By Judy Gruen
It is 1:15 a.m. on Seder night. My fatigue is settling in, along with the brisket. It’s a good, satisfying fatigue, born of the hard work I have done—with the help of my children—to clean, shop, cook and make a Seder for family and friends. After twenty-two years of making Sedarim, I admit to occasional twinges of Pesach resort envy, often triggered when fielding calls from friends wishing me an early “good yom tov” because their families are about to take off for their Pesach program in Scotland, Italy or Israel, while I am going mano-a-mano with the business side of a scrubby sponge in the kitchen.
My husband and our kids insist that there’s no place better to have the Sedarim than at home, which is a satisfying feeling for me, and I focus on making Pesach with simchah. And yet, every year, I start to get shpilkes around 1 a.m. Despite the joyous singing, I am distracted by the thought that the brisket needs to be tucked into the fridge and the other food put away. I head to the kitchen, “Avadim Hayinu” echoing in my head. I am happy, infused with a spiritual glow.
More than ever before this year, I feel connected to the experience of Yitziyat Mitzrayim. More than ever this year, I feel an irreducible, transcendent connection to my Jewish identity, to Hashem and through my children, to the Jewish future.
That feeling lasts about thirty seconds. No sooner do I fling open the refrigerator door than I recoil in horror—the refrigerator light goes on. I forgot to set the holiday mode before yom tov! I let the door fall shut, and faster than you could shout “Dayeinu!” all that spiritual “aliyah” of the Seder goes pfffft! Gone, in an instant!
Suddenly, I am resentful and mad: Does Hashem really want me to have to throw out all this brisket, at $8.99 a pound? Where am I supposed to find a yom tov goy at nearly 1:30 a.m.? Why does this religion have to have so many rules? What am I supposed to feed my guests for second Seder if I can’t store my food in the fridge? Tuna fish?
I announce the bitter news at the table, and complain about the impossibility of finding any redemption for this situation. “Don’t worry, Ma! It’s all going to be fine,” my eldest son says. I glower at him. How dare he display such emunah at a time like this! His blithe disregard for my situation annoys me. We open our dining room shutters, looking for the implausible appearance of a yom tov goy, while the rest of the family has the audacity to continue singing. I sit there feeling like a ba’alas teshuvah flame-out.
I am ashamed of myself. What is my suffering compared to that of our ancestors, enslaved for hundreds of years? They had reason to complain! Yet the old “gam zu l’tovah” philosophy refuses to kick in. I wonder what message Hashem is sending me. All I had wanted was to make Pesach with simchah!
At 1:35, my husband and one of our sons go outside to scan the street. All we see are Jews, Jews everywhere; the land is filled with them! Usually, it’s a comforting feeling to find a landsman in a time of trouble, but not in this case. We get excited for one moment seeing a couple heading toward a car, but unfortunately, they are Jews, too.
At 1:45, as I feel myself falling to the forty-ninth level of spiritual darkness, fighting tears of frustration and wondering how to elegantly serve canned tuna for second Seder, a car slowly pulls up and parks directly across the street from my house. Like a shot, my husband and eldest son fly out the door, and I wonder if the sight of grown men wearing long white robes hurtling toward him might not just scare the heck out of the driver. I watch from the dining room, holding my breath, as my crew talks with the man. To my utter amazement, I watch the driver get out of his car and enter my house.
My yom tov goy has arrived.
The sight of my “savior,” pardon the expression, renders me nearly speechless. But not quite. I blabber excessive “thank yous” and apologize for the intrusion. “I realize you must think we’re very strange,” I offer. The young man holds up one hand to stop me—not that I blame him—explaining that he is a waiter for Shiloh’s, a kosher restaurant a few blocks away, and has just finished working at a Seder it hosted. “I know all about it,” he explains cheerfully.
In the kitchen, I show him how to set the holiday mode. And with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, the waiter from Shiloh’s sets the holiday mode, saving not only my brisket, but my sanity as well. I offer him some brisket as a thank you, but he declines. He comes and goes within three minutes, his appearance inexplicable. Shiloh’s is only three blocks away, yet for some reason, he pulls up directly across from our house to make a phone call.
That night, I gained a spiritual high, lost it in a moment, and then regained it in a much more profound way. As miracles go, I know that sending a yom tov goy is no great shakes compared to, say, splitting a sea or smiting the firstborns. But on that Seder night, it was the biggest miracle I could have asked for—a full redemption, and a reminder that Hashem knows what we need and sends it when we need it.
We then all sang Hallel.
Judy Gruen writes the Mirth and Meaning blog at www.judygruen.com. Her latest book is Till We Eat Again: A Second Helping (CreateSpace, 2012).