Superstition…or faith?

It was damn cold this morning; not as cold as yesterday, but still cold. And it had snowed. I awoke at 5:30, 45 minutes before I had to get up for shul. My chocolate lab, Marley, was pressed against me, taking up 2/3 of my bed and making me too hot to stay under the covers. The bathroom floor was icy and I cursed my middle-aged body for forcing me up earlier than I had to be to answer the call of nature. I climbed back under the covers and began my twice-weekly predawn argument against going to shul.

Don’t get me wrong-once I am there, I love shul. I love the menorah shaped window that looks out into the ancient oak that guards the path to the cemetery. I love the cadence of the service. I love my fellow minyanaires, several men and a few women who are much older than me, who attend Monday and Thursday morning services religiously. They are an eclectic assortment of formerly Orthodox, Conservative and Reform Jews, professionals and homemakers, retired and still working, life-long residents of Saratoga or newcomers. But we all join together in the early morning for an hour of prayer and Torah reading. Followed by a shot of bourbon or Scotch – no Manischewitz drinkers these – and bagels and lox.

And, it’s a mitzvah. It’s a good deed. Often there is someone who is saying Kaddish, the prayer of mourning for the deceased that is really a reaffirmation of faith. But Kaddish cannot be said unless there are 10 adult Jews present. Frequently, I am the tenth Jew, since I am often late for services and I travel the farthest. That was my argument to myself this morning: I have the longest drive but the Rabbi is on vacation and I knew at least one other regular would not be there. I also knew that there was at least one person who would be there to say Kaddish for his recently deceased mother.  I was needed.

But, the dog was whimpering beside me as he felt me stirring. He had been acting out a lot lately, especially when I left him alone for more than a short time. I really should stay home with him this morning, he needs me. I argued to myself.  Flimsy argument I also admitted to myself.  So, I got up at 6:20 instead of 6:15 and shuffled downstairs to feed said dog and let him out in the backyard. The snow looked slippery on the street in front of my house. And, damn it, I then remembered that my fuel gauge had been flashing so I was going to have to get gas before I made the 20-mile drive to Exit 15. I was going to be so late, I might as well stay home.  But, I needed favors from on high, so I stumbled back up the stairs and into the shower.

Raised Catholic, I had been blessed by my mother with serious Catholic guilt and superstition. If you weren’t good, evil would befall you. If you wanted a favor from God, it did not come free. “Offer it up” was one of my mother’s favorite expressions. Complain about any hurt or inconvenience and she would turn it into a bargaining chip with God. So, as I swung my throbbing arthritic knee over the edge of the bathtub so I could shower, I offered up my pain to Hashem.  See, see what I am doing for you? I am schlepping in the cold and snow, in the dark, 20 miles north, to shul, just for you.

Of course, once dressed and with my tallit bag under my arm, I had to pause before I limped downstairs, to find my cell phone. Then the garage door stuck…twice. Then the dog decided to be extra playful and run a few extra laps around the yard. I HAD to put the garbage cans in the garage in case the snow got heavier and I would need to shovel upon my return. I HAD to go into the family room and pick my tablet up from the coffee table where I had left it the evening before lest my mischievous dog, unable to find any goodies in the wastebaskets, decided upon an electronic treat, recalling the day he ate my son’s iPod in a fit of pique.

So, it was almost 7:30 when I got on the Northway after buying the minimum amount of gas to save time. Of course, I got behind several vehicles spread across all three lanes, driving the speed limit, each marked on their rear bumpers with a yellow “CAUTION.” On the sides of each was the announcement: “Escort vehicle for unsafe load.” But for 20 minutes, all I saw were the three escorts and my dashboard clock creeping quickly to 7:45, then 7:50 when I finally turned the engine off and headed into shul. See, I’m here, I muttered to myself and the Almighty as I put on my tallit and kippah, dug my reading glasses and a dollar for the pushke pot out of my purse and slipped into the sanctuary. The minyanaires were already standing, which meant we were at the Amidah, right before the Torah service. The Torah cannot be taken out and read unless there is a minyan and looking around, I saw that I made the tenth person present. So, a mitzvah.

I cast my eyes to the menorah window, noted a glimmer of sunlight shifting along the stark branches of the old oak, and said to God, “I made it. I could use a little help. Ben hears about a job tomorrow, let the answer be yes. Leah is waiting on a response from David (her adviser) on the last chapter of her dissertation, let him like it or at least not hate it. And I am a little short this month, I forgot the water bill was due, so I could use a check or something.”  I had made it a practice lately to not ask the Powers That Be for anything specific. My plan of attack was just to ask for protection, benevolence and peace for my family and friends. I had been worried that I had become too bossy with the Lord and that was why my prayers had been resoundingly answered with a “NO.”

We fumphered our way through the service, most present could say the prayers with their eyes closed. I was called up to dress the Torah, another mitzvah. So, God, you could maybe take care of some of this today, because I have been a little worried lately. Thank you.

I was the target of the usual jokes from the regulars for being late and for not remembering all the words to the blessing over the whiskey, but the bagels were fresh and the tea was hot, so I just enjoyed the warmth of their companionship and smiled. I couldn’t really complain about my travails of the morning, they seemed trivial now, and complaining takes away any credit you get for the mitzvah. At least that is what my latent Catholic guilt imposed upon my Jewish sense of “whatever bad that could happen likely would.” I left shul a little after 9:00 with a clear conscience and a smile on my face.

The dog had not eaten anything dangerous in my absence although he had overturned the wastebasket in my home office searching for a Dove wrapper or a crumpled napkin inside which there might be hidden a few crumbs of something. I checked my attorney e-mail first and there was the notification that an upcoming arbitration had finally been scheduled for April 2. Thank you, God. That will bring in some much needed income. I tried not to add “but I could really use a little more this week, thank you very much.” An hour or so later, in the mail there was a notice that I was receiving a small check from my life insurance company later in the week. Okay, this is better.

But then, as the noontime sun was beaming in through my office window, a call came from  my daughter.   If she called in the middle of the day it was either something very good…or very bad. I nervously answered the phone. “Mommy, I just got an e-mail from David. He said there were a few changes needed on the model chapter but that we are good to go!” Tears streamed from my eyes. I cast my eyes Heavenward and whispered “thank you.” And then, in my heart of hearts, Just one more, Lord.

Faith, not superstition.

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