Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

28 Tishrei 5765 - October 13, 2004 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network











Home and Family

The Counter-Curse
a story by Shira Shatzberg

Part II

SYNOPSIS: Tzippy Braun is a spoiled youngest child, seventeen years old, trying to escape the overprotection of an older sister. Miri, having just given birth to a premature boy who needs constant doctor's supervision, has moved back home to London pending the baby's improvement.

Tzippy's well ordered world is beginning to fall apart and her relationship with her sister, all the more.

The arguing went on and on, even more full force than the year before, when Miri had been a kalla. Each of the girls snatched every opportunity to vent out the bottled up resentment they bore towards one another. Tzippy resented Miri for having upset her comfortable life style, while Miri resented her sister's lack of sensitivity toward her fate. Sadly, the constant quarreling only increased the tension in the Braun household.


It was a particularly drab Thursday afternoon, the last day of the first school term. Tzippy was finally through with the last of her midterm exams and two long weeks of vacation were dreamily sprawled out before her, arms seemingly outstretched, beckoning that she leap forward and embrace them.

Contrary to where anyone may have expected to find Tzippy on her first afternoon of freedom, she was sitting on a bench in the park, dutifully rocking her nephew to sleep in his pram. From the look on her face, however, it was clear that this was the last thing she wished to be doing.

With the baby's condition constantly improving, the number of visits to the hospital clinic had been reduced to only three. In place of the treatments, Miri had been given various therapy exercises to perform with her baby and she'd spend exhausting hours doing them, two days a week.

When Miri had come home on this particular Thursday, she'd been greeted by a bleary-eyed big sister, a whining baby in her arms.

"Hi, Tzip. How was your day?"

"Very good. Where's Mom?"

"Aren't you home early, Tzippy?"

"Yeah. All we had was a final and no classes, of course, so I'm home. But where's Mom?"

"She's not back yet from having tea with the queen. Where would you expect her to be just a bit past noon? Sitting around and waiting for you?"

"Ha, ha. Very funny. Could you PLEASE tell me where Ima is?"

"Why are you always so impatient? You know, the best advice I could ever give you would be to learn the art of patience. Getting through life without patience is like... nu," Miri fumbled for an appropriate analogy, only to find that none would surface. "Well, it's basically impossible."

"Fine! Now are you going to answer my question or will I have to... um..." Now it was Tzippy's mind that went blank on her. "Oh, whatever. Just tell me already where she is."

"Okay, okay. She went out to do a little shopping. I decided it was time for her to get out on her own and relax a little. I don't know how I convinced her to go; she never leaves me alone with the baby. Oh, Tzippy! I didn't expect you home this early so I didn't make you anything. Shall I cook up something?"

"Nah, it's okay. I took some fruit and nosh along and I'm not hungry now."

"Good. You have no idea how tired I am." At this point, the baby's whimpering became louder. Miri's eyes began closing, despite her erect position and suddenly she had an idea. It was so amazing that her eyelids fluttered open with a start.

"Tzippy, why don't you take him out in his pram for a bit? That way I can get some sleep and he'll get some nice fresh air, which I'm sure will calm him down. Hold on, let me just bundle him up in a warm coverall. It's chilly outside." As she spoke, her deft fingers were already slipping her baby into the sleeves. With a gurgle in his direction, she thrust him at Tzippy, gently pushed her towards the door and running upstairs before Tzippy had a chance to protest. "It'll be good for both of you," she called over her shoulder as she climbed. She fell into bed and drifted into blissful sleep even before her head hit the pillow.

Dazed and raging at her sister's audacity, Tzippy was left with no choice but to care for her young nephew. "I might as well take him out," she mumbled to herself as she irritably struggled to put her jacket back on while balancing the baby at the same time. "But, boy, is Miri going to get it when she wakes up!"

And that's how she ended up spending the first few hours of her long awaited freedom, fulfilling the burdensome task of babysitting her nephew on a local park bench.


Once outside, the baby's whimpering dwindled to complete submission, as though his crying had been a non-verbal plea to bask in the joy of the great outdoors. Being rocked to and fro, his small brown eyes widened at the grayish London sky and his pale cheeks assumed a slight shade of color as the cool breeze whisked by them.

Tzippy shook the pram forcefully, putting all her nerves into the task. After a while, the cool breeze affected even her, and the frustration gradually drained out of her system. With but the slightest remnant of her frown, she scooped up the little tyke and began rocking him in her arms. And for the first time since his arrival, she played with him.

She stroked his cheeks and cooed softly and covered his eyes and then revealed herself with a peek-a-boo. And for the first time since he'd moved into her house, she felt that she loved him.

She looked at him with sad eyes that, unbelievably, were not swelling with self pity. The sorrow was on behalf of the baby alone: for his pain, his hardships, for the suffering with which his condition had acquainted him so early in life. And then the baby did something he'd never done before. He smiled. And it was the smile that did it.

The smile was a sharp arrow that pierced the armor that surrounded Tzippy's heart. It was like a metal brush that managed to scrape off the rust. It was like a duster that succeeded in removing the layers of thick dust under which her heart was smothered, like a radiant lamp that illuminated the darkness, allowing her heart to be seen. It was like the key that opened the sealed chamber and released her imprisoned soul, like the magic that lifts an apathy curse. And it started Tzippy thinking.

Why did the baby make the effort to smile? Because he wanted to give, he needed to give, and that's all he could give.

What conditions does a plant need to blossom? Obviously, sufficient sunshine, water and carbon dioxide. But also, a place to dispense its oxygen. Someone to whom to give.

A world of giving. And what had she, Tzippy, thought of giving to others? The thought had eluded her completely. Nothing had ever managed to get past her foolish self pity.

It had started to rain and Tzippy's tears mingled with the drops. She covered the carriage with her sweater and ran all the way home with one thought ringing in her mind. Opportunities to give, to give...


The morning of the bris was a joyous one for Tzippy, although not in the same way that his mother's wedding had been. This time, it wasn't of herself she was thinking, it was her parents, her sister, the baby himself.

Attired adorably in a snowy white garment, the tiniest matching kipa atop his little head, the baby looked healthier than ever before. Tzippy passed by her sister, scooped him out of her arms, and tickled him playfully. As the baby giggled appreciatively, Rabbi Braun, the sandak, came forth and tapped Tzippy on the shoulder. "Time to hand him over," he said.

Standing beside her mother in their backyard, where the bris was taking place, she heard the mohel announce, "And his name shall be called b'Yisroel Nosson Chaim ben Aharon. MAZEL TOV!"

Cries of Mazel Tov erupted and many women came over to embrace Mrs. Braun, as Miri was nowhere to be found. Then the meal began, but Tzippy lingered in the background a few minutes longer.

Nosson Chaim, she pondered. No doubt a combination of Mommy's grandfather and Aharon's. How well the name suits the baby! Nosson Chaim. `He rendered life.' Yes, Hashem awarded the baby life and he, in turn, taught me the real art of living. Sure, he was responsible for the quake that destroyed my dream castle, but that was bound to happen sooner or later. False foundations just don't hold up.

What Nosson Chaim did, though, was help me rebuild my castle on a truthful plot of land, upon the deep, sturdy foundation of giving. He showed me true joy!

"Mazel tov, dear nephew!"


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