There’s a classic story about two beggars – one Jewish, the other non-Jewish – who would make their rounds begging together. One night, they were sitting on a bench commiserating about how hungry they always were. The Jewish beggar then told his companion that at least the following week, on the night of the Pesach Seder, they would have a good meal. The non-Jewish beggar countered that he would never be invited to a Seder. The Jewish beggar reassured him that if he put on a kipah and imitated whatever everyone else did, no one would realize he wasn’t Jewish, and he would eat like a king.
On the first night of Pesach, they went to shul, and indeed, after davening were invited to different homes.
The non-Jew blended in as best he could, by watching and imitating whatever everyone else was doing. When they raised their cups to recite Kiddush, he raised his cup and pretended to mumble along. He really enjoyed the cup of wine. He followed the family to wash his hands, as he excitedly waited for a fresh piece of homemade challah. To his dismay, he was given a minuscule piece of salty parsley. But then it got worse. The family settled into their seats and began to talk and talk and talk. The non-Jew’s stomach growled loudly as he waited impatiently for the meal.
After what seemed like an eternity, they finally drank another cup of wine, and then washed their hands again. The non-Jew almost choked on the big piece of hard cardboard they gave him to eat.
Then he was given a small piece of a white vegetable. But by now, the beggar had had enough. In his famished state, he grabbed the whole white carrot and took a huge bite out of it. Within seconds, he was gasping for air, with steam coming out of his ears and nostrils. The family rushed to get him a cup of water, but he stood up and began screaming deliriously, “Okay! You got me! I’ll admit it! I’m not Jewish!” And with that he ran out the front door, leaving behind the shocked family.
The miserable non-Jew made his way back to their bench, morbid as ever. A couple of hours later, his Jewish buddy hobbled down the street. He plopped himself down on the bench and patted his stomach. He didn’t even notice the non-Jew’s dour expression as he asked him, “Wasn’t that the greatest meal you ever had?”
The non-Jew looked at him angrily. “Why did you set me up like that? That was a dirty prank; I’ve never been hungrier in my life.” The Jew looked at him in shock and told the non-Jew to recount exactly what happened. When the Jew heard the whole story, he broke out into gregarious laughter. “You foolish person! If you had waited another three minutes, you would have eaten the meal of your life. But in your impatience, you ran out and never had the chance to enjoy the amazing meal that was about to be served.”
I thought of that story today because of the following incident:
When I’m driving and there’s a Yankees game happening, I often listen to the broadcast. Last night as I drove carpool, we were listening to the game on the radio.
When I arrived home, the Yankees were trailing 2-1 to the Seattle Mariners in the seventh inning. But the game had just been postponed because of a rain delay.
Just before I headed up to sleep, I checked the score and heard that it was 4-1 Mariners in the top of the ninth. Oh, well; there goes that.
This morning I was curious to hear how badly the Yankees were beaten. When I checked the score, I was pleasantly surprised to hear that the Yankees won 5-4, after hitting a home run and a walk-off single in the bottom of the ninth.
Then I remembered that a student had posted a picture of himself standing in front of Yankee Stadium the night before. When I saw him in yeshivah this morning, I asked him if he was at the game. He replied that he and another student were indeed there and that it was a great game.
When I asked him about the walk-off, and what the energy was like in the stadium, he sheepishly replied that they left in the eighth inning to beat the traffic! They had stayed throughout the entire rain delay, but when the Mariners scored two runs in the eighth, they headed for the exits with most of the crowd.
I used this anecdote to remind my students (and myself) that to accomplish anything worthwhile in life, and to be successful generally, we have to have patience. When things are tough, we are quick to despair that things will ever get better.
It’s hard to maintain one’s sense of hope when things seem bleak. Often, there won’t be a stunning comeback in the bottom of the ninth, and there will be difficult and painful losses. But if we head for the exits to beat the traffic and avoid the minor frustrations because we feel like it’s just not worth it anymore, then we will definitely not be there for the walk-off moments of resilience and growth.
There are always going to be times of maror in our lives. But we have to continue to wait and daven for the incredible s’udah that is to follow.
And that s’udah can only happen after the maror has been consumed.