So we just found out on Yahoo news that the last white rhinoceros in the world has died, and houses in England are about to topple down the cliff into the sea. This on top of the all consuming worry over that young wife who ran away to her mother's house. She's still there.
In the last fortnight, the young husband's mother, alarmed to hear his voice losing strength, telephoned the young wife, who didn't answer, and then the wife's father, who did. The mother asked what her son had done.
Nothing, he said pleasantly. She just needs time to gauge their compatibility.
But how does she do that if they don't talk? And isn't that what they do BEFORE the wedding? The young man's mother remembered the day she was called to get on the bus NOW and buy a necklace for the engagement. Moments before, the young man had been exhorted to stop thinking about compatibility and just answer YES or NO.
So yes, it's an upside down world.
It turns out though that, moments after the mother called the girl's father, the girl and her family ran over to the Court of Jewish Law to start a divorce. This was sad news, but better than nothing.
So the husband and wife signed, as the rabbi advised, to abide by whatever the marriage counselor says at the end of 75 days and, if he says to divorce, then they do it at the end of the 75 days.
Daddy Universe, catch us! Will we topple down a cliff and fall into the sea?
It was one of my harsh judgment calls again, even though I'd said sorry to Mr. Universe* every session for the last three days. I also yell at people, mostly my husband, since yelling at my children is risky. If I yell at Nathan he's not going to buy a one way ticket to Nepal, but Joe would do it. He might do that even if I didn't yell, except for some inhibiting factors:
1. The date of his brother's wedding
2. The lawsuit against Joe for driving a car without insurance and getting into an accident...
3. Even though his boss had said to him hundreds of times in the course of his job, JOE! DRIVE OUT TO THIS CLIENT! and even handed Joe the car keys.
I'm keeping an eye on the case, and if Joe loses I'm likely to say that the justice system in this country is messed up. Even the courts of so-called Torah Law can be affected by the general mess-up.
For example, the Torah says that the husband-wife bond stands above that between the wife and her parents.
The parents affirm that they don't mix in. NEVER. The rabbi knows it's a lie, but what is he supposed to do? If he questions the mother she is likely to report him to a higher rabbi, the one so high you can't get to him but only to one of his hired assistants.
Then we find out that, the day after the wedding, the wife and her mother showed up at the rabbi's house, demanding a divorce.
Imagine the hapless husband. No one breathes a word of this and the wife pretends everything's fine, except she's cold and aloof. The husband has no clue why; eight months have passed and there's no sign of pregnancy or even wedding pictures as one would expect. He doesn't know that the mother decided there's no point paying money for a photo album when anyway the couple won't stay together.
The wife stays aloof; the husband concludes he ought to show more love, so he buys expensive dresses, hats, and jewelry; he buys flowers, balloons, and chocolates. He writes poems and love notes.
Still she's aloof.
He washes the dishes, cooks supper, prepares special dishes for the Sabbath.
She quits her job and hangs out with her mother.
What to do? Nothing is better for a man than silence (Pirkay Avos). Still he asks his childhood rabbi, 'Is this how it should be?'
The rabbi thinks a while, and says no. You and your wife have to move out of that town.
When the wife hears this, she runs in tears to her mother, and far as we know she's still there.
It was so easy to slip, and hard to notice how fast we had fallen from speech acceptable on the holy Shabbat.
It started with a comment on the weather. Last week it was hot and suddenly cold. Nathan then explained that all engineers see everything as a sine wave. He made some mistake and i said that i'm an editor and have to edit everything we read, and even conversations.
Somehow the conversation turned to his old friend Francis X, like Malcolm, and Zulu who in 1968 used to organize confrontations like beating up policemen, and they never caught him. After a while he gave up on it, since nobody came to help out; it was all junkies and derelicts. I kept pressing Nathan for an example of what he means by confrontations.
Lincoln Center: the day the comedian Victor Borges spoke to a crowd from Denmark about the time Hitler yemach shmo demanded all the Jews be deported. The Danes responded by giving all their boats to send their Jews to safety in Sweden. Nathan had been standing outside Lincoln Center with his Danish girlfriend, whose father played in the orchestra inside, and some guys in favor of racial segregation, campaigners for George Wallace of Alabama, were setting up to speak in his favor. So Nathan in his denim bell bottoms and tight Hell's Angels undershirt did a quick karate side kick right next to the Wallace guys, who made haste to leave the area.
At this point, Nathan bragged that Peter Jennings was there with his television crew and gave Nathan a hundred dollar ticket to get into the concert.
I don't know what happened to the Danish girlfriend, but before i knew it Nathan was talking about his after college graduation trip to Europe, a gift from his sister. Since we were talking about Denmark, he visited Copenhagen for 2 weeks, and Paris for 7 weeks. In the daytime he swam in the pool, not in the Seine, even then in the 60s it was too polluted for that; and every night he went out dancing. That led to the story about the Nigerian friend who also went out dancing, and somehow he told him about some hash that was out of this world, so they went to the place where you get it. Nathan wasn't allowed inside, but there was a ritual knife fight and after that he got the stuff, and then Nathan bragged that hundreds of people followed him wherever he went.
Finally he hitchhiked to Madrid, then Barcelona, and then Tangiers. He got all kinds of dangerous drugs from the Mafia for free, and he knew that the plan was to get him hooked. I was in shock that someone should be so stupid, and Nathan said no, everybody knew that you just take a little at a time, not too often, and then you're okay.
By then I realized how far we had fallen from suitable speech on the holy Sabbath, and started yelling about how stupid it was, and how could his sister have paid for such a trip. Nathan said i was just like his sister, meaning I'm not cool, and started to leave the table to take a nap, and i would have followed him with a barrage of insults if i hadn't needed to say psalms and finish my hour of hitbodedut.
Once there was a child called Eli who acquired powers before he was born. Someone had just then kidnapped the other children, so naturally his mother was screaming and yelling, and of course Eli felt it too while in the womb.
Not only did he feel it; he soaked it up, a combination of fierce love, guilt, outrage, and loneliness, and the catalyst was some holy spark inside him. This exploded into a prayer, and the prayer knocked down the kidnappers, whom his parents sued for enough money to move the family to Israel by the time Eli got his first haircut at age three.
Eighteen years later: a far cry from childhood. Eli stood tall in his black hat and suit, the only student in the top Bnai Brak yeshiva to be picked by the Rosh Yeshiva's right hand man, who happened to have a sister of marriageable age. She was a little bit fat, but so what.
And so this Eli, who for real had to fight just to enter a yeshiva, whose brothers knew nothing of yeshivas but rather made their place with the army, whose parents understood nothing of a world not at all simple to navigate, arrived at a high, secure, and enviable position.
No one could tell how Eli rose from the depths. He and his family had lived in a caravan on the edge of a desert. Eli had a friend named Dan, who one time refused to go away with his parents for Sabbath, so Eli grabbed the chance to welcome a guest and invite him home. Eli baked fresh bread, made a fresh bed, prepared special food, drinks, snacks, and games, and waited for Dan to come for the first meal.
Dan didn't come. So Eli looked everywhere in the small settlement that Sabbath night, and when he found Dan at last in a darkened caravan, Eli had a bad feeling about it.
Eli coaxed Dan with chips and coca-cola. Dan would not come, and the longer Eli stayed to argue, the worse things got in the darkened caravan. And you know that staying to converse with bad company can rub off.
Therefore, when the police arrived next day to investigate, Dan and the other kids in the caravan pointed at Eli.
I won't go through the details: the scandal reported on the radio, the glowing report of the investigating psychiatrist, the damning report of the settlers and social workers, Eli's expulsion from yeshiva, the family's expulsion from the settlement, and the monolithic refusal of every yeshiva in the area to accept anyone from this family. Only one yeshiva did accept Eli, and fought to stay open until he completed his studies. One year later, it closed.
This yeshiva brought in students whose fathers had never studied in kollel. No one in the office investigated the cell phones of the parents and children, or the televisions and Internet connections. Some say that the yeshiva closed by Divine Retribution. Okay; I won't argue. And the parents should have moved to Kiryat Sefer, so their children would have no choice but to stay on the good path. Perhaps the marriage would not have run into trouble. I mean, the girl grew up in Kiryat Sefer. Should she tell her parents that her brother-in-law reads the newspaper?
Let's say she tells. So her parents get worried; don't go there. Bad company can rub off. Stay in Kiryat Sefer.
Eli feels he's choking; it's too much; it's not him.
And the girl moves back to her parents. Eli comes to get her; they kick him out.
The rabbi gets involved, and another rabbi, and another, and all the talking makes the situation worse. Eli breaks. He feels fierce love, guilt, outrage, and loneliness, and the catalyst is some holy spark inside him that explodes into a prayer.
Frieda Goldberg and four-year-old Josh had been slaves in New Jersey, where her ex-husband lived, but G-d took them out from there with a mighty hand. With her lump sum settlement she bought a cramped trailer and the promise of a house in time for Passover.. Frieda drank her coffee and listened to the steady bang-bang outside; loving how her new, unfinished cottage, or rather the plastic partitions that blocked her view of the construction work, sparkled in the sun.
The Arabs’ boss, Itzik the contractor, rumbled onto the site in a crane and deposited a hundred cinder blocks on the new, unfinished roof. He stopped in Frieda's trailer for a glass of water and said, “On my honor, giveret, your house will definitely be finished before Pesach.”
Still, during a bomb scare, a rainstorm, or a building freeze, the Arabs didn't work and construction cranked down to a stop. On those days Frieda’s Yemenite neighbors sat outside their houses. Their children took up sticks and plastic tricycles against imaginary mazikim.
One day, two weeks before Passover, Itzik's Arabs worked with intensity. Frieda kneaded dough. Normally she wouldn’t, so close to Pesach, but Itzik had said the new place would be finished any day: a new, clean cottage for Pesach. Through the window she saw Josh jacking up someone’s toy tractor. He was cold; his unbuttoned cardigan flapped in the wind.
Rain fell in thick drops on the window. The Arab electrician spread out a plastic sheet like a tent, where he lit a small fire for coffee.
Lightning flashed at the end of the street, revealing six rows of rusted stilts that apparently had supported projects from the first Temple era, and would probably continue to support all kinds of structures until Moshiach came, unless they all collapsed first from terrorism, lack of funds, or too little faith. These stilts in fact held up her new house, her life investment, on a foundation of rocks and half-rotted planks.
Frieda’s roof, with the hundred cinder blocks piled on top, wobbled in the wind. This scared her. The Arab drank his coffee and left his bag behind. That too scared her.
Kids played with a garden hose, filling empty coca-cola bottles with water, in crashing vicinity of the cinder blocks. Besides, the Arab's bag, black and dirty, bulged with odd-shaped angular objects. The rain fell in sheets.
Hands full of dough, Frieda pushed the door with her elbow, stepped outside, and yelled, in English, "Get away! See those cinder blocks!” and “hey! What’s in that bag?"
Nobody took notice. Frustrated, she yelled, “Hey! Hey!"
The women turned. Frieda pointed to the cinder blocks on the roof. No reaction. She pointed to the ground and said, "Boom!” at the exact coordinated moment when thunder struck.
Frieda’s neighbors looked at the roof and then the bag. One dragged her son home. Josh went on playing. Frieda dashed after him, and then she stopped short. The boy’s clothes, ears and hair would glob together from the doughy condition of her hands. Before Passover she would have to wash everything, and they didn’t have a machine; it was still on the boat.
Home in the trailer, she scrubbed her hands, swished Josh in and out of the shower, and into pajamas. She grabbed the phone, and suddenly woke up to the naked truth that she had nobody to call here.
In New Jersey, fraud investigators would storm in right away with the fire chief, the building inspector, and the bomb squad.
She knocked on Itzik’s door.
Itzik's wife poured her a cup of black coffee. “Drink,” she urged.
Itzik sat down and shut his eyes. “I hear you,” he said, though Frieda had said nothing. “Don’t worry; I’ll keep an eye on the house. I can’t take down the cinder blocks; the workers went home. And yes, a police dog could sniff out the bag, but in real life the police don’t come to the territories. Anyway, if the bag explodes, dust will fly; that's all. And the truth is,” he continued softly, “there's a mazik in that house; but don’t worry; I’m going to kill it.”
Frieda returned to her trailer. The furniture shipment arrived and sat in the rain, outside her trailer, and then, for the first Pesach in her life, Frieda Goldberg actually tasted freedom and faith.
Feeling low has been my mood for the last few months, and it's getting worse. The little things that used to fill me with pride--the smooth running of my house, my success and renown as an editor whose clients recommend others and return with more work every year, my excellent health, are collapsing in failure.
You want more specifics? The woman who commissioned me to write, sing, and record a song has disappeared and left me holding the bill from the recording studio. And the man who commissioned me to write an audio script disappeared after I worked on the project for months. Then I thought, okay, so I'll peddle the song and the script somewhere else; but nobody wanted to spend even five bucks. Not even my friends.
Really, when we moved into this cottage in the Negev I thought those humiliating days were over: Like the time I was seven and was sent to a cousin's house, and then realized she didn't want me there.
Like falling in love at 13 with the nature counselor at camp, and being brushed off next day when the camp director warned him about underage girls and losing his job.
Like arriving at a summer theater as a 16-year-old apprentice with just five dollars in my pocket, and finding out I would not be getting meals. Like the faces the director made during my audition.
And that was only the tip of the early days in a vast lifetime of shames, embarrassments, and humiliations.
Then this evening I read a post on the Shuvu Banim International blog, that Rav Eliezer Berland says that humiliation is a highly valuable, fantastic thing: it fills your soul with light; it's worth millions; it gets you a big ticket place in the World to Come.
Of course it doesn't work if you go around bragging about it.
The day started out strange and terrible. She was dreaming, but the dream felt real. And the moment she woke up, she forgot it but found herself cursing and beating her 77 year old husband..
The moment she realized that, by way of contriteness she said oh! It was a dream. And he yelled, shut up!
Can a person control her dreams?
And then, the nightmare took control of the day. Far-fetched worries moved into her little house and stretched out as if now they owned the place and the furniture.
You know these worries, maybe not intimately:
1. The bank is gonna shut down your account!
2. Your lost story files will never, ever be recovered--not by tech support, not by prayers.
The drip under the kitchen sink has turned to a stream and you can't call a repairman or even buy a pipe. You position a big pot in the sink to catch the water. When that fills up you spill it into a bucket, and use it to mop the floor.
Then you see that your fears have no substance. Yes your husband came home without any fish for Shabbat, an ominous sign.
Then you said, so what? I have flour for bread. I have vegetables and beans!
And all those lost stories? Write new ones. Deep inside, it's what you want.
By now it should be obvious that we are KNEE DEEP in the End of Days. Remember the scud missiles? People turned their radio on and left it on the entire Shabbat, so as not to miss the next IMPORTANT MESSAGE. Nowadays, every second you have to tune in to your radio.
Now pay attention or you'll miss the message!
Two daughters, on separate days, went shopping in Beer Sheva to buy a dress to wear at their brother's wedding. The saleslady convinces each daughter that THIS IS THE PERFECT DRESS. Each daughter on her day hands over the money. The saleslady measures the daughter for alterations.
We haven't mentioned yet that two kids under the age of two are crying in the store. The daughter, who in this case is the mother, has run out of diapers and extra pants.
And now, a short quiz:
What do you do?
1. You cancel the order, take the money back [anyway you borrowed the money to pay for the dress], take the kids home, and wear the same dress you wore at the last brother's wedding, hoping against the impossibility that nobody remembers what you wore last time.
2. You grit your teeth, endure the screaming, and finish standing for the alterations until at last the dresses are pinned at the hem, the waist, and the sleeves. The little boy is soaking wet and it's cold outside. The little girl wants to nurse; she's almost hysterical.
3. You go home for now and start all over tomorrow morning; you know--wake up at 6, make sandwiches and bottles for the children, stow the baby stroller and tote bag under the bus, count out change while carrying both children, and struggle not to fall when the bus lurches forward.
You get off the bus, push the baby carriage with one hand, and carry the soaked little boy with the other hand.
Answer: Of course you choose number 2: wouldn't anyone?
Nevertheless, you get home and realize that this dress you just spent an hour pinning up isn't suitable for you--the color is wrong; the skirt is tight; the slit is wide. And you paid already. Pay attention.