My Welcome Comeuppance by Chaya Houpt

As you may remember, I had some ambitious plans for Pesach. And on top of everything, we were hosting a Very Important and Beloved Relative. In our apartment. Our small and noisy and toy-strewn apartment. I was nervous, but we managed to put together a nice space for our guest.

We hosted our first seder. We had a lot of wonderful guests. I totally forgot about the kos shel Eliyahu, but other than that, things pretty much went according to plan. It was high and enlightening and the best part was that I managed to enter Pesach in a decently rested state, with many many hours of audio Torah classes in my spiritual reservoir. Throughout the Pesach preparations, whenever a stressful situation or a challenge would arise, I would close my eyes and think one word: Dvekut.

I usually leave translations and explanations to the glossary. Dvekut is a hard word to translate, but I guess it means that whatever I’m doing, my ultimate goal is to be close to God by emulating Him in my own unique way. And when I remember that, I keep my focus.

So. The seder lasted until 2:00 AM. My daughters stayed up and chanted the four questions and sang all the songs and were completely cute both in their own specific ways and in the way of all tiny children at a seder for all times.

After such a glorious start to the holiday, I was kind of feeling like the most awesome hostess and balabusta and mother and wife and spiritual being ever. Like maybe a whole new vocabulary of awesomeness was needed to describe me and the preciousness of my children, for which I am directly and exclusively responsible. And as this gloating giddiness started to spread through me, I knew I was headed in the wrong direction, but I couldn’t get a grip on myself.

And then.

The second day of Pesach was a perfect spring day. My husband and our guest went off to shul. I davened with the kids, singing Hallel to the tunes of the seder, and I didn’t even have to bribe them to give me time to pray alone.

In the midst of the davening and the singing and the subsequent cooking of matzobrei, B.A. disappeared into the toy room where our guest was staying. He climbed to the top of the couch so he could look out the window. On his way, he took all of my relative’s clothes and belongings and threw them all over the floor.

Now. I have two dreadful qualities. I have more than two, actually, but these two tend to trip me up in tragicomic fashion. First, I have a short attention span and I am easily distracted. I was probably born that way, but the problem is that I have added a bad habit on top of that quality, which is that I don’t take care of small urgent things as soon as I become aware of them.

The cap is off the olive oil? I’ll get to it later, as soon as I read this story to my children and have a chat with my husband and write a blog post and answer the phone and AAAH, WHY IS THERE OLIVE OIL ALL OVER THE FLOOOOOR?! And so forth . . .

This morning was no exception. I saw the stuff all over the floor, but just then the kids called to me and I wanted to get started on brunch and B.A. needed a diaper change. And then my husband and our guest were walking into the apartment on a cloud of Yom Tov glee, and there were smiles and joy and the welcoming scent of matzobrei all around as our guest just popped into the toy room for a few minutes to—

Oh no. I heard his gasp as he found his belongings strewn about. I tripped in after him, apologizing as I tried to restore some order. Our guest then picked up a diaper—

(Which is the thing about cloth diapers, by the way, because no one would ever pick up a nasty-looking dirty disposable diaper, but dirty cloth diapers just look like clothes).

So he picked up the diaper that I had removed from B.A.’s little tushie and then just left lying on the floor of the guest room I kid you not. And this is where I have to get a little vulgar and inform you that a perfect round poop then rolled ever so slowly out of the diaper and onto our guest’s perfect crisp copy of the Jerusalem Post.

And then I died. I write to you from the grave. It’s been real. Peace out.

. . .

But really, I didn’t feel so awesome anymore. I wasn’t wondering how to keep my ego in check anymore. My ego was taking care of itself.

There’s this amazing maamar of the Netivot Shalom where he says that the most dangerous part of a nisayon is right afterwards, when we are filled with elation at passing the test. This elation can easily give way to destructive arrogance and haughtiness. The Slonimer Rebbe (the author of Netivot Shalom) offers a strategy to avoid this pitfall, based on the example of Avraham Avinu after the Akeida.

The strategy is to connect deeply to a sense of humility and brokenheartedness. It’s hard to do, especially when I’m all puffed up with accomplishment. And the hardest thing about employing this strategy is that it is possible to sink into despair.

I wanted to sink into despair that morning. What’s wrong with me that I don’t take care of things right away? How could I work so hard to make a nice, peaceful guest room and then change a diaper there, to say nothing of leaving it lying around? Don’t I have any respect for other people’s belongings? And on and on.

And then I remembered: Dvekut. Everything that comes to me in the world is because Hashem loves me and cares for me. I had to face the consequences of my carelessness, and it even served to restore my ego to healthier functioning.

I’ll tell you: now, two weeks later, I am a bit more vigilant with the little things, the olive oil caps. And I know that I am awesome to the extent that I manifest Hashem’s vision for me in my world. And that I have a lot of growing to do.

Visit Chaya’s amazing blog AllVictories

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One comment

  1. Dear Chaya Houpt, I love you! You are funny (“I died. I write to you from the grave”) and humble (now) and honest and beautiful and real. I REALLY love what you wrote here. And can relate to it. Me too. When I get too high Hashem does me the kindness of bringing me down. And I also tend to push things off. I’m always weighing priorities and deciding that something else is more important. Until – %!$!#!!
    You really made me laugh!!!
    Rishe

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