Something Real by Debbie Lefkowitz
This article originally appeared in Family First
In the winter frost the snowflakes fall, whirling around each other like minuscule fairies. We watch my children run across the seemingly endless expanse of white, trying to catch the flakes in their outstretched hands.
I haven’t seen my friend in years, but her crystal blue eyes still light up with that familiar twinkle from middle of the night discussions in our college dorm. Then it had seemed like we might have time to argue forever. About our purposes in life. About believing in God. About whether there could possibly be an objective truth in a world of subjective perspectives. I can remember only fragments of those conversations. Like when we both decided that the most important thing in life was to be real. We knew what real wasn’t. It wasn’t our designer shirts or high GPAs. It couldn’t be reduced to a career or a house in the suburbs. But it’s a lot easier to know what truth isn’t. Which is why we never really stopped talking as we searched for ourselves in that enclosed, cushioned bubble of our university years. Staring out the windows of the rooftop lounge of our dorm, we watched the city lights sprawled out before us like millions of winking opportunities.
We speak now about what we have found since then that is real. I try to tell my friend about what it was like to stand in the Kanievsky’s room of sefarim. How the rows and rows of books looked like ribbons of leather and gold in the light of the Bnei Brak sun. How I couldn’t stop staring at the ancient Shabbos candles enclosed in their glass case on the wall. They were real. So real that I could almost hear the prayers that encircled them each week. I speak of how my four-year-old son was afraid to go with the other little boys to get a blessing from the Rav, but he clung to the Rebbetzin’s skirt like she was the source of sweetness itself. And when the Rebbetzin whispered words of Torah that I bent so close to hear I couldn’t hear her precious shards of wisdom, but I could hear the echo of sacred truth enveloping me with its purity. I didn’t want to leave the Rebbetzin’s smile even after she handed my son a treat and blessed us. I wanted another blessing. And another. I wanted to stay for a little longer in that room of books and drink in the nameless gift. The faith. The kindness. The unmistakable air of a home that is real.
And I speak of the Thursday evening when a famous, Torah teacher called me to invite us for Friday night dinner. She introduced herself by her first name and spoke to me as if we had always been the best of friends. I couldn’t figure out who it was until the voice clicked. That was the voice from the countless beloved lectures that lit up my life. We went to their home that Shabbos with our three babies all under the age of three, and the Rebbetzin held my baby the whole dinner as if I was giving her some rare gift. She, who had numerous children and grandchildren and thousands of students, held my baby like she was a long lost diamond. I have never since seen such a beautiful Shabbos table. The Rebbeztin sat beside her husband like a Queen beside her King as the children served the meal. Their home was so simple, and yet it sparkled in a way far richer interiors could never match. It smelled like the beginning of time. Like Hashem’s love. Like something real.
And I speak of the Rosh Hashanah eve that I spent davening by Rachel’s Tomb. How there was a woman beside me whose face I never saw that sang a song made of tears. No words, no music, but I can still hear it today. It fell slowly into my heart and broke open the walls of my soul. So that I could sing too. I could reach a place inside of me that knew that there was truth in a world of subjective eyes even if it couldn’t always be defined. That there was a purpose and a reason for everything. Even if it couldn’t always be named. And there was a way to find it even if it looked like the way was blocked.
Most days truth visits us in tiny, hidden spurts. Like the sky at dawn. Like a baby’s laugh. Sometimes it’s just a sentence or a song. Or a memory suddenly arriving on a challenge’s edge like a present on the edge of the wind. But we can miss it altogether if we aren’t careful. Because most of the time, we still look for truth in all the wrong places. My friend listens so carefully like I am handing her slivers of jewels that she must line up in her mind. And then we hear a shriek of delight and one of my daughters runs towards us with a tiny snowball in her hand.
“I made this, I made this. Look how beautiful, Ima!” she hands me the snowball, made up of just a few delicate flakes, and I gingerly hold the weightless, boundless treasure.
I see a wisp of a smile flicker on my friend’s face.
“I think you found it,” she says. “Something real.”