Avi Liberman

Who By Fire

Having just gone through services over Rosh Hashanah like many other Jews all over the world, the famous “Unetana Tokef” prayer suddenly stands out a little more for me. In it, we are reminded that this is the day where it shall be decided who shall live and die in various ways, and until Yom Kippur that fate is not sealed. It goes through how our demise may occur and does a good job describing how it could be by famine, drowning, fire, etc. Not to be too much of a downer, fate as to who will be at ease, stay healthy, wealthy, etc. is also pointed out. The night the holiday ended the fire one really stood out for me and got me very appreciative in the oddest of ways.

My buddy Max does a pretty good job of suckering me into hosting second night dinner every year at it’s usually pretty fun. Yes… I cook. I wasn’t even in charge of the invites this year and before knowing it I had around a dozen people coming. It’s usually a fun hang and this night proved no different. My friend Deb is one of the bubbliest and nicest people you’ll ever meet and is way more, shall we say, “spiritual” than I am. When Max assigned her to handle the fruits and the symbolism behind them she loved the challenge and picked up everything. Deb arrived (she’s notoriously always late but has vowed to work on it this year) and we went through some playful teasing since she showed up pretty much on time!! She and two other girls were hell bent on lighting candles for the holiday, and even brought some with them. I told them it was late enough and they didn’t have to worry about it, but they insisted.

After transferring the flame from my stove, they proceeded to light the candles and for some reason, one of the girls lit a big candle I have sitting there pretty much for decoration. I wasn’t sure why, and even gave a “why the hell did you light that one?” look when she lit it. I rolled my eyes and shook my head as they all laughed and then we got down to the meal. It was fun as usual and we finished well after midnight.

The next morning I got up and went to synagogue and enjoyed the last hours of Rosh Hashanah. I noticed right before I left, that the big candle that had been lit was still burning and didn’t think much of it as it’s a big one and would burn out soon enough.

After the holiday ended I came back from synagogue and went through my usual routine of turning off various lights, turning off the oven, unplugging the hot water urn, and of course immediately checking Astros scores (How in the hell do you lose to the Royals twice?!! Morons.) As I was sitting at my desk going through various emails, all of a sudden the smoke sensor in my room went off with loud beeps. My initial reaction was annoyance as I didn’t see or smell smoke. This had happened before when the battery runs low so I thought it was the same thing and simply went into the other room to get a folding chair to stand on to push the button and turn it off. That’s when I saw the fire.

The wood counter top had caught fire and the candle, which had a bamboo stick shell, was burning along with wax that had dripped to the floor. Not sure what genius made that design but I was stupid enough to keep it (it was a gift) so I guess I can’t complain. Papers along the side of the counter were also on fire and a small part of the wall. I ran to the sink, filled up the washing cup used for ritual hand washing, (every now and then Jewish tradition comes in handy) and splashed the area. It got most of the fire out but I quickly ran and had to do it again as the papers were still burning. That did the trick and the fire was out, but I now had a big mess to deal with. I was also angry with the girl who lit the candle even though I wasn’t sure which one it was.

After cleaning up and scraping wax off the floor and walls, I was basically just left with a burnt counter top. It wasn’t that bad and nothing some white paint, which I have, wouldn’t fix. After I calmed down I realized how absurd my reactions were. I could have lost everything in my home and God forbid even worse. I was annoyed at the smoke alarm going off, and it was that alarm that kept the fire from spreading. I was also angry at whoever lit the candle, and in the end, her lighting it may very well have saved my life. What if it were lit at some random point where I wasn’t home, or the timing was different and I would have been asleep? That this girl lit the candle when she did not only allowed me to catch it in time, but make my home that much safer by never having anything flammable near candles again, even if they are just for decoration and remain unlit.

Things that bother us or make us angry can often end up a blessing in disguise. I was lucky enough to get that lesson right after Rosh Hashanah ended. I try and work on controlling my anger all the time and when I take the time to calm down and look at the bigger picture, it almost never fails, that whatever I was upset about was something I could learn from, and getting angry was the wrong response.

As this New Year rings in, I hope I can learn to control getting angry more easily, even if I’m by myself. As bad as it was, looking back, the only fire I want to see burning should be on the outside and not on the inside, and I’m hoping that one is at a BBQ. Cooling off can puts out fires both physically, and spiritually. Here’s to a year where we look at the big picture and be thankful that we even have things that can burn. Many people don’t. Wishing you nothing but health and happiness. Happy New Year!!

About the Author
Avi Liberman is a stand-up comic who was born in Israel, raised in Texas and now lives in Los Angeles. Avi founded Comedy for Koby, a bi-annual tour of Israel featuring some of America's top stand-up comedians.
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