“Nu,” inquired a neighbor, “what is an “unchepenish?” He didn’t realize that asking me that question a few more times would turn him into an unchepenish! So what’s the explanation? Hare zich tsue (give a listen): An unchepenish means something that clings to you. In Yiddish we often do not translate words or phrases literally, so an unchepenish is an unwanted happening that can occur in an instant, such as an outbreak of hives or a fahrzetsteh (messed up) missionary.
Our holy Torah mentions 10 plagues that were cast upon the Egyptians. If an Egyptian could speak Yiddish (wouldn’t that be interesting!), when the plague of hail began, he would have his exclaimed, “Oy vay, another unchepenish!” The Egyptians had constant unchepenish episodes until they finally released us from slavery.
In our day, we are constantly bombarded with unchepenish telephone calls, ranging from genayvish (thieving) firms ready to sell us the Brooklyn Bridge to organizations requesting contributions to the New Zealand Boy Scouts!
One uneventful day, I placed an important document on the dining room table. There was an unchepenish phone call which was ended in a few seconds. Upon returning to the table to retrieve the document, I found it had disappeared. Hairst ah geshichteh (can you imagine such a thing)!?
The search continued: on the table, over the table, under the table, ahin and ahair (here and there), but it was not to be found: gone, fahr shvindin (vanished)! I then asked my vibel Shirley whether she removed anything from the table, and her response was: “Hashhomer document anochi – Am I a document watcher?”
Evening approached, and it was time for Mincha, so I reached for a siddur, which was on a nearby shelf. Nu, guess what occurred? Correct. There was the document on the shelf! Then it occurred to me that forgetfulness is an unchepenish. Then it furthermore occurred to me that there are other daily annoyances and that they all may be caused by satanic forces. But fahrvoss (why)?
I recalled that somewhere in our holy writings, ess shtayt geshriben (it is written) that losing our temper is equivalent to idol worship – precisely what Satan wishes to do! And unchepenish helps him do it! Fahrvoss? you may ask.
The answer may be that Satan is an instigator who can approach the Boss (G-d) and exclaim, “Look at him (or her): an idol worshiper in the flesh!” Thus, the person who loses his (or her) temper is in gehakteh tsoress (big trouble)! However, we have a soul given to us by the Ribono Shel Olam, which includes bechchira, meaning the ability to choose to do good or, chass vesholom (G-d forbid), the opposite. Therefore, if we choose to overcome anger, Satan can be tsuzetst (defeated)!
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Here are some more examples of unchepenish:
1) Prior to retiring for the evening, I placed my eye glasses on the night table located next to the bed. Suddenly, the glasses toppled to the floor. It was past midnight but the idea of eyeglasses on the floor was annoying, because if they are stepped on, goodbye glasses. Using a flashlight, I searched every section of the floor, but the spectacles appeared to have vanished. Next, I took a broom and swept next to the bed, under the bed, and vair gedenkt (who remembers) where else, but the spectacles were nowhere to be found.
I went back to sleep, and it occurred to me that Satan was having a heyday, certain that I would lose my cool so that he could claim another victim. Therefore, instead of going bananas, I uttered the Yiddish proverb, “Oyb ess iz azoy, azoy zoll ess zine – if this is how it is, let it be.” The thought was relaxing and I fell asleep. In the morning, I looked on the floor and the glasses appeared to be staring in my direction!
2) The computer suddenly zapped out, and the entire page that I labored over, went teef ihn drerd (was lost). There was no computer message regarding why such a nasty thing occurred. It just happened, and there was no way to retrieve the information. Extremely frustrated, I was ready to toss the computer down the nearest gully! However, I again remembered “Oyb ess iz azoy, azoy zoll ess zine,” and it once again had a calming effect. Nu, if the computer could talk, it would have benched gomel (the survivor’s prayer)!
3) Have you ever stood in a long line to purchase food? Ahvahdeh (of course), you may respond. Recently, I did just that, and it finally was my turn to check out. However, the old unchepenish Satan was at it again. Vee azoy (how)? you may ask. Iz azoy (it’s like this): Somehow, the clerk mishandled the checkout computer. Nu, without a computer, she could not add five plus five! After waiting for a reasonable time, the items on the conveyer belt were returned to the shopping cart and moved to another counter. Case closed, right? Not exactly, because, somehow, a bottle of chrain (horseradish) dropped to the floor!
If the seething persons in the area had had their blood pressure taken, it probably would have reached the high 200s! Meanwhile, the pungent fumes of the chrain nearly caused a Yiddeneh to chalesh (faint). Satan was waiting for angry reactions, and on this occasion he got a hit!
4) During a professional meeting, tempers flared following the announcement made by Heinrich Chazersky, the owner of the Chazersky Shtreimel Factory. Nu, you may ask, voss hawt pahseert (what happened)? He announced that the company was teef in drerd (not doing so well) because the shtreimlach they manufactured were out of style and now considered passul (unfit). Therefore, salaries would be drastically reduced.
Following his announcement, a company associate named Ignaz Bluzowitz began using uncomplimentary Hungarian phrases that were not understood by most of the employees. Unknown to Ignaz, however, Chazersky originated from Hungary, so he understood every word! Consequently, Bluzstein declared that Ignaz was insolent. And furthermore, he could pick up his final paycheck. Nu, the temper unchepenish caused Ignaz to call Chazersky a chazer (pig) thus ending any possibility of reconciliation with his former boss. Tempers led to violence, and Satan was delighted!
5) Going to the theater is usually an enjoyable experience – except when a shlemiel sitting next to you falls asleep. He becomes a constant unchepenish, and the performance is ruined because of the unruly sounds. Waking him up is useless because he soon resumes snoring – louder than before!
6) There are deer in the neighborhood, and their menu consists of what used to be a beautiful floral garden. They enjoy various vegetables as well. This is a major unchepenish for gardeners. There are sprays to dissuade them from munching on plants, but their unbelievable garbage-like odor is difficult to tolerate by humans and animals alike.
7) During the summer months, people enjoy sitting on their porch until they begin to itch after being attacked by the king of unchepenish, the shtech flig (mosquito). Swatting at them can cause another unchepenish, a bruise on your arm. The expression “stop bugging me” probably originated from this unchepenish of insects.
8) After arriving home from an interesting trip to the Catoctin (excuse the name) mountains, hikers may notice reddish welts developing on their arms or legs. The infamous unchepenish of plants, poison ivy, can cause itching that lasts for a long time.
9) During the holiday of Sukkot, a yellow jacket – an anti-Semitic reincarnation no doubt – enters the sukka and flies ahin and ahair (back and forth) in order to disrupt the holiday meal. Incidentally, during Sukkot of this year, no yellow jackets or other insects appeared. Ah naiss (a miracle)!
10) A stray cat becomes an unchepenish when it begins meowing at midnight without letup. In desperation, some throw cold water towards the cat. The cat gives you a big yasher koach (thank you) for the free bath, and to show appreciation begins a new meowing concert.
11) A burrowing groundhog decides to tunnel (like Hamas in the Gaza Strip) next to your house. This unchepenish chiyeh (animal) is very persistent, and it takes repeated efforts to block his stubborn digging. After repeatedly blocking his escape routes with rocks, bricks, and dirt, the ground chazer finally decides to dig elsewhere – this time in you garden!
Hopefully you now fully understand the meaning of the word unchepenish. May we have few! Ah klal, Hashem has given us several wonderful senses, such as the sense of sight and of hearing. We need to develop an additional sense – a sense of humor – to overcome frustration and anger if and when unchepenish occurs.
We can respond to the unchepenish with a smile and with a Yiddish saying, such as “biz dehr kneppel,” literally, up to the top of the shirt button. The meaning of the saying is that we tolerate the unchepenish up to the neck – but no further!