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Picture Perfect

Yisroel Besser

Take a picture — and this time, send it to yourself

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

By the second day of Chol Hamoed, there’s a good chance you will have received a picture.

Maybe the sender is one of the kiddush Hashem police who’ll feel compelled to add text about how exasperating it is or emojis indicating deep disappointment. Perhaps he or she will rely on the image itself to tell the story.

That image might be the sign at the zoo, “No more feeding the animals after too many people didn’t follow the rules,” which was last year’s winner. The message was obvious. Frum people cannot be trusted to go to the zoo without messing things up for everyone else. So irresponsible. Sigh. Maybe they were even chassidish. Ha. Did they feed matzah to the elephants? Terrible.

The year before that, the viral image was a single car somehow jammed into a parking lot outside one of the Chol Hamoed venues (water slides, arcades, zip lines, indoor roller coaster, the Twins from France, and Pesachdig refreshments available), blocking every other car from leaving. Chillul Hashem! Bold it, please, so that the recipient realizes how destructive this one car has been to all of us trying to survive in galus.

Now, of course these things are wrong and our national mission and mandate includes behaving with dignity, courtesy, and consideration for others.

We agree. Great.

So now let’s address the picture itself. If you got it, forwarded it, or even commented back, you should probably read on. If you’re the one who actually snapped it and made it your special Yom Tov mitzvah to spread it with as many people as possible, then I beg you to keep reading.

Let’s call it the Mishpacha Challenge.

 

The idea is this: Wherever you end up this Chol Hamoed, whatever trip you decide on once your children finish arguing, once you pack up the chocolate and lady fingers (the all-time weirdest-named frum food, hands down) and seltzer bottles, I want you to take a picture.

No matter where you are, you will see one of the following things:

  • A parent, often two parents, happily engaged in sliding, climbing, rolling, or pushing several exuberant children.
  • Heilige Yiddishe children letting other children, Jewish or not, go ahead of them on line, as they’ve been taught to do, or making sure that the Potato Stix bag ends up in the garbage, not on the floor.
  • A Zeidy, Bubby, Grandpa, or Grandma, well beyond their ropes-course days, coming along for the trip just to shep nachas and enjoy the sight of eineklach having fun.

When you see it, snap a picture and write, “Kiddush Hashem!” and send it to three people.

 

The next level of the Mishpacha Challenge involves finding — and I guarantee you will — one of the following:

  • Well-mannered children, maybe in matching vests, perhaps with curly peyos, seeking out the tour guide or ride operator so that they can say thank you. See their intensity and pride as they do it, well aware of their role and what it entails.
  • A Minchah minyan. See the exuberance and shared triumph of its participants, which will inevitably include a Jew in a knitted kippah and one in veisse zoken and good-natured jokes about “v’yatzmach purkanei.” Take in the sight of family who’ve never spoken before, reveling in proximity to each other simply because they know that what binds them is older and more real than the cultural indications of whichever path they’ve traveled through the last few hundred years of galus. Hear the “Amen, yehei Shemei Rabba” and file it as evidence that the nation Hashem chose to lift out of Egypt and anoint as princes has kept its end of the deal.
  • A father off to the side learning while his wife happily and maybe even proudly steps up and works a bit harder, so that the children can have fun and he can do that which he loves most.
  • Children barely three years old, who don’t appear to be less impulsive than other children, walking by vending machines and kiosks featuring fresh, delicious-smelling foods and not even casting a longing glance. They might ask a parent about it, but a short answer — it’s chometz, or it’s not kosher, or it’s not our hechsher — will be more than enough to end the conversation peacefully, without argument or tantrum.

If you take a picture of that, make your caption, “Ashreinu mah tov chelkeinu” and send it to five people.

 

My family often spends part of Yom Tov at my in-laws in Monsey, and half at home in Montreal. After several years of us hoping they wouldn’t, my children realized that on the travel day, they don’t get a Chol Hamoed trip. (The trip home doesn’t count.) So now we stop midway, in Albany, where we found a huge fun center, and best of all, we pretty much have it all to ourselves. The Chol Hamoed hordes aren’t centered in Albany. (If you’re from Montreal and will now take this as an invitation, please know that it’s really very noisy and expensive, and the air hockey swallows tokens and you’ll never get them back. You really shouldn’t come.)

While looking around the massive, neon-hued room, I noticed something unique: grown men, the type who have gray hair and wrinkles, play arcades with the intensity and ferocity of birds fighting for challah crumbs. They curse and argue and whoop when they win in a manner that seems somewhat incongruous with their age.

It’s about them, not the children. It doesn’t have the Chol Hamoed vibe.

(If my own children are reading this, please ignore the way I get when I win one of those little furry animals using the claws machine. I’m not excited because I nailed the green-and-purple-stuffed banana, but because I want to make you happy. It’s all for you. Seven dollars — I don’t always win on the first try — for a doll that costs 50 cents isn’t a great commercial model, but who puts a price on their children’s happiness?)

Moshe Rabbeinu told Pharaoh, “B’nareinu uv’zkeineinu neileich.” We’re all going out of Mitzrayim. Our children are not just important: They are everything.

On your Chol Hamoed trip, once you get past the traffic, find parking, figure out which of your children is under nine or over twelve and finally get in to wherever it is you’re going so you can see who’s there that you know, contemplate the fact that Moshe Rabbeinu’s words still reverberate, true now as ever: Nothing is more important.

Soak that in, take a picture — and this time, send it to yourself. Just send it to yourself.

Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 757. Yisroel Besser may be contacted directly at besser@mishpacha.com

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