Chassidic Dad Blog

Splish Splash!

June 26, 2013 7:47 PM
R's pink basin and cup next to her toddler-bed, all ready for the morning.
R's pink basin and cup next to her toddler-bed, all ready for the morning.

A few months ago, my brother was visiting from New York. Before he came, he asked me what he could bring the kids as a gift. I told him that negel vasser shissels and kvorts would be a wonderful idea. Now, if you are wondering what all that Yiddish means, wonder no longer.

Negel vasser—literally, “nail water”—is the water we use to wash our hands, removing the impurity that attaches itself to our fingertips (nails). Shissel means “bowl” or “basin,” and a kvort is a cup.

Now for some more explaining. We wash our hands at various points throughout the day: when we wake up, after we relieve ourselves, before we pray or eat a meal with bread, to name a few. Normally, it is no big deal: you just mosey over to the sink, where most Jewish households have a handy-dandy kvort, and you wash in the specified manner. The one exception is when we wake up in the morning. At that time, the chassidic tradition is to not even leave our beds before we wash our hands. But who has a sink next to his bed? Enter the shissel and kvort. Before you go to sleep at night, you fill the cup with water and place it and the basin next to your bed. When you wake up, you just lean over, and wash your hands right into the basin.

Stepping into your negel vasser is the Jewish version of the cream pies that get thrown at Garfield every Monday morning—a rude awakening, to say the least.

From when our kids were little, we have been making sure to wash their hands in the morning—or at least trying to—but not actually washing next to their beds. But now that our big ones are four and three respectively, we decided to take the plunge, hoping that they would not plunge too often.

When Eliezer showed up with the pink and blue gifts, Y and R were thrilled. That night they gladly carried their basins and cups filled with water to their beds. I’ll admit it: the cups were not actually full of water, but an inch or two is more than enough for a kid that age—and much less likely to spill.

Fast forward a few months. Negel vaser at the bedside has become the norm. Even our one-year-old, who does not yet have her own set—and would not be able to use one in any case, because she sleeps in a crib—makes sure that everyone is all set at bedtime. A makes it her business to “help” me carry the full kvorts and basins to both of her big siblings’ beds every night.

The good news is that the kids have yet to make any huge messes, and the sound of Modeh Ani (the wakeup prayer of thanks) followed by splash, splash, splash, splash, splash, splash . . . pitter-patter . . . dump (water pouring into the bathtub) is music to our ears. Now, if only they could somehow figure out how to do it after 7:00 . . .

Torah Parade

June 20, 2013 2:32 PM
I looked down fom my window and saw this.
I looked down fom my window and saw this.

Sunday was a landmark day. A family on our street dedicated a new Torah in memory of their patriarch, and we had a great time dancing and singing as the new scroll was welcomed to its new home.

A Torah scroll is handwritten and can take a year to complete. So, it is not often that a new Torah is commissioned. When it happens, the entire community comes out to dance and sing as it is joyously paraded amidst great fanfare.

The festivities were called for one o’clock, and started (relatively punctually, I suppose) at 1:30 on the dot. Since A was sleeping and I had some work to do, we both stayed home while T and the kids went to start the parade.

Truth to tell, it would be more accurate to say that they were continuing the parade. They had been parading all morning in anticipation. They made their own Torah “scrolls” out of Clics, those colorful plastic building toys that are clicked together to fashion just about anything.

First R made a Torah. Then Y made a Torah. Then Y made a Torah for A. Since a parade needs a destination, the Torahs were very neatly parked in an ark made out of a cardboard box covered by a blanket.

Front and back view of the "ark."
Front and back view of the "ark."

I sat and typed until I heard the music and looked out the window to see the Torah parade pass by. As soon as A woke up, I plopped on her floppy pink sunhat and we dashed out together to the synagogue on the corner where the Torah was being welcomed inside.

At that point, T took A to visit friends; and Y, R and I all went in to dance and sing as the Torah was placed into the ark for the first time.

The family who was dedicating the scroll is originally from Morocco. The songs and chants were a mixture of Eastern European and North African. And the announcements were in French, English, and just enough Yiddish to make things interesting.

We danced and sang, and learnt a few things. Here are my lessons:

  • When it is announced, “We are just going to put the Torah in the ark and pray minchah (afternoon services) right afterward,” understand that to mean, “We have to take pictures with our relatives, lavish blessings upon the entire world, sing some more songs, and we will think of finishing in around 45 minutes.”
  • When you give a little girl a big piece of honey cake, realize that she will probably stuff her mouth, and then it will be your problem to find a napkin into which she can unburden her jaws and start again.
  • The music is going to be too loud. Just embrace it. Do not bother trying to communicate with anyone via any medium other than text message.
  • Paper flags rip. They are not supposed to last more than one good waving session. So, after enough dances around with the Torah, the paper is going to tear. Good to prep the kids in advance. “We are getting flags now, and when they rip, we are going to say, ‘It’s okay.’”

Eventually, we found our way home. After dinner, we asked everyone what they enjoyed about their day.

Y, dutiful son that he is, said he had fun dancing with the new Torah.

R said, “I liked walking in the mud with my Crocs.”

Like I said, it was a landmark day.

Living Room Road Trip

June 11, 2013 1:23 PM
Yaakov and Esav (R's twin dollies) all ready to travel
Yaakov and Esav (R's twin dollies) all ready to travel

As I type, my two “big” kids have lined up some miniature chairs in a row and are playing “trip.” For well over an hour, R has been fiddling with a grocery bag full of snacks, dolls and other essentials, while Y has been sitting in the front seat hollering, “We are goooiiing.”

As I try to work in spite of the noise, I have been wondering, Is that really what I sound like? Watching our children interact is an endless stream of feedback on how we ourselves interact. Hearing them speak politely to each other tells us that they observe us speaking politely and view that as the norm. When your kids snap and call each other names, you know it is time to rethink your own relationship with your spouse, how you express yourself.

Smack in middle of the “trip,” my son announced that they had arrived at a rest stop. “R, you make breakfast; I am going to daven,” he called as he removed his toy tallit-and-tefillin set out from the backseat-cum-trunk.

Now, I normally pray with the 7:00 minyan every morning, when they are hopefully still in bed. So, seeing me wear my tallit and tefillin is really quite rare, something they associate with trips, as the long trip from Montreal to the Midwest (my parents live in Chicago and my in-laws live in Detroit) necessitates hitting the road long before sunrise, the earliest time for morning prayers.

In any case, watching my son strap on the toy tefillin and drape himself in the tallit filled me with pride. It was nice to see that he associates his dad with prayer. I enjoyed watching him mimic my prayers as he clutched his prayerbook. However, I could not help but notice that he looked around an awful lot as he “prayed.” Now, it could be that he was just being him. But maybe it is a message to me that I need to do a better job at reading the words inside and concentrating while I pray.

Hang on there. Y decided that they arrived, and R is still settling the dollies into their seats. World War III is about to break out. I got to run now.

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 lives in Chicago, Ill., with his family.
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