Chesed, Simcha, Zechus, and Stuff Like That

Because that’s what goes on in my life as a seminary girl in Israel, you know…. 😉

Chesed, of course, referring the “Cohen” family that I help out on Thursday afternoons…the word is loosely translated as “good deeds” or some such.

Simcha meaning happiness, joy, etc.

Zechus meaning merit/good fortune.

Anyway, so I thought I’d start out by talking about my weekly excursion to Chez Cohen…or Beit Cohen as we’d call it in Hebrew.  Lately, she’s just had me doing stuff around the house…hanging wet laundry and peeling vegetables and breading chicken for schnitzel, stuff like that.  It’s fairly mindless work, and she’s really, really grateful that I’m doing it, because it bores the average person out of their mind and takes up a good chunk of time too…but I’m both introverted enough and imaginative enough that I actually enjoy that kind of thing…my hands doing something automatically while my mind goes to who-knows-where.  Totally doesn’t feel like a chore at all, but I’m sure glad it’s so much help to the Cohens!

Today, though, deviated from that routine.  I hung out laundry and started to peel potatoes, as usual, and then Sophie, the two-year-old came over to ask me her usual litany of questions, most starting with “why?”

“Whatcha doin’?”

“Peeling potatoes.”


“Because your mommy asked me to.”


“So she can cook them for your Shabbos lunch.”


“Because they taste good.  See, now I’m going to cut them.”

“I peel, you cut!” she says, grabbing the peeler when I put it down to cut a newly-peeled potato.

Oooookay.  I figure the peeler is safe enough for her.  At least she hadn’t asked to use the knife, which of course I would have refused.  She did a remarkably good job on her potato, while I peeled the other ones (slowed down by the fact that she’d stolen my peeler 😉 but knives work okay for that purpose too), and then I got started breading chicken.  That was where havoc broke out…both girls wanted to touch/play with the raw chicken (ewww), and their mother and I were not so keen on this idea, but the two-year-old was content to help me dump crumbs onto the chicken pieces while her older sister threw a tantrum over not being allowed to play with the chicken…sigh.  Eventually Sally, the older girl, calmed down and switched places with her sister, and between us, the girls and I made two different kinds of breaded chicken…as well as a huge mess!  It was really fun for all involved, though, even if it did mean I got a lot less work done over there than I usually do.

Simcha?  Sigh…we’re supposed to “Ivdu et Hashem b’simcha”…serve G-d with joy”…and I try to make that my motto, but I must admit to having a harder time than usual with that this past week.  Not that anything is terribly wrong, G-d forbid, but…I feel like my classes were out of sorts and not with it.  My roommate, who is also my learning partner in the morning, is out of the country this week and next, visiting her family.  That means I’m minus a learning partner and have to crash somebody else’s learning and make it a threesome, or else I learn with a part-time student or a newbie who is only checking out classes and not even registered yet and have to spend all my time explaining to them what’s going on, which…really just messes up the routine of things, you know?  Especially when I’m learning with a different pair every day, and several of the girls come late every single day, and this week I’ve been guilty of it as well, knowing that I don’t have a partner who’s depending on me.

Sigh.  I’ll be better next week, but I really miss my learning partner.  We had a good thing going.

And it’s kind of the above morose thoughts that lead to my next topic…that of “zechus” (or “zechut” if you speak modern Hebrew 😉 ).  It’s a huge privilege to be able to live in G-d’s holy land (hmm, privilege, maybe that’s a better way to translate zechus)…but as we all know, with great privilege comes great responsibility.  They say that every four amos is a mitzvah in Israel…meaning that even walking…I think four amos converts to around six feet…so every few steps is another mitzvah.  And each mitzvah is supposedly that much more precious because it’s done in G-d’s land.  But, by the same token, transgressions are that much worse.  The parable used to illustrate this point is, if you’re a peasant and you do a crime on some far-off border of the country, it’s not as big a deal as if you were have the gall to go into the King’s palace and commit a crime right there.  By being in Israel, we’re in the king’s palace, and every sin we do is much more terrible than if we were to do the same thing outside of the Land.  And I just…wonder sometimes if I am good enough to really be worthy of living here.

(I suppose this is, at least in part, my “Jewish guilt” talking.  And please, nobody comment on this just to tell me how wonderful I am and why I am worthy of Israel or whatever…I am NOT fishing for compliments, that’s really not the point of this last paragraph, and it won’t help anything anyway….)

Meh.  On a happier note, happy Thanksgiving to all my American friends (we don’t celebrate it here, unfortunately.  My first turkey-free Thanksgiving!  This is sad….), and good Shabbos to all my Jewish friends, and have a good weekend to all my non-Jewish friends.  I’m going to Ramat Beit Shemesh for Shabbos, and really looking forward to meeting people there.

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2 Responses to Chesed, Simcha, Zechus, and Stuff Like That

  1. BKop says:

    As usual, this is an exceptional story. Your blend of the routine with the profound always works for me, always teaches me what you want me to know. Excellent writing, and so full of heart!
    As for the question of worthiness, each of us should have as much humility. Each of us would appreciate our lives so much more!
    Hope you have a wonderful Sabbath. Although I’m not sure where MB and I will be, I do know that we’re committed to having a latke party on Saturday night.
    Of course, you’re invited! Like Elijah, I wish you could fly in to join us!

    love ya,

  2. David Schwartz says:

    Your “why” story brings back memories of my own Israel “why” story. When I was studying at Hebrew U, I had an internship at the Tali Frankel school on French Hill. I also was attending shul at Ramot Tzion up on French Hill every Shabbat morning (Friday nights I checked out the various offerings of the city). During Kiddush on one Shabbat, one of my kids came over to me and asked me why I had told him to be quiet the previous day in class. I gave him an answer in Hebrew, and he followed it up with “Why?” (except in Hebrew). So I answered that question. The conversation went for a good 10 minutes with him only saying “Lama?” – it was really easy for him, but if nothing else it improved my Hebrew skills as the conversation headed toward the absurd.
    I totally get the idea of the learning partner issue. I had a friend visiting me the first week of November, and I took her to both of my chevrutot (Mishnah Brurah on Tues and Talmud on Wed). Both times it felt weird to have somebody else in my chevruta. This past Tuesday, I got caught up in a good book and didn’t look at my watch until it was 5 minutes before I was supposed to be learning. I quickly dashed off an apologetic text message and scurried to the shul. In the end, my partner had gone off to LA for Turkey Day and in the hustle and bustle forgot to notify me, so I joined a chabura on Rambam’s laws of conversion. On Wednesdays, I have had to miss several weeks because of a program that I’m doing for newcomers to the city of Chicago. I was feeling really guilty about bailing on my chevruta until I realized that my partner (who had also said that there would be weeks that she was missing) was participating in the same program. So I understand the issue of being there for your chevruta.
    By the way, did it occur to you that your fun in the messy situation that was your schnitzel scenario is “Ivdu et Hashem b’simcha”?
    I see that you have seen Spiderman, given the “with great power comes great responsibility” quote that you farbessered slightly. I’m not going to try to convince you of what a beautiful neshama you have and whatnot. I’m simply going to draw the connection to Moshe, who as you know received a greater punishment for not talking to the rock on grounds of his greater status. And then I’m going to remind you of the story told be Reb Zusya that he said when he dies and goes to Heaven they aren’t going to ask him, “Why weren’t you more like Moshe?” Oh no, rather they are going to ask him, “Why weren’t you more like Reb Zusya”. Oh, and if G-d sees fit that you should leave the Land, then G-d will see to it that you leave the Land. Until then, if circumstances work out that you are still in the Land, then clearly G-d thinks you ought to be there. Let G-d be the one to pass judgement on the matter – you contribute more to those around you when you are less stressed.
    And on a happier note, I too am having a turkey-less Thanksgiving, as I am spending mine in Canada with my father. Certainly the turkeys are pleased with how this turned out for us!

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