It’s the little trials in life that put us to the test and bring out the best – or the worst – in us. This story was told to me by a very dear friend. All names and identifying details have been changed.
I’ll never – ever — forget that erev Shabbos. I just have to close my eyes, and I can smell the … but one minute, I’m getting ahead of myself.
The story begins about a week before Pesach. Erev Pesach is a busy time for everyone. For our family, however, that erev Pesach was, well, to put it mildly, extremely hectic. My brother-in-law’s wedding was on erev Rosh Chodesh Nissan, just two weeks before the Seder. Life was just getting back to normal ( if it’s possible to call erev Pesach “normal” ) when my sister- in-law became a kallah, less than a week before Yom Tov.
Everyone was, of course, ecstatic. There’s nothing like a simchah (happy occasion) to bring — well — simchah (happiness) into our lives. But although we were all very happy, we somehow had to make our homes chametz-free for the holiday.
For me, this really didn’t pose a problem. My husband, myself, and our two-year-old son, Simchah — the yummiest boy in the entire world — were planning to spend the first few days of Yom Tov in Yerushalayim with my husband’s parents. To make things easier for my husband’s family, which included seven unmarried children and my mother-in-law’s mother, we invited them to spend the Shabbos before Pesach with us, in our tiny apartment in Bnei Brak.
Although I’m not used to cooking for such a crowd, I managed to prepare a beautiful Shabbos, and everyone in the family had a wonderful time and, most important of all, a good rest before the last, frantic countdown to complete everything before Yom Tov.
The following evening, right after bedikas chametz, my husband, Shmuel, our little Simchah and I joined Shmuel’s parents in Yerushalayim. The last-minute rush before bedikas chametz had been very hectic, so I didn’t manage to cover the kitchen counters or take down my Pesach dishes. But that didn’t really bother me. Although we were going to be home for Shabbos, we had been invited out for all the meals.
The Seder was, as usual, beautiful. The singing went on into the wee hours of the night, and my husband’s brothers and sisters doted on our little Simchah.
Although I was enjoying every minute with Shmuel’s family, I was anxious to return home. I was exhausted from the combination of having made Pesach and being a guest in a large, noisy household. I needed some time to plop into my own bed and relax. I needed time for myself. I guess you could say that I was in desperate need of Shabbos.
Friday afternoon, we caught the 1:30 bus back to Bnei Brak. “I’ll be home by three, and Shabbos doesn’t start until after six,” I thought. “That gives me plenty of time for a shower, and maybe I’ll even manage to lie down for a few minutes!” I couldn’t wait!
I noticed that something was wrong the moment we opened the front door. “Let’s check the freezer,” Shmuel whispered, verbalizing my own fears.
The problem was obvious — actually too obvious. In our exhaustion, we had forgotten to replace the plug after cleaning the wall behind the refrigerator. The refrigerator — and most important, the freezer — had been turned off for four days! And it was stocked with over twenty pounds of choice meat, plus half a dozen chickens.
Luckily, the freezer had been packed to its limit, so although the food was not frozen, it was still cold. If I cooked it immediately, I would not have to throw it away.
My kitchen, however, was still not covered for Pesach, and I did not own a single kosher lePesach fleishig pot.
With one hand I began phoning my sisters and sisters- in-law to see if any of them had spare pots that I could borrow, while with my other hand I covered the counters and sinks with heavy aluminum foil. Meanwhile, Shmuel started emptying the freezer. That’s when we were in for yet another shock.
Somehow, in the pre-Pesach rush, an entire loaf of bread had been forgotten in the freezer. Between my frantic phone calls, Shmuel gritted his teeth and phoned our local rabbi. After all, it wasn’t pleasant for him to admit that we had made such a mistake. The rav told him to burn the bread, immediately.
While Shmuel was busy making a bonfire in our backyard, I raced to the store to buy some spices and last-minute things that I needed to prepare the meat. From there I raced to my mother, two sisters and sister-in-law’s to borrow a few large pots and then back to my (finally) kosher lePesach kitchen.
Although Shmuel was a bit sooty from the bonfire, we were so rushed that he didn’t even have a chance to wash up. The two of us worked in unison until the very last minute trying to get that huge quantity of meat cooked before it was too late. The moment one pot of meat was cooked, we dumped the contents into an aluminum pan and put another pot of meat on the stove. Between cooking and packaging the meat, we cleaned the refrigerator and, of course, took care of our active toddler.
For days, and perhaps even weeks after that episode, whenever I closed my eyes I would visualize those huge pots of meat cooking on the stove. Every time I left the house, I automatically checked to make sure that the refrigerator was plugged in.
But in addition to learning the importance of plugging in the fridge after cleaning it, Shmuel and I learned an important lesson about our marriage.
We were so busy trying to save a few pounds of meat that we had no time to wonder who was to blame. After all, someone had forgotten to replace the plug, and someone had left the loaf of bread in the freezer, and it was someone’s responsibility to make sure that things like that don’t happen and that the house runs smoothly. But we had worked together as a team, trying our utmost to accomplish something, and that didn’t leave room for guilt or blame to enter into the picture.
Yes, someone had made a mistake, but it really didn’t matter who. We had to salvage what we could, otherwise we’d end up throwing everything into the garbage. Actually, come to think of it, we might have ended up throwing out a lot more than a few pounds of chicken and meat.
Debbie Shapiro is a freelance writer living in Jerusalem with her family. She is presently writing the biography of the late Rabbi Tzvi Aryeh Rosenfeld.
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.