There’s an old Jewish folktale about an overwhelmed man whose house is too, too small for him, his wife and their seven children. The children get bigger and bigger, and the house feels smaller and smaller. He goes to his rabbi and complains. The rabbi listens carefully and, after considering his friend’s plight, suggests that he return to his home with a goat. This certainly perplexes the man but, since it’s the rabbi’s advice, he obeys. He’s to return to the rabbi in a week to report on how things are going.
For that next week, the man lives in the crowded house with his wife, seven fast-growing children and a goat. He is miserable and can’t wait to ask the rabbi why he made such a suggestion. It’s worse than ever now.
The week finally ends and he goes directly to the rabbi after services on Friday night and explains how terrible things have gotten. The rabbi ponders for just a moment and says to him, “So, take the goat back to the pasture and come see me next Shabbos. We’ll talk again.” The man does this.
Come the following Friday, he is all but dancing down the road. The man greets the rabbi with a happy grin. “Rabbi,” the man exclaims, “It’s a miracle! Now that the goat is gone, the house is huge! The house is quiet! The house is calm. We are happy!”
That’s pretty close to the story of my Ten Days of Awe between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. There were three weeks of shopping, cooking, storing, rearranging furniture, setting up tables and chairs or removing them to other rooms. Pots and pans seemed to grow like weeds from my sink and counter tops. I was hosting three holiday meals within 10 days. And oh! The clean-up in between.
My arms never carried so much food or tableware. My dining room table was intermittently a groaning board for 20 guests, a formal dinner venue for a smaller party of eight and then a dinner venue for five of our closest friends and family, before we set off to shul for the Kol Nidre service, held on the eve of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.
I’ve now got each table and chair, with its chair cover, back where it belongs. The living room is once again set up to entertain a small group of friends and family, not a hoard. The kitchen has floor and counter space again, now that my pots, pans, dishes and glassware have been returned to their cupboards.
My office and little den once again have space for us to move around. During the holidays, there were so many extra chairs in my office that Pepper, my pup, had trouble navigating her way to her special reserved spot on the couch. She had to keep switching direction back and forth to get up there. She could have used her own seeing-eye canine to get her though the maze. Oh my.
As for my den, we had placed chairs in a circle so people could sit and talk to one another — but they could not move once seated. We had been living within an obstacle course, designed by some mad event planner with a sadistic sense of space.
We had moved our kitchen breakfast table out onto the patio, so we could line up long folding tables to seat our 20 guests in the kitchen. No wonder the time between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is called the Days of Awe! I’m awed by the amount of work that goes into these days. As I’m sloshing my way through them, I ask myself, “What am I doing? What’s the matter with me? This is too much. I’m exhausted and I haven’t sat down for even one of these meals yet.”
When I place the last fork into its drawer, I take a deep breath. I look around at the way the breakfast table fits perfectly against the windows overlooking the back yard and patio. I see the dining room table’s wood gleaming. I walk into my office, sit down and stare out the window at the purple and green colors streaming through the jacaranda tree. I am awed.
I am happy! I can breathe. Yet, I’d do it all again and again, year after year.