A lesson learned from a knaidel

A Pessah meal shared with strangers stimulates both the stomach and the mind.

knaidel 88 (photo credit: )
knaidel 88
(photo credit: )
There is a story in the Gemara about a wealthy man who loses all his money and is forced to ask a rabbi for community funds to purchase food for Shabbat. The rabbi asks him what he is accustomed to eating, and he answers "fattened hens and old wine." The rabbi remarks: "Don't you think that's quite a burden for the community?" The man answers that he is not asking anything from the community, as "everything comes from God." At this point the rabbi's sister, who has not seen him in 10 years, arrives with fattened hens and old wine. The rabbi turns to the fellow and admits that he learned a lesson of faith from him. With this story in mind, a few years ago I contacted a Jewish outreach organization in the Old City to see if they could set me up for Seder. This would be the first time in my life that I would not be with my family for Pessah. I thought if I couldn't be with the ones I love, at least I would make my seder meaningful by making the pilgrimage to Jerusalem like in the olden days, and I would find a Seder full of Torah learning. Indeed, my friends in the Old City promised me not to worry, they would match me up with a family that wasn't just having a dinner, but where there would be a lot of Torah. I was comforted to know that I had arranged a good seder, but then I thought "What about minhagim [customs]?" I called again to ask if I could be sent to an Ashkenazi family and not a Sephardic one (Sephardim eat rice on Pessah and we Ashkenazim do not). They reassured me that I would have an Ashkenazi family. As the Seder drew closer I called one more time and told them I would also prefer to be set up not with a hassidic family, because they don't eat gebrochts (matza mixed with liquid) like knaidels. I was reassured one more time that they could fix me up with someone. PESSAH ARRIVED with holiness and prayer at the Western Wall. I saw a good friend of mine, a rather plump chassid who likes to eat. I joked with him that it was too bad he didn't eat knaidels. He looked back at me with his knaidel-challenged face as I departed telling him I would have an extra one with him in mind. As the rabbi directed each one from our group to a different family, I reminded him once more that I would prefer the Ashkenazi non-hassidic family. "That's right," he said as he changed my group. "Here, you go with this family." I was led outside the Old City walls to a small family in a beautiful new condominium complex. Instead of the aged rabbi with a long white beard I had envisioned, I was placed with a young family whose Seder was led mostly by the wife, who is also an author with a doctorate. She made some interesting comments but there wasn't much time for discussion because the lights, which were set on a timer, went out before 11 p.m. As I made my way back to the Old City, I reflected on the evening. The doors of the hostel wouldn't be open for another three hours, for all the other Seders were not scheduled to end before 2 a.m. Why had Hashem thrown me out of the Old City and sent me to a Seder that ended earlier than any I had ever been to? Didn't He know how much I wanted to sit all night and taste the depths of the Haggada? When I thought back to the dinner, I realized the joke that He had played on me. When my host opened the lid of the soup, she served me the biggest, and most delicious knaidel I had ever had. I heard Hashem's voice reprimanding me: "So you think you are such a big tzaddik that you wanted to learn Torah all night? I know the thoughts of every man, and in your heart was not a desire to learn Torah, nor was there a desire to have complete faith in Me. Your overriding desire was for one thing - a knaidel. And that is what I gave you." AS I WALKED the cold and empty streets of the Old City feeling abandoned, a Breslov hassid who had stepped out for some air saw me with a tear in my eye, and asked me if I had a Seder. I told him I was locked out for a few hours and he insisted that I join his intimate group of family and friends. Here was the Seder table I had envisioned, full of wonderful tales and inspiring thoughts. Three hours later I parted from good friends with whom I had shared a wonderful experience. Of the many ideas we discussed, one remained with me as I walked home. The word in Hebrew for "faith," emuna, the hassid said, comes from the Hebrew root omanut - "art" or "craft." Faith is something we craft and shape over the years. It is a relationship, just like a father who pushes away his loved one in order to teach him something, and then quickly rewards him when he cries and realizes his mistake. Tonight was a lesson for me in the crafting of faith. Next year, I hope I will have more faith and trust, and let Hashem arrange my dinner without me calling back to make certain. Who knows, maybe if I had trusted Him I might not have gotten a knaidel, but maybe he had arranged for me instead to meet a maidel?