I’m not exactly sure, and they can sense that. They sniff out uncertainty like bloodhounds
I’m sitting on a folding chair in a small gray room, concrete walls, dirt floor.
Actually, I’m sitting at my kitchen table near a sunny window, but it doesn’t matter, it feels like an interrogation room.
The children are asking questions. Again. The curious, curious children. And G-d help me, they expect answers.
I started out a half hour ago, strong, confident. They asked me what Rashi meant here, no problem! What was created in the 18 minutes before Shabbos, easy peasy! Why Daddy always says he’ll be home from Maariv in ten minutes and then doesn’t get back for another hour — I can answer that!
They move on. “Why do we say v’al hakalkalah at the end of Al Hamichyah when no one else does?”
I’ve got this. I tell them the story about the chassid and the Rebbe. That should satisfy them.
But they aren’t done. Not by a long shot.
“If you poured yourself a cup of water on Shabbos and then didn’t finish it and put it in a bowl so you could water a plant with it on Sunday and then you did water the plant on Sunday, were you mechallel Shabbos? Even though it’s already Sunday?”
I’m starting to sweat. The lone, exposed lightbulb sways above my head. Or maybe it doesn’t. I can’t tell. But I must answer their questions!
“If you borrowed a head of garlic from the Grossmans and some of the cloves were rotten and then you return another head of garlic, did you just make the Grossmans do ribbis?”
“I don’t think so. I mean, Mrs. Grossman lent me a whole garlic head, so I paid her back a whole garlic head. She couldn’t know it was rotten.”
But I’m not exactly sure, and they can sense that. They sniff out uncertainty like bloodhounds.
My daughter narrows her eyes, assessing me. “Why doesn’t the Torah tell us anything about Yaakov’s daughters?”
“Um, well we know all about it from Rashi, right? From the Midrash, you know?” I laugh unsteadily. I hope it makes me sound light and carefree, but I’m pretty sure I sound deranged.
“So, Mommy,” the next kid says, pretending to be casual, “before the world there was nothing, right?”
“Yep,” I answer, relieved that I know this.
“But what is that? What’s nothing?”
“Well, I guess I imagine it like a pitch-black room with no sound and no movement?”
He cocks his head, “Yeah, but… that’s still something.”
We’re moving on to technology. I hate technology.
“When Mashiach comes will there be iPhones? And, if there are, what will the beis din do?”
“I’m sorry, do you mean will they ban iPhones? Because I’m pretty sure they’ll figure out some really good way to filter them by then.”
“No, not that. If people have iPhones, no one will need to ask the beis din about the new moon for Rosh Chodesh. Everyone will just check the Weather App.”
Well, I don’t exactly know.
“And why is it called a manicure if it’s for ladies? Why is there a man in that word?”
I try another tactic. Flattery.
“That’s a good question. A really good question! You kids are so smart asking good questions like that. Who wants cookies?”
No one. No one wants cookies. They want to see me squirm.
The more I devolve, the more curious they get. My eyes shift furtively from side to side. I’ve begun to chew my cuticles aggressively. They smell blood.
“How do you say Chanukah in Hebrew?”
I’m certain I know the answer to this but I can’t access it. I’m just a person. I shouldn’t be expected to speak 70 languages!
“Are the people who like kasha varnishkas the same people who like apricot hamantaschen?”
“Well, maybe, I’m not sure.”
Not good enough. They demand answers. They want answers!
“When you were a kid did they have forks?” I’m trying to remember. I think we did, but who can really say for sure?
My three-year-old jumps in. “Is it still yesterday?”
“No,” I say shakily. “Of course it’s not yesterday anymore. It’s tomorrow.”
“No, I mean it’s today.”
“Then why did you say it’s tomorrow?”
“Where does the moon go when I’m sleeping?”
“I, I …”
“Did you and Daddy know Pharoah?”
“No, we didn’t.”
Why don’t they ask him? Why doesn’t anyone ask him these questions? Why must it always be me!?
They’re coming at me rapid-fire now. I want to answer with name, rank, and serial number. But I don’t know my rank. Or serial number. Frankly, I’m not entirely sure of my name.
“What can I eat? What can I do now? What should I wear? Where are my socks?”
I don’t know. I don’t know! I don’t know anything! You’ve broken me. Are you happy? Is this what you wanted? If I admit defeat, will this be over?
“Mommy, why are you holding your hands over your ears?”
“What’s that noise you’re making with your mouth?”
“Do you want water?”
“Should we call Daddy?”
“What’s for supper?”
“Is it still Tuesday?”
I don’t know.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 717)
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