| Once upon a Story |

Clean Slate

What a great resolution! What a great plan! And what a great year it was going to be!

Succos vacation!

Rikki sniffed the air. Even from her bedroom she could smell it: a glorious mixture of chicken soup and meats and stir-fried vegetables and yummy, melt-in-your-mouth chocolate cake. Ima must have been up even earlier than usual.

And Abba? Rikki hopped to the window and looked out. Just last night, after the long fast, Abba had started putting up the succah boards in their special place in the backyard. Now, though, the entire succah was standing, and Rikki’s older brothers were climbing on ladders to put up the sechach. Rikki’s little brother, Benny, pranced around them, getting in the way and narrowly missing knocking into one of the ladders.

Pinchas looked up and caught her staring. “Hey, good morning, sleepyhead! Coming to help?”

Rikki giggled and shook her head. It was fun watching the boys climb and build, but she had other plans. And all her craft supplies were laid out on the dining room table, waiting.

This year, Rikki was going to make the most beautiful, creative, and original succah decoration ever. Ima had helped her to plan it and buy all the materials and supplies. She was good-to-go.

Rikki worked on her craft project all morning. She showed Ima what she’d done. But no one else was allowed inside the dining room.

“Not til it’s finished,” she explained to her curious brothers for the umpteenth time. “It’s too delicate, and the glue isn’t dry yet. Anyway, you’ll have the whole Yom Tov to look at it.”

Then she closed the door, again, firmly, and let her mind wander as she selected beads and sequins and layered the colors carefully against the pale pastel background.

Art projects were so relaxing. There was no doubt about it: Succos was her very favorite Yom Tov. And decorating the succah was her most favorite mitzvah!

 

But of course, all mitzvos were important, even the ones that she found hard. Morah Steinberg had shown the class a fresh, white, blank sheet of paper and described how after Yom Kippur was a chance to make a pristine, beautiful, fresh new start.

Rikki liked that mashal because it reminded her of her favorite hobby: art projects. A fresh piece of paper had so much potential. It could become a drawing. Or a painting. Or a watercolor, or a collage, or a montage with mixed media, like she was doing now. (Which was just a fancy way of saying an art project with lots of different methods and materials. Some paint and some sequins and some beads and some crayons… fun and beautiful!)

And what did it mean to make a fresh new start, Morah Steinberg had asked. Rikki hadn’t thought about it before, but now she remembered what Morah had said: to think of a kabbalah, a small thing that she could take on to choose to do better now than she had done before.

Rikki pursed her lips as she carefully cut out little mosaic squares from colored cardstock to make a border for her craft. Yom Kippur had been so uplifting and inspiring, she really felt like that blank piece of paper Morah had shown them. But what would her new resolution be?

Saying brachahs out loud? Her family had started a project to do that just recently, when Zeidy hadn’t been feeling well.

To daven with more kavanah?

Help her mother more?

Hmm. Rikki started laying out the pieces of her mosaic. How about helping lots of people? Now that would be a special kabbalah.

My new kabbalah for this year, Rikki decided, is going to be chesed. I’m going to make sure to show kindness and caring for everyone!

She hummed as she glued color-coordinated little beads onto the mosaic squares. What a great resolution! What a great plan! And what a great year it was going to be!

Rikki stepped back to take a look at her masterpiece. It wasn’t finished, but it was well on the way.

“Rikki!” came a call just then. It was Benny’s voice. He banged on the dining room door. “Rikki, play with me!”

Rikki sighed. Her little brother was adorable, but he was always asking her to play games with him. And he liked to play the same games over and over again! It was so boring. Besides, she was busy.

“I can’t play now,” Rikki called back. “Maybe ask Yitz?”

“He’s busy,” Benny answered. He sounded sad. “Everyone’s busy.”

Rikki felt a pang, but… she was busy, too.

“Maybe later,” she said.

Then she stretched and looked at her watch. Wow, nearly time for supper? She couldn’t believe she’d been working on her project all day.

The doorbell rang just then. It was Mrs. Blum, one of the neighbors.

“Rikki, just who I need,” Mrs. Blum said happily. “I have to run an errand for about half an hour and my baby just fell asleep. Would you be able to come over and babysit? He should be fine until I get back…”

Rikki usually didn’t mind babysitting, but she knew Baby Blum. He had a sixth sense for when his mother was out, and he had a habit of waking up as soon as she left and screaming the entire time. The worst part was that as soon as his mother came home, he would snuggle up quietly and fall back asleep!

She was not in the mood of dealing with that now.

“I think my mother might need my help,” Rikki said. She felt a little guilty, but it wasn’t a lie, Ima was working hard. Maybe she could do with a hand in the kitchen?

“Ima, do you want me to help you in here?” she asked when Mrs. Blum had left, disappointed, to try her luck across the road. There was a bag of potatoes on the counter. “Maybe I could peel these for you?”

“That’s really nice of you to offer, Rikki,” Ima said. “But I’d rather you took these over to Bubby instead of peeling potatoes.” She gestured towards a stack of foil containers. “I made Bubby some cakes and a few side dishes for Yom Tov, I’ll put them in a bag for you, will you run over there?”

Rikki’s face fell. A visit to Bubby would take far too long. She’d have to walk there and back, and probably stay to chat for a while in between. Bubby would want her to sample the cake, have a drink, and help her out with whatever odd jobs were lying around. And then she wouldn’t get to continue her succah decoration tonight!

“I dunno, I’m so tired,” she said. “Maybe I’ll go tomorrow…”

And then she left the kitchen, too quickly to hear if Ima would reply.

It was only when she was happily getting ready for bed — her project was almost complete! — that she remembered her resolution. She’d planned to do lots and lots of chesed and help out anyone that she could — but she hadn’t even managed to do one chesed today!

But who could I have helped? Rikki wondered, as she squirted toothpaste onto her toothbrush. After all, she’d been busy with her art project for most of the day. Why, she’d hardly even seen anyone!

Then Rikki remembered Mrs. Blum. That would’ve been the perfect chesed… to go watch the baby even if he might wake up and cry.

Someone banged on the bathroom door. “Hurry up in there!” called one of her brothers. Rikki called, “Coming!” and rinsed her mouth out. But the sound reminded her of something else — Benny, knocking on the locked dining room door to ask her to play a game. That would’ve been a chesed, too.

At the top of the stairs, she met Pinchas. He had just come home from Bubby’s.

“Ima said to tell you that I delivered the cakes and things in the end, you don’t have to do it tomorrow,” he said. “But Bubby sent regards and said she missed seeing you!”

Rikki felt a strange pinch in her heart.

Three. There had been three prime opportunities to do chesed today, and she’d refused them all. She’d had such high hopes for her beautiful fresh kabbalah... but she’d ended up ruining it on the very first day!

“Thanks,” she mumbled to Pinchas, and headed to her room. There, she took out the special sparkly notebook that she’d once won as a prize. This should have been her chesed journal, where she recorded what kind things she’d done each day. Its fresh pages should have been filled with the outcome of her new resolution. But instead, it was as if the very first page was crumpled up, scribbled over, dusty and ruined.

What a waste!

Forget it, she thought, dropping the sparkly notebook back into her drawer and climbing into bed. I may as well give up on my new resolution if I’ve messed up already.

Then she rolled over and fell asleep.

****

“Rikki, how’s your project going?” Ima asked. She was taking the silverware out of the breakfront to polish it for Yom Tov. “Are you almost finished?”

“Mmm-hmm,” Rikki said, concentrating on a small design in the corner. “I’ll be — oh, no!” Her elbow had brushed against the container of glitter and knocked it on its side. Gold glitter spilled out, right across her project. Some of it fell on wet glue and stuck to the page. Gone was her carefully-planned montage. The colorful layers of design with the pastel-sunset background and bold black lettering were ruined.

Tears rushed to Rikki’s eyes. “Ima, look what happened, it’s all ruined,” she wailed.

“What went wrong?” Ima came to the table and studied the decoration. “Let’s see what we can do.”

Together, they lifted the project and carefully shook off whatever glitter they could. Then Ima took a thin, hard paintbrush and showed Rikki how to gently nudge the wet, gluey glitter into a new design.

“See what we can do with this? It was a mistake, but let’s make it part of the picture.”

Rikki watched for a moment. “Hey, I get it,” she exclaimed. The tears dried on her cheeks. “It’s pretty.”

She took the brush from Ima and worked for a few minutes, tongue caught between her teeth. Then she stepped back. “It’s beautiful,” she decided. Different than how she’d planned, but beautiful, nevertheless.

Ima smiled, patted her shoulder, and left the room, closing the dining room door carefully behind her — just in time to catch Benny, who had been hurtling down the hallway.

“I wanna play with Rikki!” he said, loudly enough for Rikki herself to hear.

“Rikki’s working on her decoration now,” Ima told him.

“But I’m booooored,” Rikki heard him wail. “Everyone’s always too busy to play with me!” Then his voice trailed off.

Rikki picked up the scissors, then put them down again.

She looked at her picture.

Maybe messing up once doesn’t mean it’s all worthless?

Maybe it wasn’t just spilled glitter that could be transformed into something beautiful?

Maybe any mistake could become a learning experience… and turn out for the best?

She ran to the door and opened it. “Hey, Benny, I have an idea,” she called out.

Her little brother turned around eagerly, eyes wide and hopeful. “How about you join me in the dining room? I’m nearly finished my succah decoration, but you could help me make a second one… and we can go give it to Bubby as a gift.”

Benny’s face lit up. Ima smiled at Rikki. “That will make Bubby really happy,” she said. “What a great idea!”

Rikki hummed as she carefully moved aside her finished project and took out a new, blank sheet of cardstock to start fresh. Clean, blank pages are nice, she realized. But decorating them as best as she could, without being afraid of making mistakes, is even better. Because that, she thought, as a few stray pieces of gold glitter winked up at her, was the only way to create something beautiful.

 

(Originally featured in Mishpacha Jr., Issue 830)

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