It is said that Shabbot is a taste of Gan Eden. It is claimed, as well, that it is better to receive “payment” for our thoughts, words, and deeds in Olam Haba than to receive payment for them in this reality.
Even so, there are times when the barriers among the spheres momentarily thin and we are privileged to see far away worlds. A recent Tu’ Bishvat seder, which Computer Cowboy and I were privileged to attended, was one such instance of celestial limits being stretching out enough to become sufficiently diaphanous for us to peek into Paradise, into a time and space where the righteous shine like luminaries and where the rest of us can reflect back their light.
At that seudah, several generations of a wonderful family gathered (my husband and I were among the few nonfamily members). All in attendance, though, regardless of affiliation, celebrated Creation, as The Almighty’s handiwork is made emblematic in trees and in their produce, and celebrated our role, as servants of Hashem, as being trees in His field.
Trees need water, that is, we need Torah. For that reason, the evening was filled with songs, with Drashot, and with many, many blessings, both formal and extemporary. That night, too, provided abundant tastes of the literal fruits of The Boss’ work.
To the undiscerning eye, it might have seemed as though the family and its friends had simply gathered for a joyous meal. Small children acted typical; they climbed under tables and spilled food on many surfaces. Older children, too, were normal in that they made it their business to play waitstaff. Slightly older children, those among the group who were newly married, likewise, seemed ordinary in their making of goo-goo eyes at each other. Brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, uncles, and cousins, similarly, were busy with usual behaviors as they hugged and kissed each other in greeting, or otherwise rejoiced in their being able to come together, safely, for a simcha.
Some among the gathered were soldiers, complete with modern weaponry. Some were patient parents, who schlepped diapers, bottles, and pacifiers from cars to tables and back again. Others were busy grandparents, who basked, in short doses, in their buds and branches, but spent the greater part of the evening making nests of their laps for sleepy little heads.
The evening was not atypical when little fingers reached, repeatedly, for the cake table. It was not too far from ordinary, either, when the older participants shared smile after smile as they shepped nachas while watching their sons and daughters run and jump with their siblings’ offspring. It was not such a big stretch, either when talented relatives conjured many courses worth of delicious, homemade food.
More exactly, the difference between that celebration, which we somehow merited to be part of, and many others like it were the subtleties. Just as chamomile can be healing, but other species of asters provide no relief, or, worse, can be toxic; just as techelet, the blue strings on tallisim worn by some Jews, first was thought to be made from a specific squid and is now attributed to a particular type of sea snail; just as the reason for enacting a deed of loving kindness matters, it was the raison d''être behind the happy time, not some collection of expensive tableware, of exotic food, of prestigious speakers (albeit there were rabbis and other Torah scholars in attendance), or of a well-orchestrated schedule, that elevated the evening.
There was no fractious talk among brothers and sisters. Aunts and uncles took delight in the growth of their children’s cousins, looking neither to compare their children to their siblings’ shoots nor to weigh any person’s ascendance in terms of social prescriptions. What’s more, family members with physical challenges were treated as ordinary beings, i.e. were not objectified, and people with emotional sensitivity were wrapped with layer upon layer of interpersonal warmth. It was understood, among the people present, that each precious soul in our Creator’s treasury is unique, that each precious soul ought to evolve per to his or her own preordained path, and that that each precious soul ought to be encouraged to develop accordingly.
Said differently, the adults, who were thee, fell over each other, almost literally, to be of aid to each other. No one had to be nudged to utter niceties; all tender greetings and follow-up remarks were sincerely proffered. No one had to be urged to cook, to set up, to serve, or to cleanup. The family freely and gladly gave of their hands, as well as of their hearts, making for not only a safe harbor, but also for a minimum of physical exertion for all parties involved. Consider, as an example, that at the end of the night, people needing transportation were often offered multiple options, elders were escorted, and wee ones were carried in grownups’ arms.
I contend that an occasion, at which all people make an effort to give, rather than to take, is an occasion that enriches all comers. I maintain, as well, that in most cases, where a hosting organization might excel at mitzvot adam l’chaveiro, it is rare to experience a simcha where all of the guests excel at that manifestation of good middot, as well. I conclude that if one merits, somehow, being included at such an affair, one simultaneously merits glimpsing Gan Eden. For long moments of the seudah, all I wanted to do was to sit and observe, to glory in being able to witness the careful ways in which many generations of a special, extended family treat each other.
It is said that Hashem delights when we are mindful of each other. It is said that Paradise is a place of noncorporeal delight. Consequently, during that Seder, I was lifted to The World to Come.
Sure, I’m just “a midlife mom,” I mean “grandmom,” and as such I tend to be sentimental. Sure, my life’s work, as a writer, is chiefly abstractions, and as such, I tend to look optimistically at many goings on. Nonetheless, I remain convinced that where two Jews, let alone an entire family of Jews, over multiple generations, b’ayin tova, embraces the principle of derech eretz kadma la-Torah, there is Torah. Where there is Torah, there is HaKodesh Baruch Hu. Where The Holy One, Blessed be He, dwells, there is Gan Eden.