How many times has something aggravating occurred in your life? A cake with far too many steps, and pricey ingredients, gets left in the oven too long and has to be thrown out; a priceless heirloom is destroyed by a careless child; you just missed the bus/train/plane; you lose one earring from your favorite pair. You may shrug, mutter “kaparah,” and get on with your life, lamenting the loss, but how often do you actually get the opportunity to understand what the kaparah was for?
This past summer, my family received perturbing news. We had travelled to the States for our annual visit to my elderly, widowed mother-in-law, and had overspent on buying presents for ourselves and our family. The previous summer, we had not spent as much due to the shadow of possible unemployment looming over my husband’s career. Indeed, four months after returning to Israel last year, my husband had been let go from his high-tech job as part of a mass firing of thousands of workers from the company world-wide. Baruch Hashem, he found another good job less than two months later. Therefore, this past summer, we had gone shopping with carefree abandon. Two days before we returned to Israel, my husband received a phone call from his new company’s CEO, informing him that, unfortunately, the entire company was closing down. Although we scrambled to return some of the items we had purchased, it made only a minor dent in reducing our expenditures. To further compound the matter, we had recently paid off a large chunk of our mortgage, which left us with little liquidity in our bank account. To say that we were aggravated, distressed, and stressed would be an understatement.
Of course, we knew that this, like everything else in life, was from Hashem. Coming so close to Rosh Hashanah, I thought to myself, “kaparah.” This would only enhance my Rosh Hashanah davening and infuse it with more kavanah. After all, the exact amount one will make throughout the year is determined on Rosh Hashanah. It was only during Rosh Hashanah davening that I realized exactly what the kaparah was for.
Even though the real reason for our visits to the States is to be mekayem the mitzvah of kibbud horim, we also spend two nights of actual vacation at a motel. We always stay at the same one because it has a small pool which is only visited by our family. That motel is probably the only place where we can all go in the water as a family, and not have to worry about separate hours or mixed swimming.
This past summer, we visited the pool a number of times. Our children don’t know how to swim, but we equipped them with water wings and tubes. There was no lifeguard but my husband and I stayed in the water with the kids so we figured it was okay. The kids had a terrific time, splashing and playing. At first, they clung to us, but eventually they grew confident in the water and started paddling away from us.
During one of our pool visits, I was standing in the middle of the water, talking to my husband, and my five-year-old daughter was splashing vigorously right next to me. I angled myself slightly away from her so as to avoid the worst of the shower and therefore did not see what was actually happening with her. All of a sudden, my ten-year-old daughter cried out in alarm. I turned and saw that my older daughter was holding onto the younger one’s head while the latter gasped and trembled. It turned out that my little daughter had removed her water wings from her arms and had put them instead on her ankles, which caused her to pitch head-first into the water. She had been unable to lift her head above the water, despite her frantic kicking, which I mistook to be playful splashing and therefore turned away so as not to get sprayed. Baruch Hashem, her big sister, who had been next to her as well, had noticed her distress and h pulling her up by her hair, lifting her to safety.