Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

7 Cheshvan 5766 - November 9, 2005 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Home and Family

A Moving Test
by A. Flam

Synopsis: Hadassah has upstair-neighbor problems. Sometimes it is dirty water dripping on her clean windows or things falling on her porch. She tries to judge favorably but finds it very difficult. Finally . . .

One lovely summer night, dotted with many shining stars, and a heart full of goodwill, Hadassah returned from a lecture. The lecturer spoke of "as water to water so the heart of one person to another," and Hadassah felt the words making inroads in her heart. It was a moment of elucidation. To recognize that one can implement this not only on children and close family but also on an annoying, upstairs neighbor. And she implemented it. It took great internal strength and tremendous restraint but Hadassah was determined.

Friday night was the night she decided on. Hadassah baked her pear cake, "the one no one could resist," as her husband always said, put on a festive robe and went up the 22 steps which seemed to her like Mount Everest. She knocked gently. No one answered. They just kept asking, "Who is it?"

"Our mother is resting now," said the daughter, who finally opened the door and looked at her innocently.

"Oh," Hadassah said and she felt wrong-footed.

"So just tell her that I came by to say Gut Shabbos and I brought her this." The tray exchanged hands and Hadassah went back downstairs.

"How was it?" her husband asked after the peace offering, aware of his wife's high hopes and soul-searching.

"It wasn't," she answered, passing him the fish.

"Yes, she had gone to rest, or at least that's what I was told." The disappointment was palpable and hung in the air like the aroma of the soup.

"You'll see, she'll come downstairs and say thank you. Your effort was not in vain," he tried to be optimistic. The optimism gave way to fact. No one knocked on the door; no one said thank you or excuse me or please. Nothing. Two days passed before Mrs. Levin, who was passing in the hallway, acknowledged the cake.

"Thank you very much for the cake," she said and didn't even look her way. "You didn't have to, really."

Really I didn't, Hadassah agreed silently. It's impossible to continue this way, she thought. One day, we'll come to some fairy tale ending. We'll discover something that will shed new light on the Levins. Our son will marry their daughter. (It doesn't matter that he's currently three and a half.) We'll discover that they're one of the 36 Tzaddikim or that she pays half my bill at the grocery store and that everything, including the jumping and the yelling, are all a facade. We'll understand how pitiable they really are and that one can't begin to judge them at all. That's how it always is in books, no?


Life, what can you do, isn't beautiful like in the storybooks or more correctly, you can't always change it by a wave of your quill and call it "All's Well that Ends Well." So what now?

In the mailbox, there was a hard designer envelope waiting. She picked it up indifferently trying to think who was about to have a wedding or Bar Mitzvah. She was mistaken. It was an invitation but sans bride and sans groom. It was a conference reunion of the graduates of Meorot Chaim complete with program. A few soft chords sounded in her heart as she wrote on the calendar: "Graduates Conference — Meorot Chaim". The nostalgic melody continued to play the entire day as if it had been taken from her personal photo album and imbued with a life of its own.


It seemed only yesterday that she landed for the first time at the airport. She could see herself trying to deal with three heavy suitcases the size of refrigerators. Loud shouts in English and the first excited smiles in Eretz Yisrael. She remembers how they stopped a large yellow taxi, explaining that they needed to get to the Jewish Quarter in Jerusalem and began the trip that was meant to be one month and continued for an entire year.

The trip was the initiative of the youth leader in the Jewish school which she attended. It was a Jewish school but religion was mainly tradition. Established, wealthy, religious American families, with open hearts for any holy cause but not always aware of the fine details of Jewish law. Hadassah, who was known then as Hudi, was like the rest: Long earrings, unkempt hair and chewing gum.

The trip to Israel was fraught with preparation. She had never been away from home so long and it didn't even occur to her, in her wildest dreams, that she would want to extend her stay. Then it happened. One lecture brought her to spiritual heights she had never known and which made her understand that there is another layer to Judaism that she wasn't aware of.

"Where can I hear other lectures?" she went up to the lecturer at the end of the class. From there, the path was quick to Meorot Chaim, a seminary for English-speaking girls. It took one or two days among the special staff and wonderful girls to change her, to make her more insightful, more introspective and made her realize she couldn't go home when a few thousand kilometers away there was a priceless treasure.

She returned home in any case, as planned, developed her film, unpacked her suitcases and planned her next flight to learn for a year. It had been a great year, a year of spiritual ascent, a year that led her light years away from the place she had been before and onto the path to establishing a Torah home.

Her mother didn't understand all this. "Hudi," she would say again and again, "I don't understand what you get out of this. You won't have any degree or profession or anything. What about college?" Her mother could understand a year of touring like her brother had done or seven years at university like she had done. But one year of intensive learning with no degree and hardly any trips was beyond her. What did an eighteen-year-old girl have to do there?

"Mommy," Hadassah tried to calm her mother in their trans- Atlantic conversations, "it's for me, to help me grow, to mold my personality and point me in my life's direction." Mommy still didn't get it but Hadassah was very convincing.


She was very excited about the upcoming conference. Many of the foundations of her life had been laid there. She had gained much more than an academic degree or photographs from the world. It was inside her.

Hadassah went out onto the balcony embraced by a soft nostalgia. A cool breeze wafted from places unknown and Hadassah enjoyed every breath. Until she came across three sticky popsicle sticks on the chair she was about to sit on.

"Levin." The thought drove away all the pleasant memories that had filled her but a moment ago. An uncontrollable rage added fuel to the constant fire within her. "It's insufferable, that kind of chutzpah. Why do I need such neighbors?" she thought to herself in despair as she wiped the stains off with a wet cloth. "What do we get from them other than endless anger and heartache?"

The breeze turned into a wind and the invitation in her hand trembled slightly.

"Why?" your mother had asked dozens of years ago.

"For me," you had told her. "To build my personality."

Really? Only in a nice comfortable seminary you can do this? And a few sticky annoying popsicle sticks can't build anything within you?

Sometimes, we're so engrossed in our own moments of anger that we forget that we can turn them into a school without a registration fee. We can make them into a building of maturity and restraint, on a day-to-day basis, each time we see the name Levin in front of our eyes and feel fire burning away everything good. And in spite of it, we turn our faces towards it and douse it with unlimited restraint. By breaking our pride and repressing vengeance. Isn't that worth a plate of sticky pasta, scorn and a bag of garbage that sits constant sentry in the hallway?

If it all doesn't end well, can't we create our own happy ending? "Those who are insulted and don't hurt back, who hear their disgrace and don't respond — they are His beloved ones, like the sun burning at its zenith . . . "

A sun that shines and brightens and enlightens. Without anger or resentment, vengeance or hatred. A blessed sun.

Thank you Levin family for not moving.


The above story was translated by one of our favorite writers, Rosally Saltsman. She is the author of a recently released novel, Soul Journey. It is currently available at Gittler's in Bnei Brak, Moriah in the Old City or by contacting her at her email address:

This is not an endorsement, just a mention. I second Rabbi Zev Leff's affirmation that it makes for very interesting reading . . .


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