When my guest arrived for another three-day visit, I had no illusions of indulging in quality time
HE arrived as he usually does, very late at night. Somewhere in my sleep, I hear the front door opening, and I glance at the clock: three a.m. When I awake fully, in the morning, I hear him downstairs on a Zoom call, speaking to someone in Israel.
He is an Israel-America commuter, and he always stays with me when he comes in, as Passaic is quite centrally located; Manhattan is close by, and so are most other Jewish neighborhoods. He comes in on Sunday and is always careful to be home for Shabbos.
He is a low-maintenance guest, never around for meals, and I never have to make awkward small talk with him, as I rarely see him. When I leave for shul in the morning, he has invariably already left for a morning meeting in the Five Towns or Brooklyn.
In fact, I often forget when my guest from Eretz Yisrael is in my home.
Such is the reality of his life and mine. But although my guest works hard and long hours, I, too, am to blame for our becoming two ships passing in the night.
Being a rav, I constantly struggle to keep my head above the waterline, and I’m always playing catch-up. I am in perpetual mental motion.
When preparing for a shiur, I feel guilty for not returning phone calls that the caller indicated is time-sensitive.
And when I'm calling back people, I’m plagued with worry that I won't be prepared to teach. A spontaneous speech, for me, is an exercise in futility. But while struggling to understand the Tosafos, I worry about the people I need to call back.
I accepted the fact years ago that the frenetic and frantic pace of my life is part of the challenge of being a rav. I have no complaints or regrets, yet my inability to achieve emotional tranquility haunts me.
Therefore, when my guest arrived for another three-day visit, I had no illusions of indulging in quality time, no matter how much we’d both like to.
Yet, this time was different.
Different in a way that realigned my reality.
My wife was in Florida visiting her mother. Aside from everything else, this meant that dinner would not be waiting for me on the table at six, as it always is.
I was on my own.
In a moment of rare impulsivity and ostensibly reckless irresponsibility, I asked my guest whether it would work for us to meet that night at a restaurant for dinner. He quickly agreed, the location was found, the time was set.
We met, we ate, and it was time to leave. We exited the restaurant, with each man about to head to his own car. As I was drowning in guilt for allowing myself this hasty hiatus and daring dereliction from my rabbinical responsibilities, my guest suggested a walk around the block: “It’s healthy to walk after a big meal.”
I accepted his invitation; after all, how long could once around the block take?
We walked and we talked, and we walked more and we talked more.
Five minutes turned into 50, and 50 minutes became two hours as we simultaneously realized what we had been missing these last years.
With our hearts opening up, we bonded and connected. We both recalled how precious and gratifying human connection can be. As this epiphany washed over my soul, a long-forgotten sense of calmness permeated my being.
Suddenly, I realized that calls could wait.
Being human is nothing to feel guilty about. Even a rabbi needs time to lovingly bond with his son.
When we finally parted, I said, “I love you, Tuvia. You are my hero. Thank you for reminding me that we are father and son.”
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 917)
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