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I.B. Singer's New Duds -- and Dashed Hopes -- on Passover

03/31/2021 06:16:53 PM

Mar31

Rabbi Weill

Dear Friends,

Isaac Bashevis Singer’s childhood memoir, A Day of Pleasure, is a pleasure to read! The title implies Shabbat, but the passage below takes place as Passover nears. This chapter begins with an unexpected gift: A local tailor, as a favor to Singer’s father, a poor rabbi, fits the adolescent Signer for a suit the family could not otherwise afford.

"Everything went according to ritual. The night preceding Passover, Father searched the house, in the traditional manner, for hametz to be burned the next day. One was allowed to eat hametz until nine the next morning – and after that until sundown, neither hametz nor matzoh. … Mother then prepared for us children a pancake that was indescribably delicious.

"At sunset Passover began. So far nothing had gone wrong. I washed, put on a new shirt, new trousers, the new boots, the new velvet hat, and the satin capote that glistened festively. I had become a boy from a wealthy family, and I walked downstairs with my father. Neighbors, opening their doors to look at me, spat to ward off the evil eye; and the girls who sat on thresholds grating the traditional bitter herb, horse-radish, smiled as I went by, while their eyes teared from the horseradish. Girls my own age, who had so short a time before shared toys and pebbles with me, looked on with approval. Now that we were growing up, they were too shy to speak to me, but their glances were reminiscent."

Note that Singer emphasizes that all was going perfectly smoothly: he looked good and “nothing had gone wrong.”

The story continues with Singer eager to reach the synagogue. He wants everyone to see him in this snazzy custom-made suit. But the synagogue is closed! The gas heater broke. He and his father had to trek to a shul where no one knew them – and no one would be impressed by his new look.

His excitement extinguished. Pesach became a dud. “It was a harsh blow, and a lesson not to get involved in worldly vanities.”

The setting of Singer’s story is not our setting today, but the sentiments are familiar. We often look forward to special holidays, imagining their special looks, sounds, and tastes, anticipating engaging conversations and laughter.

Sometimes our holy days meet those expectations, but sometimes we experience the “hard blow” of dashed hopes. Luckily we mature into finding joy and meaning even when things do not go according to plan.

Pesach 5781 marks our second “Pandemic Pesach.” Of course, it is not meeting our expectations. But we are not only the people of the book; we are a resourceful people, so we make do and celebrate the Festival of Freedom as best we can. And we are a people of undying hope, as we intone, once again: “Next year…!”

Moadim l’Simcha!

Rabbi Jeffrey Weill

Tue, August 3 2021 25 Av 5781