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Chassidic Dad Blog

Broken Teacups

October 22, 2013
The cups ready to go to the mikvah (in a container purchased at Ikea - where else?).
The cups ready to go to the mikvah (in a container purchased at Ikea - where else?).

When we got married, some wonderful friends of my wife’s threw an all-out bridal shower. Pillows, mixers, cookie jars, dishes . . . you name it, we got it.

Now, they didn’t just get us a standard set of dishes with service for eight. Hoping that we would have either lots of kids or lots of guests—ideally, both—they got us settings for twelve. Also, since the laws of keeping kosher dictate that we not cook or eat dairy on the same dishes that we use for meat, they got us two sets with service for twelve each.

So we have twelve dairy bowls, twenty-four dairy plates (two sizes) and twelve mugs. For a long time, it was just perfect. We were just two very occasional coffee drinkers, so we were in clover when it came to mugs.

But then the kids came along, and they also wanted to have coffee with us. Now, if you are like me, you have been raised with the superstition that kids can never ever go near coffee, lest they stop growing. I have yet to meet a grownup wearing Children’s Place clothing due to sneaking espresso in fifth grade, but we still don’t give the kids coffee because it is an “adult beverage.” So they have milk and hot water in their mugs.

Now, kids don’t normally drop their mugs, so it kind of crept up on us gradually. But the other day there was a crash in the kitchen, and there went the last dairy mug. One by one, all twelve matching mugs, six Ikea drinking glasses and two hand-painted extra-tall mugs had made the one-way trip to the city dump.

This Sunday we took a family trip to Ikea. And I have to tell you that when it comes to me and the great blue and yellow monster, it has been love at first sight. I love the way everything is so smartly designed. I mean, they manage to pack a dining room table with room for a football team into a box practically the size of a credit card—and it comes with chairs as well. Okay, I exaggerated, but you get the point. If you are male, you probably agree with me. Ikea is genius. If you are female you probably agree, but for a host of different reasons.

So, we went the other day to get some things. Among the important purchases—stools for bathroom and kitchen, measuring cups, kiddie aprons, and trivets—were some new teacups and glasses.

I stuck them on the counter, and there they sat. Every day the kids would stare at them bug-eyed and ask if they could use them, and T would answer, “Not yet. We have to take them to the mikvah.” You see, when we purchase new dishes made of certain materials, we do not use them until we dip them in a mikvah, a special ritual pool of water.

Today I decided that it was finally time to stop procrastinating, and I took them to the mikvah and lowered them into the waters in a mesh basket.

As I was unloading the basket, I noticed that some of the cups still had their labels on. Bummer! If the sticker is still on the cup, then not all the cup was embraced by the purifying waters. So, there I sat scratching and scraping until the cups’ bottoms were smooth as smooth, and dipped them again.

I cannot wait to get home tonight. I am sure that there are going to be some happy kids. (And maybe a broken glass or two—but who’s looking?)

6:30 AM

October 16, 2013 4:14 PM
Detail from a painting by Alex Levin (ArtLevin.com)
Detail from a painting by Alex Levin (ArtLevin.com)

“Who do you pray with every morning?” T asked, wondering who else was there at the 6:30 services I frequent.

“I don’t know,” I reply, “just people.”

“But who? I am curious . . .”

“I don’t know. Just random people like me.”

Today as I arrived at my usual time, between 6:15 and 6:20, I took an extra moment to glance around the room to notice who else was there.

Near the front sit half a dozen or so men, bent over Talmuds. They are there every day, getting their daily dose of divine wisdom. One man leads the group with lucid explanations in his Yiddish-accented English. Whenever I listen, I am impressed by his clarity and how everything sounds so simple when he explains it. Maybe if I can pry myself out of bed an hour earlier, I will join them.

Off in a corner is my doctor. His brown beard with a sprinkling of gray cannot hide his friendly smile. He really is a wonderful doctor. He once saw me at services and noticed that I appeared feverish. That morning he called a number of mutual friends until he got my number, and invited me for a much-needed appointment.

There are two other men at my table. One is a well-off businessman. Across from him is the man who works behind the counter at the kosher bakery. He grew up in the underground Chabad community in the USSR, and speaks in Russian-accented English.

The man leading the prayers today is affectionately known as the “president,” out of recognition of the time and effort that he puts into the synagogue. Maybe he is also the official president of the congregation; I don’t know. When he isn’t leading the prayers, he sits at the table near the door, collecting money for a number of charitable causes and distributing booklets with Torah content to be studied each week.

At the far corner of the room, I spot the new principal of the boys’ school. He and I had a long chat last week about his aspirations for the school. His deep-rooted reverence for tradition and his decidedly forward pedagogical approach are refreshing, and I hope he does well. So far, the children and teachers seem to be impressed, and so am I.

The synagogue also has a number of homeless people, who are affectionately tolerated by a community that has known them for decades. Right now, one of them is reading the prayers aloud in English, in a voice that is a tad too loud for this time of the morning. People glance at each other and grin indulgingly. Soon he goes to help himself to a cup of coffee.

Time passes quickly. The room is already filling with the next shift, those who came to pray at 7:15. They wrap themselves in tallit and tefillin as we remove ours and file out of the homey sanctuary.

Outside, a boisterous man sells muffins and sandwiches. He also dispenses advice, jokes and words of wisdom in Hebrew, Yiddish and English. I buy a jumbo chocolate muffin for two dollars and head to the office.

Guest Post: 10-Year-Old Insights

October 3, 2013 4:15 PM
Some of our friends shaking the lulav and etrog in our sukkah
Some of our friends shaking the lulav and etrog in our sukkah

Sometimes I wonder if my kids enjoy being the rabbi’s children. But I recently realized that I may be underestimating them . . .

On the first two days of Sukkot, after services and after lunch in the sukkah, our entire family went on a lulav walk. That’s where we put on comfortable shoes, place the little ones in a stroller, and set out to find fellow Jews to help do the mitzvah of waving the lulav and etrog.

This has become a family tradition over the last few years. (We do it on Rosh Hashanah as well, with the shofar.)

On Sunday of Sukkot, we hosted a party in our sukkah for the community, where everyone enjoyed good food, and the kids had a great time in the Sukkot-themed bounce house. There again, we gave people the opportunity to do the lulav shake.

During the party, my 10-year-old daughter came running to me with something very important to say.

“Tatty! On the first days of Sukkot we were like Abraham and the Baal Shem Tov, and today we are like Yitzchak and the Maggid of Mezeritch!”

It took me a moment to register what she was saying, but then I got it. She had been listening to my speeches during services on the holiday. I spoke about the various “visitors” we have in the sukkah—the ushpizin—and how each day another unique pair leads the group.

On the first day, the visitors are our forefather Abraham, along with—according to Chabad tradition—the founder of Chassidism, the Baal Shem Tov. I mentioned that one of the similarities between the two is that they both traveled around to teach about their new discovery: Abraham had his revelation of G‑d’s existence, and the Baal Shem Tov had Chassidism. They did not wait for people to come to them.

On day two, the guests are Yitzchak, Abraham’s son, and Rabbi Dovber the Maggid of Mezeritch, successor to the Baal Shem Tov. These two great men traveled a lot less than their predecessors, but their reputation was so widely known that they did not need to.

And in our little community, we had successfully emulated both paths. We went out and about to look for people, and then people came to us as well.

I think this girl is on to something . . .

The kids made (somewhat) edible sukkahs of their own at our annual sukkah party
The kids made (somewhat) edible sukkahs of their own at our annual sukkah party

This is a blog about life with my wife and three children, who will, with G‑d’s help, grow up and probably be embarrassed by what I write.

As of spring 2013, Y is a thoughtful four-year-old who loves books and learning things. R is one year younger and full of energy. A is a sweet little girl who loves her red shoes. T is their ever-capable and loving mother, and I am their dad.
Menachem PosnerRabbi Menachem Posner serves as staff editor at Chabad.org, the world’s largest Jewish informational website. He has been writing, researching, and editing for Chabad.org since 2006, when he received his rabbinic degree from Central Yeshiva Tomchei Temimim Lubavitch. He resides in Chicago, Ill., with his family.
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