What I learned from my refrigerator

A few hours before the start of the Rosh Hashanah, I sat outside on my patio enjoying a conversation with my Israeli nephew-in-law, a visiting professor at Yale this year. Suddenly, we heard an odd buzzing sound that I immediately recognized as emanating from the circuit breaker panel. I ran over to the panel to investigate and as soon as I flipped the circuit breaker, it flipped right back and shut off once more.

Meanwhile, my wife Atara circled the house to identify what had caused the issue, and eventually popped her head outside again to reveal the culprit: “It’s the fridge.”

On cue, we both went into full on “freak out” mode. A refrigerator losing power is almost always justified cause for concern; a refrigerator losing power on the eve of a major chag on which we had many meals and many guests in the works was an unmitigated catastrophe.

I immediately plunged into a horrible mood. It wasn’t just about the cost of the repair; or the thousands of dollars of food that would be squandered; it wasn’t even about the sheer inconvenience itself. It was the timing of this episode—almost cosmically bad timing—that I just could not get over.

After some frantic troubleshooting, we were finally able to figure out the problem: the surge protector plug needed replacing. Once we did so, the refrigerator was up and running once more. Problem solved. Crisis averted.

As my nephew-in-law and I resumed our conversation in renewed tranquility, we got to talking about what had happened. “Come on, you’re a rabbi and it’s erev Rosh HaShanah” my nephew teased. “There’s got to be a mashal here.”

I know there’s an eye-rolling tendency for rabbis to extrapolate hidden messages from their everyday goings-on, but I couldn’t resist. Just moments before I had been beside myself. I was cranky and upset (and probably altogether unpleasant to be around.) All because I was convinced—or rather, I had convinced myself—that this was the worst possible timing.

But that wasn’t true, was it? This was not the worst possible timing for a fridge to sing its swan song. Think about how much worse it would have been for this to have happened on yuntiff itself. At least on the eve of the holiday there was time for some recourse. And even if I hadn’t succeed in fixing the fridge, we’d have time enough to make alternative plans. But if the fridge gave way on yuntiff, I’d be totally out of luck.

As it turns out, what I found so terribly annoying at first was in fact what saved me from further annoyance; what I viewed as a curse was, in fact, a blessing.

I know frozen food is a little mundane, but the lessons for me during these Asseres Yemei Teshuva are clear, and perhaps worthwhile for us all to consider.

First—these Days of Repentance are really days of perspective. They are a time to step back from the hubbub and consider the important questions: Who are we? Where are we going? What is most important to us, and how do we choose to honor those important things? And perhaps most powerfully—are we able to see the blessings in our own lives, especially those that are easy to miss?

And second—these days of teshuva encourage us not to wait until it’s too late; not to just “show up” on Yom Kippur and expect an automatic result, but to put in the difficult work of self-evaluation beforehand to put ourselves in the best possible position to succeed spiritually. Let’s not wait until the chazan begins chanting the Neilah to realize that our spiritual circuit breakers need changing.

B’ezrat Hashem we will all succeed readying ourselves for the Yom HaDin, and will emerge as individuals and as a community sealed in the Sefer Chaim Tovim.  

About the Author
Rabbi Ari Segal is Head of School at Shalhevet High School, in California.
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