good!
My neighbor had an urgent request of me early one morning. "Please," she asked breathlessly, "Can I wash my windows?"
No, she is not co-dependent. :-) She is my upstairs' neighbor and when she washes windows she WASHES WINDOWS! We're talkin' buckets and buckets of water thrown at the window until it's sparkling--water that will ultimately land on my patio, which is located right under her windows.
Why is she washing her windows so thoroughly? you might ask. Well, even if you may not ask, I sure did. It isn't even Pesach yet!
"Riva," she gave me a scornful look. "Didn't I tell you my mother-in-law's coming for Purim? I couldn't possibly let her see my windows the way they were--they were horrible!"
When my mother-in-law comes to visit, I make sure the floors are passable, the guest room's clean, and there's a good meal ready for dinner. But windows? Never occurred to me! The mother-in-law factor was cited later that day yet again, by a friend who shared that her sister was coming over to consult with her on...what to make for her mother-in-law for Purim!
Am I out of touch with MIL etiquette? (And she doesn't seem to mind it one bit!) Do YOU wash your windows when your mother-in-law comes to visit?
Yesterday, I did something so shocking, so daring, so absolutely out-of-the-ordinary that I had to pinch myself to be sure I wasn't dreaming. I...took the morning off. That's right--off. No work, no deadlines, no pressure, no writing. For that matter, no dishes, no laundry, no sweeping or returning phonecalls. Nope, instead, I went with a friend to...a women's dance festival! Ha! Even today, twenty-four hours later, I'm still atonished at my courage. Leaving those DEADLINES? Those scary, glowering deadlines? When have I ever left them before, completely unattended? When's the last time I audaciously went out to enjoy myself for a change, to spend some time with a friend and just...enjoy?
Uh, can you spell 'never'?
Yep, those deadlines waited very patiently for me to come back. So did the dishes. I greeted them with a naughty grin, completely devoid of guilt. And now I'll have to cram my work into less time-space than if I had knocked some of it back yesterday morning. But was it a worthy investment? Absolutely.
I am slowly learning a beautiful lesson in life: my work is important, yes, but friendship, inspiration, and just plain letting loose is vital. I guess the best way I'd sum it up is with this pithy quote: In earning a living, we often forget to live.
When's the last time you took off for down-time?
Kids really DO say the darndest things, y'know? And it's always EXACTLY what you need to hear! Let me give you this little anecdote.
We're sitting at the Shabbos table on Friday night, just shmoozing. That's me and my kids, mind you; hubby's flat out on the couch for a post-chicken soup snooze. And it's one of those lazy, delicious conversations where everyone's chilled and just chatting, when suddenly...DEATH strikes!
Don't you love it? Kids and death. There's this fascination, this macabre romance children have with morbidity and beyond--not unlike us adults, only we suppress it. Here's the way the convo unfolds:
Child: It's so sad that So-and-So died. She'll never see her grandchildren and great grand-children...
Me: Yes she will. People who leave this world aren't gone--they're still living, just in another world.
Another child: Really?
Child: Then why is it sad when people die?
Me: It's sad for US because we miss them here. But it's happy for THEM because they're in the Next World, in Gan Eden (literally: the Garden of Eden, commonly referred to as "Heaven").
Child thinks for awhile.
Child: Mommy, do you think I'm going to Gan Eden?
Me: Of course!
Child: Yeah. Well, I'm just getting started doing mitzvos (good deeds). I think I'm going to go to Gan Eden after 120.
Me: Uh huh.
Child: Mommy, do you think YOU'RE going to Gan Eden?
Me: Hmmmm... Well, I never really thought about it. I sure hope so. Some days are better, some days are harder, but I'm definitely trying.
Child: Well, I hope you go to Gan Eden because I want to see you there!
Now tell me something. Where, in the world, would I be without my kids? Certainly not wondering about whether I'm going to Heaven! :-) But seriously--have YOU ever thought about whether you're going to Gan Eden before?
Well, at least I have a plausible excuse for neglecting this site for a looooong time. The newest addition to the Pomerantz family is adorable Moshe Yona, born December 18th which makes him about a month old now, baruch Hashem!
It's amazing how many emotions a new baby can spawn. Awe. Joy. Fear. Stress. Love. Pride. Dozens more that can't be named. I'm happy to report that, slowly but surely, we're all getting used to a new rhythm and a new reality. Every time we add a new member to the clan it takes a lot of reshuffling and realignment as everyone--young and old alike--struggles to reclaim their place, to see how the new addition fits into their own world. I remember reading somewhere that introducing a new baby to older siblings is akin to one's husband coming home one day with a new wife. "Hey, honey, I brought home a younger, cuter model. But don't worry--I love you JUST THE SAME!" :-) That analogy definitely helps me hold on to empathy as I go through the sometimes tumultuous fall-out from the other kids who are bravely trying to make it work with a new baby brother.
But it's all good!
One thing that has been hitting me so deeply these days is the absolute trust that only an infant can display. He cries and cries and doesn't give up until changed, fed, or held, and there is something completely peaceful in my baby's demeanor, a deep certainty that his needs will be taken care of. He doesn't wonder where his next bottle will come from, or who will make sure his sleepers are laundered. It's beautiful, this tranquil faith. A full-fledged microcosm of bitachon vs. hishtadlus. Definitely something that even me, in my sleep-deprived state, feels stirred to emulate.
Check out my latest article on aish.com, a piece sparked by an inspiration I had on my recent trip back from the States. It's a thought that really intrigues me. Let me know what you think!
Here's the link:
You know something's seriously wrong when I'm sharing balebusta tips, but this it will give my mother-in-law nachas and she deserves it. Okay, listen up, everyone, cuz I'm only gonna say this once! Y'know there's a prominent Murphy's Law that any time you're out somewhere important your zipper breaks, your daughter's skirt tears, or your button falls off? And, of course, you're nowhere in the vicinity of a sewing kit (not that I'd know how to use one, even if it happened to be surgically implanted in my left arm...But I lie. I CAN sew; I just DON'T sew. Actually, my husband is the official tailor in our household, a remnant from his yeshivah days! Wow, this is a run-on parentheses!) and the one thing you're pining for is...A SAFETY PIN!!
Well, folks, today I did the deed. While checking out of a tchotchkes store, I spotted, on the counter, a little set of safety pins. A little alarm went off in my head and I grabbed two sets. And now, here's the household tip: I'M PINNING A SAFETY PIN INTO THE LINING OF EVERY ONE OF MY PURSES!! And the diaper bag. Is that brilliant, or what? :-)
Now watch all our zippers magically last forever. sigh.
It's Rosh Chodesh Av, the beginning of the month of Av, and a sad month at that. We are taught that in the month of Av, we minimize joy; it is a sober and introspective time where our thoughts should turn to the sorry state of our Nation--broken, homeless, and leaderless.
One of the mourning customs we adopt from Rosh Chodesh Av until the ninth of Av is refraining from doing laundry. In times gone by, laundry was an all-day activity, and our Sages did not want our minds to be preoccupied by laundering when they should instead be focusing on the intense pain of Galus, exile. Today, despite easy-to-use washing machines, we still refrain from doing laundry, except for washing the clothes of young children in certain circumstances. So every Av, my laundry room slowly but surely accumulates a mountain of dirty, wrinkled, bedraggled clothes. And they sit there, woebegone, as I pretend to turn a blind eye.
You might think it would be a relief, of sorts, to be unbound to my washing machine for nine whole days. But instead I find myself finding it irritating and frustrating. That pile will build and I am powerless to stop it. It will wait for me, until the tenth of Av, at which point I will become a maniacal laundress, switching loads and folding for an entire day--maybe two--to catch up.
Today I was blessed with a new insight into my laundry distress. I thought of the clothes piling up, spilling over the hampers and onto the floors, looking unsightly--a blight on my home. I thought of the way the dirty clothes encroach on my private space, crowd me out, in a sense, of my (sometimes) tidy home. How the Master becomes the indentured servant; how the tables are turned and the state-of-the-art washing machine yawns, confused.
And I thought how apt it is for me to be feeling this way in Av. Crowded out of my own home? Held back from indulging in the pleasures of clean clothes? Feeling vaguely uncomfortable every time I walk into my laundry room? Yeah. It is a very miniscule microcosm of how Hashem must feel. Chased out of his Home by our relentless sins. Held back from enjoying the pleasure of His children doing His will. Waiting...hoping...that maybe today He can come back in and make right everything that is wrong.
More tragic than the mourning is the floundering realization that we may not even be aware of what we're mourning for.
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.