Posts Tagged ‘Jewish holidays’

The Table


Right now, I’m not in Maine.

This Sunday, we hosted an Open House as part of our effort to sell our house in our hometown in the mid-Atlantic US.  Simultaneously, we are selling the entire house contents, a process that has been ongoing for the past year.  This includes pieces of antique furniture, beds, sofas, and our dining room table.

What an amazing table it is!  It is a solid maple table that we’ve had for at least 35 years, bought second hand in Los Angeles.  It came with us when we went to to live in Israel in the 1980s; it returned with us to the US when we moved to the Mid Atlantic.  It is a gate leg table, so it folds down to a mere 24″ width to seat 2, but when fully expanded , it’s 97″ long and can seat 12 – 14.  Its 2 extra leaves are butterflied (hinged in the middle) so they fold and store right in the table – – a clever, space-saving design.

While the table is very sturdy, it is nowhere near in perfect condition.  One side has a long gouge-like scratch from a careless grandchild, and the finish had discolored unevenly due to sunlight exposure from a nearby window.  Hence I was impressed when a young Jewish couple, due to be married in 2 weeks’ time, were not put off by its imperfections, and bought it with the great excitement that comes with the first blush of love, hopes, dreams, and establishing a new home.

Other than a woman’s Sabbath candlesticks, there is perhaps no more important object in a Jewish home than the dining room table and the challah (Sabbath bread) that rests upon it.  It is an object that totally transcends its physicality as it becomes a sanctified gathering place for family Sabbath meals; Jewish and American holidays; guests holy and plain; happy events and sad; heated arguments and intellectual and religious discussion; celebration and mourning.  The source for this is from the Holy Temple in Jerusalem:

One of the central Temple vessels is the golden Table for the Showbread, which stands within the Sanctuary itself, on the north side. This table is constructed of wood overlain with gold, and the specific instructions for its design are described in Exodus Chapter 25.

The priests are commanded to see to it that 12 loaves of bread are constantly displayed on this table before the presence of G-d, hence the name showbread: “And you shall place showbread on the table before Me at all times” (Ex. 25:30).

“These 12 loaves were baked in pans which gave them a specific form, and when done they rested on golden shelves upon this table. The loaves were replaced every Sabbath with new ones.

It is said that bread is the staff of life, and represents man’s physical sustenance. This is certainly so, and it is important that G-d’s blessing for goodness and bounty be found in the bread which we partake of… for without His munificent blessing, all of man’s efforts would neither satisfy nor satiate. Thus we endeavor to fulfill His will throughout every aspect of our endeavors, and in so doing, we earn His favor and blessing… for each area wherein man fulfills the Holy One’s will becomes a channel receiving Heavenly blessing.

(from The Temple Institute website:

As the bride and groom drove away happily with the table in their borrowed 12-seater van, I suddenly imagined a rather unpleasant scenario.  Perhaps their well-meaning family or friends would take the wind out of the couple’s sails and chide them for buying a used table with its imperfections, when they might have bought something new!  And so I texted them this message:

Over the years, we had many important people eat at that table, including HaRav Simcha Wasserman ztz’l, Rav Shmuel Kaminetzky, Rav Meir Chodosh, and Rav Akiva Tatz, plus many more.  I’m not saying this to be a name-dropper but rather, my blessing to you is that as you gather around your table, that you may continue the holiness from its past as you host guests in the spirit of  Avraham Avinu and Sara Imeinu!

To which he replied,

Wow! That’s amazing! Thank you for telling me!

And to which I wish to add:

Yes, we were privileged to have many “celebrities” from the Jewish world sit, eat, talk, and expound words of Torah at our table. But we also hosted dear friends and neighbors; people who were lonely, abused, sick and bereft; mentally ill or substance abusers; travelers; strangers who became friends and some who didn’t; righteous gentiles; cult members; grandparents and parents and friends no longer in this world; and children and grandchildren, who are our future.

We ate meals there that consisted of little more than a bowl of cold cereal, and multi-course meals that were fit for a king.  We celebrated the pidyon haben (redemption of the first-born) of a grandson at that table on the night before 9/11, along with the sheva brochos (festive post-wedding meal) of our children and friends’ children, including for a newlywed ba’alat tshuva couple I met in a supermarket line only the day before.  We conducted our Passover seder from that table, year after year after year; we kvelled (felt happiness and pride) as the numbers of family members increased and required the table’s full extension, and then the addition of a folding table to accommodate everyone.

Unlike the  table of gold from the Temple, our table was made only of wood.  It carried its imperfections with dignity, like all the people of every stripe who completed it and made it the holy vessel that it is.

For us, our table was golden.


Angry Bees

After a wonderful month spent with family and friends in our hometown for the month of seemingly non-stop Jewish holidays (Rosh HaShana, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Hoshana Rabba, Shemini Atzeret, Simchat Torah – – it’s a lot of praying, and lots and lots of eating), we took down our sukka and its decorations as soon as Shabbat was over, put everything away, did 3 loads of laundry and drove back up to Maine at 4:40 a.m. Sunday morning.  Fortunately we arrived several hours before sunset, because there was plenty to see besides the changing autumn leaf color.

The trees on our street in Maine

The trees on our street in Maine



Now this is one of those “only in Maine” stories:  About a week before we left Maine at the end of August, I got an estimate to pave part of our driveway.  Unfortunately, this was one of the wettest summers on record.  Not only did it rain 25 days out of 30 in June, it also rained most of July, and it wasn’t just a sprinkle, either.   We’re talking driving, pounding, torrential rain of practically biblical proportions.  The result is that our poor, steep gravel driveway, already old and tired from numerous assaults from several winters of snowplow scrapes, began eroding to the point that the bottom was almost completely washed out.  Without a good running start from down the street, a two-wheel-drive car could not make it up the driveway in its current condition.  I called numerous excavation companies asking them for about 4 dump-truck loads of new gravel for the driveway, but everyone else with a dirt driveway was in the same boat and the contractors were swamped.  No one could even give me a date when they could start the repair.  Meanwhile, it kept raining and the driveway kept eroding and no solution was in sight.

I knew we couldn’t afford to pave the entire length of our driveway (about 500+’) but even the steepest part at the bottom, about 75′, would be better than nothing.  Pine Tree Paving came from a few towns away to give us an estimate.  It wasn’t cheap, but it seemed fair considering he’d have to bring several dump trucks worth of gravel to put a new base layer at the bottom, then the asphalt, then a roller – – lots of heavy equipment and hard labor.  But the only time he could do the work was when we would be back in our home town.

“No problem,” he said, “I will do it while you’re gone, and that way, you won’t be inconvenienced when we come, you’ll be out of our way, and you’ll be able to use the driveway right away when you get back.”  With that he tipped the brim of his baseball cap in my direction and took off in his pickup truck.

I didn’t really expect the driveway to be done, but sure enough, as we came up our street, there it was – – smooth and nicely paved blacktop!  He hadn’t even taken so much as a deposit from me, nor was there a bill in my mailbox.  I had signed no contract, nor received anything in writing.  My word was my word, and his was his, and that was that. Integrity!  (or as we Jews say, “ehrlichkeit!”)  I’ll be writing him a check today.   And that’s rural Maine.



Meanwhile we saw that Billy, our sometimes handyman, had been busy with the log splitter.  We had discussed his chainsawing a bunch of fallen trees into logs and then splitting them into usable pieces of firewood, and sure enough, an enormous pile about 12′ high awaited us.

This pile is 12' high and growing . . . .

This pile is 12′ high and growing . . . .

(As did several scattered logs all around the property which he hadn’t gotten around to splitting yet.)


It looks like my husband and I will be getting quite the strength training/cardio workout this week as we start shlepping and stacking the split logs into the woodshed.  It’s about 20,000 lbs.!  (Billy has been keeping track of his hours, and we know him to be honest, but so far no money has exchanged hands.)

I was quite delighted to see that the sunflowers I planted on the slope above the orchard and beehives were now in full bloom.  I knew they would be great pollinators for the bees since there aren’t many other blossoms around this late in the season.







What I didn’t expect, however, were the tens of thousands of angry bees that greeted us when we drove up the driveway and tried to get out of our car!

Until this moment, our bees had never been hostile.  Other than foraging for nectar deep in the woods and nearby fields, they congregated only around their hives.  Never had they ventured close to the house before!   Not only were they close, the bees were dive-bombing everywhere and everything, including our car, the windows, and the front door, and their usual pleasant buzzing was more like an angry roar.  The only way I could unpack our car was to wear long sleeves, gloves, and a mosquito-net hat.  I felt like I was an actor in the middle of Alfred Hitchcock’s famous horror flick “The Birds,” only this was “The Bees.”  Miraculously, we didn’t get stung.

I called Bee Man to ask if he knew why the bees were so unhappy.  He mentioned that he had been by last week to feed them and wrap the hives in insulating tar paper for overwintering, and that sometimes they get unsettled for a day or so, but that by now calm should have been restored.

“If they don’t settle down, I’m going to have to come out and kill them,” he said resignedly.  Each hive is worth about $400 in materials, supplies, bees and honey, so I didn’t want him to face that kind of loss; but I also knew that we couldn’t live with angry bees on a daily basis.

The very next morning Bee Man’s truck made its way up my (partially paved!) driveway.

“I called another guy who knows just about everything there is to know about bees,” Bee Man said, “and he told me I had done something wrong.  You see, I only fed one of the hives, not all of them.  Apparently bees sense when there is a new food source, and if they are not fed equally, they go to war and start robbing from the neighboring hive.  At that point all the bees become very agitated and angry and sort of go berserk.  So the plan for today is that I am taking away all the feed I added so none of the hives have anything extra.  Then when they settle down, I will come back in a few weeks and feed all of the hives equally.  That should do the trick.”

And it did.  By the afternoon, the bees had indeed settled down.  Peace reigned.  The bees are happy.

And so are we humans, back in rural Maine.

To Every Thing, There Is a Higher Purpose

The last days of August were a flurry of activity as we prepared to leave Maine.  We would be returning to our home town for the month of Jewish holidays:  Rosh HaShana, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Shmini Atzeret, and Simchat Torah.

I realized it was a week of “last chances” – – places to fish and swim; because upon our return in October it would be too cold to take a dip in the lake and fishing season would be over until ice fishing season began on January 1st (something I haven’t yet attempted).

I knew I wouldn’t have much luck fishing at Horseshoe Pond, but my rod and reel anyhow served only as an excuse to paddle my kayak around this beautiful place.  As its name indicates, it is shaped like the letter “U;” I paddled from one end to the other and back again.  I was the only one on the lake, alone in my thoughts on a warm and glorious day.

Horseshoe Pond

Horseshoe Pond (click to enlarge)  My house (not visible)  is just behind the middle hill in background.

I went for a walk with my dog near my house.  The foliage in the woods was so thick; yet despite the warm temperatures the air felt different, truly like the end of summer.  I noticed the sugar maples were just starting to turn, a few giving coy previews of the glories soon to come.



Soon we passed the old West Stoneham one-room schoolhouse.  It was established in 1860 during Stoneham’s heyday, when the land was settled by farmers and loggers.  Shortly thereafter the population dwindled, victims of poor soil for farming; industrialization in the cities that offered better paying jobs; and the Spanish flu, which decimated entire families in this region.  Even though it was always small – – in 1880 the population was 475 souls – –  it’s hard to imagine our town as once bustling (the 2010 census indicated there are 237 residents, with a density of 7 residents per square mile). Yet in the late 1800s there were five such one-room schoolhouses spread throughout Stoneham.  Today the West Stoneham schoolhouse has been modernized somewhat and is used as someone’s summer cottage.


The (former) West Stoneham one-room schoolhouse, ca. 1860


Click to enlarge and see a closeup of W. Stoneham schoolhouse’s commemorative sign

On Friday morning, I decided to go fishing one last time at Virginia Lake.

While I was threading the worm onto the hook, I thought about how we humans tend to think of worms and bugs as the earth’s lowliest creatures.  Yet where would fish and birds (ergo us humans) be without them?  Although they may be an annoyance to humans, worms and insects clearly have a crucial purpose in life as part of the food chain and we would be lost without them.


(It did not take long before the fish began biting. I caught seven: one was a yellow perch which is not a good eating fish; 2 were too small to keep; but four white perch were just the right size for our upcoming Shabbat dinner and lunch.)

While swatting mosquitoes back at home, the “bugs are beneficial” concept was further driven home by the arrival of the Bee Man.  He was there to harvest this year’s honey crop.  As noted in this article in the Portland Press Herald, this year’s honey crop was one of Maine’s all-time worst.  The Bee Man told me that he averages 1400 lbs of honey per year from his dozens of hives in bee yards spread over a 20 mile radius.  Last year he harvested 1700 lbs.  But this year, he will be lucky to get a meager 500 lbs.  The reason was mostly weather related:  bees prefer hot, sunny days, and 25 days out of 30 in June were rainy, with July and August not faring much better.  The bees were “thin,” he said, and not only could he not harvest whatever little amount of honey they had produced, he would have to add sugar cakes to the hives to feed them supplementally, lest they starve over the winter.

As I stood talking to Bee Man, I was busy swatting the bugs, and I pointed out that his bee suit was covered with gnats and mosquitoes.  “It’s about time!” he said with a smile.  “I’m telling you . . . something is going on.  Yours is the first place I’ve been to today that’s even had bugs!”  I frowned but Bee Man smiled.

“Usually when I empty the hives, I see a lot of ants.  This year I didn’t see any!  And if there aren’t ants, then there are earwigs.  But no earwigs this year, either.  Yep, definitely something is going on, and it’s not good.”  Translation:  pesticides have been introduced to some farms in Bee Man’s area.  True, there are fewer bugs, but the hives are in danger of colony collapse.  For Bee Man, bugs are a measuring stick for the health of his bees . . . and ourselves.

The lowly insect  – – something so small and seemingly insignificant (not to mention annoying) – –  is in fact not inconsequential at all.  Everything, and I do mean everything that was created by G-d has purpose and meaning and is part of a Greater Plan, even if our small minds cannot grasp it.

Seen in this light, even a gnat can inspire us with awe.

It is said there is no such thing as an atheist farmer, because despite his best efforts, he is at the mercy of the forces of Nature, and he recognizes that ultimately his success is up to G-d.  May the New Year reignite our sense of awe and wonder and appreciation of all the good that has been bestowed upon us, and instill us with clarity to recognize Truth.