To be a father entails fulfilling many roles. One of the most important of those unstated tasks is to be the family “opener.” During the summer months, it means opening your children’s ice pops. As any parent knows, that’s no easy feat. Some parents try to use a knife to cut off the top, which sometimes works but often doesn’t. Eventually, most fathers get frustrated and just bite off the top. If he’s not careful, he ends up with some splotches of the ices on his shirt. This is especially annoying on Shabbos, when he is wearing a white shirt and for the rest of the day everyone will know what kind of ices he had. Then there’s always that gnawing question of whether he should say a brachah before biting off the top. He doesn’t really want to eat it, but he did taste it.
Dads also have the unenviable task of opening jars and bottles. After a few unsuccessful tries, a child (or wife) hands a stubborn jar or bottle to the father to open. In that moment, his position as man of the house is unwittingly being called into question.
With a silent prayer, he grabs the bottle and aggressively tries to turn the cap. If he’s not successful, he turns the bottle over and gives it a potch on its bottom for its disobedience. If that still doesn’t help, he’ll stick a knife under the cap, even though that probably doesn’t do anything.
If that doesn’t work, he may run to the cabinet and try to switch the bottle (hoping he can find one) without anyone realizing it.
A few years ago, a young woman named Elisa Fernandes was competing in a timed round in the final of “MasterChef Brasil.” As the clock ticked, she couldn’t open a jar she needed, which itself could’ve ended her hopes of winning. After trying twice unsuccessfully, she ran over to her father who was watching on the side and handed him the jar. With one mighty twist he opened the jar and handed it back to Elisa who went on to win the competition. The clip is still viewed and circulated.
As I am sitting in my kitchen, typing this brilliant literary masterpiece, my daughter just handed me a pickle jar to open. I kid you not. I am happy to report that, for the moment, I have defended my title as man-of-the-house.
Creating new openings is no small feat. Every speaker knows how key his opening words are in trying to reel in his audience.
On Shabbos, there is much halachic discussion regarding the permissibility of opening cans and bottles. The question is essentially whether opening them is considered creating a new vessel or not. Without creating an opening, the vessel is essentially useless. If you can’t access its contents, it will do you no good.
The Midrash (Shir HaShirim Rabbah 5:2) relates that Hashem tells us, as it were, “Create an opening for Me like the opening of a needle, and I will open for you like the entranceway to a banquet hall.” If we make the initial effort, Hashem will help us continue along the spiritual road we have begun to trudge.
The caveat is that it’s not so easy to create that minute opening. I picture it as trying to open a door in a massive gale with 60-mile-per-hour winds blowing against it. It will require tremendous exertion to push the door open at all against such strong opposing force. But as soon as there is a crack of an opening, those winds will slam the door open until it’s barely hanging onto its hinges.
Ben Azai advises, “One should run to perform a “light” mitzvah and flee from sin, because one mitzvah drags along (i.e., leads to) another mitzvah, and one sin drags along with it another sin. The reward for performing a mitzvah is another mitzvah, and the reward for a sin is committing another sin.” (Avos 4:2)
In the natural world, the law of inertia states that anything at rest will remain at rest unless it encounters an opposing force. In the spiritual world, the same is largely true. Our actions create a momentum that continues to carry us along that trajectory. To change course, all we need is an “opposite act.” However, doing so entails countering the momentum and fighting against the tide we have created. That is the challenge of creating a new opening.
Perhaps there is nowhere that this principle holds true more so than regarding education. The first requirement of education is to win over and open the hearts of one’s students. If the child’s heart is closed for whatever reason, regardless of who the educator is, the child will not be influenced much.
Creating an opening can sometimes take significant time, patience, insight, and tenacity. This is especially true with children who have erected a thick coat of armor to protect their fragile sense of self. But once even a crack of an opening has been made, the sky is the limit with how much can be accomplished.
It’s far easier to open a jar or a can than it is to open a heart and soul. But creating such openings helps us along the proper path and is the true test of great parenting and education.