| Voice in the Crowd |

Young and Old

Let’s be honest. Our parents and grandparents know something we don’t

 

It’s the season of checking behind and under, a time when the light shines bright and shows what’s been there all along.

As Pesach approaches, the rug has been lifted, and we’re confronting certain truths that maybe we didn’t admit as easily two months ago. Hatzalah guys aren’t machers who want sirens on their cars; they’re heroes who fight off fear and exhaustion and go into house after Jewish house, malachei rachamim bearing little packages of compassion. Rabbanim aren’t just guys who were able to sit for longer than you in yeshivah and memorize sections of the Shulchan Aruch; they’re heroes sitting in cramped houses, like you, crafting halachic solutions to sh’eilos that have never been asked; answering, listening, encouraging; and, on the other line, raising money for people who would never dream of admitting their neediness to anyone else. Your in-laws’ house with the broken shower, the crowded Seder table, and folding chairs that make you feel like you’re on a slide has never looked better. You wish you were there now, eh?

And, at least to me, the older generation has gone from being vulnerable — we young ones will do the worrying, we got this, we’re not at risk, and they are, right? — to serving as the reservoirs of strength nurturing everyone else.

We’re making rotations, calling the grandparents, making sure they have what to eat, that they’re handling the boredom and fear, the anguish of being legally denied human contact, the craving for an einekel’s hug.

But now I know the truth: While I call my parents all the time, anxious to know how they’re managing, I’m really calling for reassurance — because it turns out that they’re way tougher than we are.

Let’s be honest. Our parents and grandparents know something that we don’t.

They know that life can be difficult. They’ve seen this before, and if they haven’t, they’ve heard about it from their parents. They were raised knowing that yishuv hadaas, calm and tranquility, and the ability to function in times of stress, are imperative for Jews.

Those videos you see of energetic kids shouting out “Gut Shabbos” to the corona-confined Bubby and Zeidy peering down helplessly from their porch? You’re missing the real story. The invisible, intangible package being transmitted isn’t the colorful cards or kugel left at the bottom of the stairs, but the faith and power of Bubby and Zeidy flowing downward.

During these weeks, we’ve announced that we get it too, our generation that has it all figured out — camp applications done and next year’s playgroup slot reserved and the lease on the 2019 Volvo xc90 up just in time to get the 2021, either Osmium Grey Metallic or Savile Grey Metallic, we’re still deciding. We get it, we can also deal with adversity.

Maybe when this is all over we’ll create our own Ben Zion Shenkers and warbling Pirchei choirs that sing with a bit of hesitation and wonder, that don’t take so much for granted, that don’t see themselves as the central story, but who focus instead on the words they sing and message they bring. Maybe we’ll be a bit humbler and a bit more real and remember these days when we saw truth: that family is really like family, that Shabbos is really a taste of happiness, that living with the Master and His plan gives comfort and serenity, that one can have a physical craving to say “Amen yehei shemei rabba” or kiss a sefer Torah, that there is a glory in a neshamah. We’ve read about those hoarding toilet paper and Tylenol, but haven’t yet heard of a single person hoarding matzah — because the ones who cherish matzah also cherish sharing with others.

By the time you read this, Mashiach may well be here. Even if not, he will certainly be so much closer after another week of this cleansing. This will end.

 

When a person does not have a son, his wife should ask him the questions. If he does not have a wife, he and another should ask each other: “Why is this night different?”… A person who is alone should ask himself: “Why is this night different?” (Rambam, Hilchos Chometz Umatzah, 7:3).

How can a person fulfill the obligation of telling one’s son by asking himself the questions? Great men understood this as a mandate to speak to the child within yourself: the naive, somewhat unsophisticated part that remains unsullied by too much information.

We’re all scared, and we’ve all feeling a bit raw. The adult — with his Chol Hamoed trip plans and thoughts that really it’s time for a nicer ke’arah and why does the baal tefillah think he has to sing every part of Hallel — is gone, replaced by a frightened child.

But perhaps there is something more here, as well.

We have discovered the child inside ourselves, but we’ve also discovered the elder to aspire to. We’ve gotten new insight into what it means to be an elder and into the role we will one day play for our own children.

While in a sense this virus has turned us once again into children — uncertain, apprehensive, eyes wide open as we look around for something, a piece of information, chizuk, direction, to help us get through the next hour — these weeks have also taught us the glory of those people we thought we had to worry for. We are blessed with parents, so many parents, who — at risk, in isolation, with walkers or canes or pacemakers, with three pairs of glasses and multilevel pillboxes — have managed to teach us that our strength isn’t for them, but from them.

From their porches and windows, as disjointed voices through phone lines or faces trying valiantly to move into the small screen, they are telling us that it will be okay.

Moshe Rabbeinu made it clear that he’d only leave Mitzrayim with everyone: bena’arenu uvizkenenu nelech. Soon, real soon, the children will go. They will take a few steps and then turn around, and one zakein, someone’s Zeidy in an old, heavy pinstripe suit with a white-on-white shirt and pants worn too high — or maybe he’ll be in a cap and a thick gray shirt, linty vest, and polyester pants — will wave and say, “Let’s go, come, this is it,” and we’ll all follow.

(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 806)

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