It is 1:15 a.m. on Seder night. My fatigue is settling in, along with the brisket. It’s a good, satisfying fatigue, born of the hard work I have done—with the help of my children—to clean, shop, cook and make a Seder for family and friends. After twenty-two years of making Seders, I admit to occasional twinges of Passover resort envy, often triggered when friends call to wish me early holiday greetings before they jet off to their Passover program in Scotland, Italy or Costa Rica. This can be a bit much while I am going mano-a-mano with the business side of a scrubby sponge in the kitchen.
My husband and our kids insist that there’s no better place for Seders than at home. This is very satisfying for me, despite the labor, and I focus on making the holiday with simchah, happiness. And yet, every year, I start to get shpilkes around 1 a.m. on Seder night. Despite the joyous singing, I am distracted by the thought that the brisket still needs to be wrapped up and tucked into the fridge, and the other food put away. I head to the kitchen, hearing the echoes of “Avadim Hayinu” replaying in my head. I have an indescribable feeling of satisfaction because the Seder is the holiday that consecrates our birth as a nation.
More than ever before this year, I feel an irreducible, transcendent connection to my Jewish identity, to God and through my children, to the Jewish future.
That feeling lasts about thirty seconds. No sooner do I fling open the refrigerator door than I recoil in horror—the refrigerator light goes on. I forgot to set the holiday mode before the holiday began! For technical reasons, triggering lights to go on and off violates the laws of holiday observance. I let the door fall shut, and faster than you could shout “Dayeinu!” all that spiritual uplift I had basked in the moment before suddenly went pfft!, like air hissing out of a popped balloon.
Suddenly, I am resentful and mad: Does God really want me to have to throw out all this brisket, at $8.99 a pound? Where am I supposed to find a yom tov goy, a non-Jew to whom I could explain my predicament and who could rescue me by setting the holiday mode on the fridge, at nearly 1:30 a.m.? Why does this religion have so many rules? What am I supposed to feed my guests for the second Seder feast if I can’t store my food in the fridge? Tuna fish?
I announce the news at the table, complaining as bitterly as the maror we ate that any possible redemption in this situation is impossible.
“Don’t worry, Ma! It’s all going to be fine,” my eldest son says. I glower at him. How dare he display such faith at a time like this! His blithe disregard for my situation annoys me. We open our dining room shutters, looking for the absurdly implausible appearance of a non-Jew who just might be sauntering by in the middle of the night and who would be willing to listen to our crazy rules and offer to help us. Unbelievably, the rest of the family has the audacity to continue singing while I sit there feeling like a faithless flame-out.
I am ashamed of myself. What is my suffering compared to that of our ancestors, enslaved for hundreds of years? They had reason to complain! Yet the old “This too is for the good” Jewish philosophy refuses to kick in. What message is God sending me? All I had wanted was to make Passover with happiness and dedication!
At 1:40, my husband and one of our sons go outside to scan the street. All we see are Jews, Jews everywhere; the land is filled with them! Usually, it’s a comforting feeling to find a landsman in a time of trouble, but not in this case. We get excited for one moment seeing a couple heading toward a car, but unfortunately, they are Jews, too.
At 1:48, as I feel myself falling to the forty-ninth level of spiritual darkness, fighting tears of frustration and wondering how to elegantly serve canned tuna for second Seder, a car slowly pulls up and parks directly across the street from our house. Like a shot, my husband, one of our guests and our eldest son fly out the door. I fear that the sight of three grown men all wearing long white robes hurtling toward him might not just scare the heck out of the driver. I watch from the dining room, holding my breath. A conversation is taking place. To my utter amazement, I watch the driver get out of his car and enter my house.
My yom tov goy has arrived.
The sight of my “savior” renders me nearly speechless. But not quite. I blabber excessive “thank yous” and apologize for the intrusion.
“I realize you must think we’re very strange,” I offer, thinking, “Well, that’s an understatement!” But the young man holds up one hand to stop me—not that I blame him—explaining that he is a waiter at Shiloh’s, a kosher restaurant a few blocks away, where he just finished working at a Seder. “I know all about it,” he explains cheerfully.
In the kitchen, I show him how to set the holiday mode. And with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, the waiter from Shiloh’s sets the holiday mode, saving not only my brisket, but my sanity as well. I offer him some brisket as a thank you, but he declines. He comes and goes within three minutes, his appearance inexplicable. We asked him what made him park right across from our house, just three blocks from the restaurant. He had to make a phone call, he said. And he chose to make it right where we needed him.
That night, I gained a spiritual high, lost it in a moment, and then regained it in a much more profound way. As miracles go, I know that sending a yom tov goy is no great shakes compared to, say, splitting a sea or smiting the firstborns. But on that Seder night, it was the biggest miracle I could have asked for—a full redemption, and a reminder that God knows what we need and sends it when we need it.
We then all sang Hallel.
(This essay is adapted from its original form when it appeared in the in article was featured in the Spring 2013 issue of Jewish Action.)
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