I couldn’t help disliking him, but he kept coming to our house. He either knocked at the door, and when I opened it he already had one foot inside, or called on the pretext that he’d come over to help.
I didn’t want or need his help, thank you very much.
His visits brought on a visual migraine, which often happened to me when I went outside in the glare of the Jerusalem midday sun. What made it more difficult was that he had a right to come to our house, the way all my husband’s grandchildren had – and mine, too; we jointly welcomed all our large extended family, whatever DNA they had. They were all “ours,, and I had grown to love them…. well, most of them.
But this 12-year-old somehow put my back up. He spent a lot of time at his aunt’s house down the road, five minutes away from us. If you asked me what I had against Yitzhak, it would sound too feeble and petty for words. He talks too fast, I have to ask him to say everything at least twice more – slowly – especially with an anti-Covid mask covering half his face. He launches into a conversation without you knowing he’s speaking to you, he jumps from one topic to another, he keeps pulling at his long, straggly peyot, he comes in and scans the table in search of food – and when you offer him something he doesn’t like he makes a sound of revulsion (ichs…); he says he doesn’t eat fruit or vegetables (except for potatoes).
And the way he eats – I can’t bear to watch him; if he eats a potato, he’ll spear it with his knife and then put the knife in his mouth until it’s halfway down his throat. He puts his head down to the plate and shovels rice in the direction of his mouth so half of it doesn’t make it and lands on the table.
I could just about tolerate Yitzhak coming round when my husband was at home, because his being there diluted the tension I could feel building up in me as soon as Yitzhak arrived and chose a book to read. But when he started to touch everything in sight, or swing on his chair or pull at his peyot, I would have to get up and walk into another room so as not to tell him to stop doing whatever was annoying me.
One Shabbat he came when my husband had already gone to shul for Mincha, and I suggested he join Saba there. He shrugged his shoulders and sat down to read. I continued reading where I had been sitting on the balcony, and watched the sky change to a shade of pink before growing dim. I went into the house.
“Yitzhak, Saba would love it if you’d join him for Ma’ariv.”
“Yitzhak, it’s time for you to go to shul for Ma’ariv.”
I decided to leave it for a minute or two. The sky had grown darker.
“Yitzhak, please go to meet Saba at shul, it will be very dark, and he doesn’t see too well.”
“I don’t want to.”
“Sorry, what did you say?”
“I don’t want to,” he repeated.
“Because they’ll all look at me.”
“Don’t be ridiculous. One, they won’t be looking at you; two, it’s kibud av to do something for your Saba.”
Yitzhak didn’t budge. He lowered his face. I was in a quandary. I couldn’t force him to go, but at that moment I realized that something in the Yitzhak-me relationship had to change.
My husband came home and we made havdalah, Yitzhak as usual slurping the grape juice loudly and wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. He walked out the door, and ran down the stairs without looking back. I breathed a sigh of relief.
“I thought he might have come to meet me at shul,” my husband said.
“He refused to go, it was a bit unpleasant. I don’t get on with him at all.”
“You know, he doesn’t have an easy time of it,” my husband said.“
“You’re right, and I also know that it’s up to me to improve things. I’m not happy with the way things are because he’s only a child, after all. It’s been on my mind, but so far I haven’t found a way to accept Yitzhak for what he is. I really need to get to grips with this.”
I didn’t sleep much that night, going over the incident again and again in my mind. But it wasn’t only that specific incident. I had suddenly grasped that I would have to change my whole attitude to Yitzhak, see him in a different guise from the irritating boy I had defined him as. My husband’s words came to my mind. I thought back over the years of Yitzhak’s childhood. There were many issues which he had had to deal with. He was a “sandwich” child, the middle one of three brothers, and was often the scapegoat blamed for anything and everything that was missing in the room they shared or a toy broken in over-enthusiastic play. And when his younger brothers and sisters came along, it was always Yitzhak who was blamed for provoking them if they cried.
A thread of an idea came into my mind. The Torah tells us we have to help the widow and orphan. So, even though he doesn’t come into those categories, he needs help to overcome hardships in his life. Yes, that’s it. I stayed with that train of thought, went round in circles for a time wondering how I was going to change from annoyance to acceptance.
At last, as the soft light of the new day filled the sky, the answer came to me. Of course! I would pray that Hashem would guide me in coping with this difficult situation . The knowledge that I wouldn’t be alone in this strengthened my resolve, made me want to begin at once. From then onwards, I prayed every day that Hashem would help me.
The following Shabbat, Yitzhak knocked at the door. I said to my husband, “I’ll go.”
He came in exactly the same way as usual, took out a book and sat down, swinging on his chair. I made myself smile at him and asked if he would like to join us for seudah shlishit.
“What do you have?” he asked.
“What do you like?”
“Do you have any sardines?”
I was happy to tell him that we had three different kinds of sardines in the cabinet, and he could choose which can we’d open. We made ha’motzi and sat down, the sardines next to Yitzhak. While my husband and I ate gefilte fish and salads, we watched Yitzhak eat his way through the entire contents of the can. When he had finished, he licked his lips and smiled. I smiled back. “Now I know what you like, I’ll stock up on sardines so you’ll always have something you especially like when you come for seudah shlishit.”
Silently I thanked Hashem for helping me once again.