“The timer’s on!” shouted Effie, his large brown eyes registering a mix of consternation and excitement.
When my son Effie was seven years old, he was completely infatuated with wind-up timers. His first-grade teacher used them in class to prod the kids to finish various projects. While the clock was ticking, Effie would be filled with apprehension and dread. His heart rate would reach fever pitch; his adrenaline would pump vigorously. But when he would beat the clock, the world was a very happy place to be. Effie would revel in his triumph, bask in his glory, and infuse everyone around him with great rejoicing and cheer.
I figured I’d give it a try at home to help him speed up some of his humdrum daily tasks. I thought I’d start by tackling basic bathroom chores.
“Yes, Effie, the timer is on. You have five minutes to brush your teeth and wash your face.”
“What happens if the bell goes off before I finish?”
“Well, you’ll be late, but anyway it’s fun to beat the timer,” I said hopefully.
“Whirrrrrrr…” went the timer…
Effie quickly ran to the bathroom, stopping momentarily to make sure he heard the whirring continue. Indeed, the timer was doing its job faithfully. I had it on a table down the hall from the bathroom. Twenty seconds had already passed. Effie attacked his teeth and gums vigorously, the brush thrusting and parrying its way around his mouth…
“Is it still on?” he asked me, frothing fluoride into the air.
“Yes,” I said.
The timer whirred on inexorably…
I peeked down the hall at Effie, who was now brushing more furiously than before. Fifty seconds to go. He’d never make it – he hadn’t even started on his face. If Effie didn’t beat the bell, he’d be crushed and terribly disappointed. I considered setting back the timer to allow him a couple of extra minutes, but how? Primed as he was, he would hear the brief interruption of the whirring sound, and suspect foul play.
“Daddy!” hollered Effie, shaking me from my reverie. “Do I still have time?”
I looked at the clock. Seven seconds left! Suddenly, I hit upon a split-second plan. If I faked a cough, I could cover up the lapse in the whirring while I moved back the clock. He’d be none the wiser, and we could savor the fruits of his success together. With four seconds left, I started coughing violently. Turning my back to my son, I secretly turned back the timer, giving him an additional three minutes.
The High Holiday prayers are full of illustrations of Hashem’s kindness. One is that He “bears sin.” This means that even when we make choices and decisions that run contrary to His Will, He still gives us the health and strength to continue living, in the hope that we’ll come around and succeed.
Another description is that He has a long temper. He gives us many chances to do the right thing, and plenty of “extra minutes” in which to accomplish it. It occured to me that we’re usually oblivious to these extra few minutes. In fact, they are often cloaked by a cough – a smoke screen concealing the true nature of Divine Intervention.
“Daddy! Do I still have time? Please tell me!”
“Yes, Effie,” I said thoughtfully. “You still have a little more time.”
Shlomo Horwitz is the founding director of Jewish Crossroads, an educational theatre project which has provided creative Torah programming across the US, Canada, England and Israel. He studied at Yeshivat Sha’alvim and Yeshivat Ner Yisrael in Baltimore, at which he received ordination from Rabbi Yaakov Weinberg. Shlomo is a CPA and is a director of a consulting firm near Washington, DC. He can be reached on his site at www.jewishcrossroads.org. This article originally appeared in Hamodia.
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.