The Gansa Megilla
As told to Plonis*
My son loves to lain the weekly Parsha. This, I well appreciate, and delight in hearing him whenever he is home for Shabbos and finds a shul happy to take advantage of his services. After years of laining sporadically, he decided to read on Purim as well, and lained the Megilla for his bubby. It was clear, tuneful and at a comfortable pace, not too fast, not too slow; we all enjoyed his rendition. So a few years later when he expressed a desire for his own Megilla, I thought, “How nice! I am glad he wants one, a wonderful idea!”
That was until I heard the price tag. Then I went into shock!
“Shlomo, what are you thinking about? Why should we spend so much money on a Megilla?”
He tried to explain it to me; he wanted me to understand this part of him, how he appreciated the beauty of the layout, the nice large size lettering and arrangement, and wanted to have one for his own, but it was all beyond me. As much as I tried to appreciate his feelings, I was stuck on the price. Purim passed, and the matter was dropped.
Shortly thereafter, we thrilled to good news: Shlomo found a young lady to spend his life with, and we all rejoiced as we busied ourselves with all the preparations for his marriage to Lieba. Although Shlomo wanted to be part of each step, he did not live in the area and realized that he could not take off time and come by for each purchase or decision. I was very impressed when he told us that the apartment selection was to be in that category.
“Go with Lieba, and whatever rental you find, I am sure will be fine.”
Prices are quite high in the area they wanted, so I was glad when Lieba’s mom told me that they had heard about something quite reasonable. The three of us went to look at it and unanimously agreed that while it was rather small, it was adequate. Consisting of a small bedroom, tiny kitchen and washroom, it was definitely rather compact, but we deemed it manageable for the first year. As it was furnished, they could re-assess afterwards.
To Shlomo’s credit, when he first saw it he did not complain. It was only after living there for a few months that he began to express his annoyances; first jokingly, then more seriously.
“Mommy, there is no space there. We can barely store tissues and paper towel at the same time! And now that winter is here, one wall in our bedroom is wet all the time. And the washing machine stops in the middle of the cycle all the time, and has to be restarted. And more. It’s all driving me crazy. We have to get out of here!”
I alternated between attempting to calm him and sympathizing with him. My husband tried to help by suggesting a hiatus in discussing it.
“Let me tell you about my teenage experience, way back when. I was 16 when I left my large comfortable home and traveled quite a distance to attend a rather poor, simple Yeshiva. The accommodations were meager and sparse, as was the food. I was miserable. In those pre-cell phone days, we wrote letters home instead of calling, and I penned off a daily missive, scribbling furiously, filling page after page. I was in an untenable situation, and wanted my mom – your Bubby – to know every wretched detail.
“One day a friend saw what I was doing and said to me, “Are you out of your mind? Trying to upset your mother? Here she let you go so far away, misses you like nobody’s business, and you complain? In detail? Get a life.” I realized he was right, and stopped writing sob-stories. And guess what. As I stopped complaining, I stopped being so miserable. Within days I was cured, in the thick of things, happily sitting and learning. I’ll never forget those wonderful years.”
I was impressed with this story, and thought it was an excellent model for my son but Shlomo was unable to connect to it. He tried to sublet the apartment at a discount, planning to absorb the difference for the remainder of the lease, but found no takers. He spoke to the landlord who initially did seem willing to work with him, but when Shlomo explained that he wanted permission to break the lease, the landlord exploded.
“What! I’m willing to see what I can do to make repairs, and maybe even lower the rent a bit for the remaining months, but break the lease? Move out now, and I have to find another tenant? No way. You’ll have to call me to Beis Din for that!”
Undaunted, Shlomo went to meet with a Rav, but stopped short of filing the necessary papers.
“What should I do? Lieba and I keep going over everything; I’m telling you this apartment is intolerable! But go to Beis Din? My friends couldn’t believe I would go so far with this. I’m stuck! I feel like just moving out, come what may! I can’t stay another day!”
I really felt bad for him; he just wasn’t himself. I saw he wasn’t buying my philosophical approaches, ranging from “kaparas avonos” and “you’re earning thousands of dollars in zechusim daily by putting up with this” to “stop making a big deal, many have much worse problems!”
Part of me thought he should not let the landlord get away with ignoring these problems, but another part of me screamed “Machlokes! Run as from a fire!” I recited pages and pages of Tehillim, davening for help. I knew I needed something major to grab his attention, but what?
Hashem sent me a brainstorm. Unfortunately, the idea popped into my head on Shabbos, I knew I could not present it then. “Shlomo, I have a great idea. But I’ll tell you after Havdala.” He was curious, but in control. He waited. After Shabbos, I called Shlomo and Lieba into a room and closed the door.
“Here’s my solution. Take a pen and paper, and write down all the good things about the apartment. I’ll pay you $25 for each item, up to a thousand dollars. Use the money to buy a Megilla. And no more complaining! Not a word!”
The words were barely out of my mouth and my couple was transformed instantaneously.
“A Megilla! You mean it?!? Amazing! Me, complain? Not when you’re getting me a Megilla! Mommy, you’re the best! Of course we will come up with a list, won’t we Lieba? Mommy, what should I tell the landlord?”
It was my turn to be in shock, but I knew the answer to that.
“Tell him you do not want machlokes. Tell him it will be nice if he can take care of the problems, but you will not call him to Beis Din. Shalom is more important than that.”
Shlomo was all smiles. I couldn’t help but marvel, his instantaneous reaction was beyond my expectation. I resolved to daven to Hashem to help him continue to mature and deal with life in a Torah way. I feel certain that this Megilla has taught my son that really it was in his power to change his attitude all along; he just hadn’t dug deep enough. I don’t think I will be able to pull such a stunt again, but somehow I don’t think I’ll need to.
That year, we enjoyed a truly wonderful Megilla reading.
* This is a true story, with a few details changed.
This article first appeared in the Jewish Press
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