As the month of Elul rapidly approaches, we all begin a period of introspection. True, this month is specially designated for teshuva, but in essence, teshuva is an ongoing process, 365 days per year. I find that Hashem sends us opportunities all year long, through mundane daily occurrences, to examine our deeds. Below are just a few such reminders that I had this year.
There are certain things that need to be done yet always seem to get pushed off. One of them is dental appointments. There’s something about going to the dentist that scares away even the bravest non-procrastinators. Well, next week, the Matskin family is going to do it! We are going to our yearly (rather, our should-be-yearly) dental check-ups.
It’s interesting what takes place in our home when the dental appointments are nearing. Starting from about a month before the dreaded day, the children start asking “When did you say we’re going to the dentist?” Suddenly I notice the 30-second tooth-brushing session turning into a 60-second session. A week or two later, it seems to be as long as 90 seconds. If we push off the appointments, perhaps they’ll even start brushing for the recommended two minutes. You never know.
Now, think about it. If you were a poor brusher for 11 months and suddenly turn conscientious a month before your check-up, do you really think you’ll be able to fool the dentist? Whatever damage was done will remain. Whatever cavities developed are still there. Certain staining will remain despite the intense brushing of the last few weeks.
D-Day comes. We sit in the chair with trepidation, awaiting our verdict. The dentist pokes and prods, while knowingly making notations on our files. The check-up is followed by painful treatments, along with sincere commitments to take better care of our teeth from now on. I’d love to time how many minutes the children spend brushing once the appointment is forgotten (and their cheap plastic prizes long broken). Is it all for naught? No! Every period of improvement makes an impression. Each time we do this, it brings us closer, hopefully, to our ideal level of permanent, proper dental care.
It reminds me of Elul. We all have some habits, actions, middos, etc., that are far from perfect. We go along our merry way for 10 months of the year. We rationalize that at least we’re doing something. (After all, we didn’t actually skip any days of brushing.) We’re nice and kind people to those who cross our paths, though we may not go out of our way to give a kind word to the one who really needs it. We control our anger when in public but sometimes get irritable at home. We take out our siddur each morning and go through all the motions, but perhaps we’re missing the connection; perhaps we’re just brushing right over some plaque and leaving it behind.
Come Elul. Oh no! We’re having a check-up next month! Suddenly we try harder. We control ourselves more. We go out of our way more. We add those extra seconds to our tefilos; they gradually get longer and longer. We stop to think about our actions and what they are doing to us in the long run. Now’s the time to get rid of all that terrible plaque that has been building up on our hearts.
Judgment Day comes. We sit in shul filled with trepidation, awaiting our verdict. We think back to the previous year, making note of all the pain and suffering we’ve endured, on both a personal and national level. We poke and prod at our hearts, making notations, resolutions, and commitments for the future. The next few weeks we try harder, and we improve. True, the intensity wears off. We get distracted by our busy lives and our daily routines. But it’s not for naught. Every period of improvement makes an impression. Each year, we come closer to our ultimate goal.
Shiputzim! The very word can cause people to shiver. But alas, all homes at some point or another require either renovations or upgrades or, at the very least, repairs. We very innocently applied to the Israel Electric Company to upgrade the electric capacity of our apartment. I received a nice thick instruction packet in the mail, along with a bill that required an even nicer and thicker wad of cash to pay it. I then patiently waited for Israel Electric Company to come down to my building and install proper wires to support the upgrade. Once that was done, I was told that we need to have an electrician come to our house and run the wires from the building to our personal electric box. He also has to check that all electricity in our house meets the current electric standards. Upon completion of that check, the electrician is supposed to sign a form that all is in order and schedule the electric company’s representative to come check for himself. When that is completed, we finally are deemed deserving of additional electric current, and the company will upgrade us by a click of the mouse in their office miles away.
Okay, it’s a bit of a long procedure, but it can’t be too bad, right? Wrong! Wrong! Wrong!
Monday morning, Mr. Electrician shows up at my door. He confidently struts into my apartment as if he owns the place, and takes a self-guided tour, room by room. No room is left unchecked; no room is left untouched. Now, I’m a pretty private person when it comes to my home, so this was bad enough. Next thing I know, Mr. Electrician is shaking his head and clucking his tongue: “You’ve got a lot of work to do here, Giveret!” he announces. Deep breath: okay. Before I know it, the electrician is picking apart my house with a fine-toothed comb. Room by room, he’s pulling out wires, taking apart electric fixtures, and disconnecting outlets. It seems that any work we’ve ever had done was not done according to regulation standards. Any time we saved money on a job was wasted money, as it’s all been ripped out in front of my eyes.
For four full days the electrician worked in my house. I’m left with fewer outlets than before, no switch to turn on the stairway lights, and the air conditioner system disconnected. It would cost a fortune to hook it up to meet the legal requirements, so the electrician decided to just unhook the entire thing. He’s thrown the wires up on the roof of the building, next to the compressor units. He said the inspectors will never risk their lives climbing up there. After the inspection, we’re welcome to hire someone to take them down and reconnect our unit any which way we please.
I found the entire situation quite disturbing – and not only from a financial standpoint. (I’m paying this guy by the hour to “fix” everything up.) I feel, just, so invaded and exposed. I mean, this total stranger just picked apart every little thing in my home. He ripped, destroyed, disconnected, and in some situations reconnected, all the while clucking his tongue at how incorrectly everything had been done.
As we approach Elul, I am reminded of the electrician. It’s as if my house went through a long and painful cheshbon hanefesh. Everything done in the lifetime of the house has been looked at carefully. Was it done correctly, or did we take a shortcut? What’s hiding under all those little electric caps? True, sometimes we can cover up things, but sooner or later, Someone will open up those little caps and check the connections inside. Did you run a wire in an illegal manner and then just plaster over it? At some point, the Inspector will check how that wire was run. There are no secrets, no hiding anything, no covering anything up. It’s all out in the open, exposed. There is a price to pay for every mistake that was ever made. It seems that it pays to do it right the first time, but if we didn’t, now’s the chance to carefully check every action and every deed and to correct them – before the day of the Great Inspection!
Making the Sale
“Hayom bezol, hayom bezol! Na’alayim bezol, magafayim bezol! Bechetzi mechir!” (Today for cheap, today for cheap! Shoes for cheap, boots for cheap! At half price!) So announces “the shoe car” that drives around my neighborhood every other Wednesday. For non-locals, some explanation is called for.
Every other Wednesday afternoon, a man commonly referred to as Hayom Bezol, or “the shoe car,” drives through the streets of town selling children’s shoes. In the summer it’s Shabbos shoes and sandals; in the winter he sells Shabbos shoes and boots. He has a small white car that is literally filled to the brim with shoe boxes. The megaphone on top screams out his “hayom bezol” war cry. The trunk is left open, filled top to bottom with boxes; the back seat, too, leaves no space empty. The roof of his car holds yet more cases of shoe boxes. He even has shoes piled up on the hood of his car! And let’s not forget the one, lone, tiny sandal hanging by a string from his back bumper.
He drives slowly and somehow manages to keep everything from falling. Every half block or so he stops – usually in such a way that he’s blocking traffic – and women and children surround his car. It’s quite typical to see little girls and boys sitting on the sidewalk or curb trying on various pairs of shoes. Non-conventional? Yes. But what won’t we do to buy shoes for a third of the store price?
One Wednesday morning I step outside and whom do I see? None other than Hayom Bezol. We’d been waiting for him to come since my son’s Shabbos shoe completely fell apart two weeks ago. The problem is that it is 11 a.m. How can I buy shoes when my son is in school? I need him to try them on! I approach the man (who is known to be a bit eccentric at times) and ask if he’d come back in the afternoon when the children are home. His response: “In the afternoon it takes me so long! I can’t waste all day here!”
I did not purchase shoes without my son and continued on my way up the mountain. Each time I climbed the steps to the next street I again saw Hayom Bezol. Whereas he can spend over an hour just on my street in the afternoon, this time he managed to cover three streets in about 10 minutes. Amazing! Brilliant idea! He’s right – in the afternoon it takes so long. But did he make any sales?
Don’t we all do the same thing? We’re here to “make sales,” not just cover ground. How often do we look for ways to get things done faster? How many of us seek shortcuts in our daily lives? Don’t we love to find the easiest way to accomplish? Let’s just make sure that we’re not giving up on our true purpose in the process.
Stop and think. Are you just driving through the streets without stopping to make sales? Are you rushing through life without stopping to pick up mitzva opportunities along the way? Are we all bypassing tremendous schar (reward) for the sake of finishing up already?
Wednesday afternoon the children call out excitedly, “Mommy, Hayom Bezol is here!” At first I didn’t believe them. I assumed they had heard one of the numerous other cars with loudspeakers that drive around town. But indeed, it was Hayom Bezol again. I guess he realized the futility of driving around in the morning. He decided to come back in the afternoon in order to make his sales.
We definitely don’t want to have to come back later to complete unfinished business.
Aidel Matskin (nee Berman) grew up in Baltimore and now lives in Kiryat Sefer.