Making Room for the Big Things

Though so many people go away for Pesach these days, we congregational rabbis tend to stay at home, for the most obvious reason. Leaving for a holiday is not really in the job description of a pulpit rabbi, unless you have lots of clergy on staff to cover you. So, with more that a little wistfulness, my wife and I watched a few weeks ago as many of our friends left for here and there- little cleaning, no shopping!!!- and we went about welcoming our children home and hosting both seders, as we have for many years, each for somewhere near twenty-five people.

I’m a pretty involved husband as house things go. I do a lot of shopping, and some cooking. But I have never quite been able to grasp exactly how my wife Robin pulls this Pesach thing off. It’s just such an overwhelming challenge to turn your house inside out and upside down, and somewhere in the midst of that, host two major (scripted) dinner parties on two consecutive nights that last until all hours. I stand in awe.

This year, because of the first days of the holiday beginning on Saturday night, we- like all observant Jews- had to do most of our cooking for the first days of the holiday before Shabbat even started, and store all the food…. somewhere.

I became convinced over those first few days of the holiday that our refrigerator(s) were among those miraculous things mentioned in the Mishnah that were created bein hash’mashot… at dusk. I can think of no earthly reason why all the food we made should have fit into them, even using the freezers. I was completely sure that we would never be able to store it all. But it was then that my wife- from whom I’ve learned many, many more significant things than this over the past thirty-one years- shared with me the secret of refrigerator space. “Move the little things,” she said, “to make room for the big things.”

It’s easier, she said, to find new places for the smaller items than for the bigger ones, so get the bigger ones in there, and the small ones we’ll figure out. Sounds obvious to you, you’re saying. Well, it might be, but it wasn’t obvious to me. If it weren’t for her, I’d still be standing in front of an open refrigerator, swearing that it wasn’t possible to get everything in.

But somehow we did. (Yes, that’s why I’m in the humanities!)

Ever since that seminal moment in my spatial relations education, I’ve been thinking about the idea of moving the smaller things to make room for the bigger ones, and how it might impact (for the better, of course) this chronically time-challenged rabbi. It’s a little time-management book waiting to be written. And, of course, it has even bigger implications for what we decide to make priorities in our lives, and what we let get in the way. I’m thinking Oprah…

I’m on my way back to Israel on Saturday night, to attend a conference convened by President Shimon Peres in honor of Israel’s sixtieth birthday. I hope to be posting from Jerusalem next week.

For now, to all in the Jewish community wise enough to appreciate the blessing of Israel’s very existence, I join with you in mourning her losses in the wars that she has had to fight, and also celebrating the great joy of this milestone anniversary. I hope we can all make room to appreciate this genuinely “big thing” that we all too often take for granted- the glory of having a sovereign Jewish state in our lifetime! Chag Sameach to us all….

About the Author
Rabbi Gerald C. Skolnik is the spiritual leader of the Forest Hills Jewish Center in Queens.