Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

11 Nissan 5761 - April 4, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly







Eighteen Minutes

by S. Yaakobson


They called him Tzvika, and that was enough to create a preposterous situation. His life hadn't been easy and had even been thorny, until he met Shimshon.

But first things first, because even that successful encounter did not immediately erase all traces of the prickly path. There is no doubt that his name added to the not-so-few obstacles which lay on his difficult trail. But before we point an accusing finger at his parents for having given him so fatal a name, we have to judge them favorably and to understand that like every pair of parents who want only the best for their children, had they known how much trouble that ordinary, nice name would have caused him, they certainly would have thought twice about the need to call their son after his elderly uncle Herschel. However no one thought that precisely Tzvika, more than any one else in the family, would personify his name's very antithesis.

By now, you have probably drawn an image of Tzvika in your mind's eye, and he presumably looks to you like an accumulation of problems. Then let me tell you: you're wrong, and you have been carried away by my rhetoric. Tzvika is a darling! He's very talented, very good-natured, a big yirei Shomayim, and has all the mailos any mother would want in her child. He has only one problem: that of pace.

What do we mean by "pace?"

By "pace" we mean the number of movements one does in any given amount of time. Generally we equate pace with speed. There is also a concept of "slow pace." But Tzvika was so slow that even the very idea of his pace had no meaning in relation to the time it took him to move. Someone once compared Tzvika's pace to that of a snail, or to the slow pace of the deer -- the symbol of the Israel Postal Authority. But then, the chap who had made the comparison added, if the two deer -- Tzvika and the Postal Authority's deer -- were to compete, Tzvika would lose, because there are a number of degrees of slowness, such as slow and slower, and Tzvika was v...e...r...y, v...e...r...y slow.

It's hard to point to the precise time Tzvika was suspected of systematic slowness. I guess his parents first noticed it during meals, which took far longer than those of the other kids. A lot of patience was required in order to see him get to the bottom of his plate. Even the plates with pictures, which are supposed to stimulate the curiosity of kids and to spur them to finish their meals quickly so that they will see the picture, were of no avail in Tzvika's case. Long before he had finished his portion, his brothers had gobbled down their food, and his mother had cleared the table, done the dishes and washed the floor. She always washed Tzvika's dish separately, reconciling herself to the facts of life.

When the Rotner kids were asked to collect their toys, they would topple on top of the tiny Lego blocks with gusto, grab handfuls at once, and continue to grab and grab. Tzvika, though, picked up the blocks at his own pace, one by one. His mother, who watched her children from the side, noticed that in the time Tzvika's brothers had collected hundreds of such blocks, he had collected no more than ten. What was amazing was that none of the brothers complained that Tzvika was dodging his duty, because he really didn't dodge it at all. You could see him, picking up, collecting, gathering and gathering. Between pick-ups, he would rest a bit. But he wasn't the type who also disappeared when pick-up time arrived. It was only his pace, and that was why his yield was oh-so-meager.

Every game which demanded speed was out of bounds for Tzvika, who never even managed to reach last place. He always lagged way behind. Even if theoretically Tzvika could play, he never got up to the point at which he actually played. Life is like a cogwheel, whose various activities, which are interdependent: pull, push and pull. But Tzvika's cogwheel moved ever-so- slowly.

He understood the shiur in cheder very well. In everything to do with understanding, Tzvika was quick. However, when he was asked to do something, his slow pace would rear its head. During the lesson, this would generally come up when the students had to copy something from the board. Oy, how long it would take Tzvika to copy!

His friends were used to seeing him sitting in the class at recess, copying and copying. If anyone of his friends inconsiderately erased the blackboard, Tzvika would quickly borrow a notebook from a good friend, and copy everything until the last word.

As a result, Tzvika would begin to eat his snack only when his friends had finished playing and by the time Tzvika finished munching his sandwich, recess was over and the next lesson had begun.

Tzvika would try to hurry -- how hard he tried! Before undertaking any sort of assignment, he would firmly resolve that this time, no "hurry-ups" or even "get movings" would be hurled his way. But what could he do? Those proddings, nudgings and urgings stuck to him like glue, and refused to loosen their grip.

Even before he opened his eyes in the morning, he heard them. A listener from the side would probably have felt that his mother's "good mornings" were oozing with patience and fortitude. But Tzvika knew the tone quite well and he always heard and grasped the impatience when she said, with the utmost patience she could muster: "Good morning, Tzvika! Get up and get dressed quickly, so that you'll manage to make it on time today."

"Today!" That word rang in his mind. "Ima is asking that today -- not like yesterday, or even the day before -- I make it on time. Ima is a very sensitive lady. She didn't ask me not to come late today, but rather urged me to come on time, something routine."

While he was still musing, his mother came into the room again and, this time in a prodding voice whose impatience anyone could detect, said: "Nu Tzvika, haven't you gotten out of your pajamas yet?"

Tzvika would arouse himself from his reveries, hear his mother's surprised tone of voice and wonder: "Is Ima really surprised anew every morning, or has she managed to forget that yesterday I was also dreamy?"

Ima's footsteps made it clear to him that he had once again sunk into thought and that he was still wearing his pajamas.

The melamed didn't ask why he came late. With a nod of the head, he indicated to him to sit down and "join" his classmates in the davening. Tzvika knew just how to do that. He practiced it every day.

In general, the teachers understood Tzvika's problem and forgave him for his slowness. However his third grade teacher, who was a great teacher with lots of vim and vigor, didn't understand Tzvika. Due to that teacher's effervescent nature, it was hard for him to bear Tzvika's nerve-racking slowness. He imagined that Tzvika was "dreaming" in order to infuriate him, and to cause him to jump out of his skin. He did not rise up to the educational challenge posed to him by Tzvika.

Once, when the rest of the class was learning about the mitzvos of Pesach, Tzvika didn't open the Mishna as fast as the teacher had wanted, and the teacher angrily made a biting remark: "For sure you'll never manage to bake any matzos. At your pace, all your matzos will become bread -- even without yeast."

Tzvika didn't learn a thing that lesson. He was very depressed and hurt by that insulting remark. In his mind's eye, he envisioned the thin sheets of dough swelling between his fingers and threatening to become chometz. They capered before him in a wild, macabre dance. Wherever he looked, he saw them -- gooey and menacing. Tzvika was finally redeemed from that choking ring, when the recess bell rang. Heaving a sigh of relief, he realized that he had been daydreaming.

His parents and teachers devised all sort of ways to quicken his pace, promising him many prizes. They took him to a developmental physician, to see if Tzvika's slowness wasn't the result of some sort of deficiency. They even sent him to a special physical therapy clinic, which managed to advance him only very marginally, and afterward said that it couldn't do anything more for him.

And so, Tzvi resigned himself to his fate, as did his family, teachers and friends.

Everyone knew his limitation and tried to help, to understand, and to accommodate. But they didn't always succeed.

At home a number of humiliating incidents occurred. Like in every home, in Tzvika's there were pressure and confusion times. On arvei Shabbos and arvei yom tov, good common sense often hides behind the piles of laundry and dishes and clears the arena for spontaneous, hurtful remarks, which step on warts and leave scars in the heart.

While everyone would be working briskly, the sight of Tzvika going about his work at such a leisurely pace, as if he had all the time in the world, would infuriate his brothers and sisters who then made pointed remarks. On such days, Tzvika would be shouted at quite a lot. Many times he felt that he couldn't take it any more, and he would retreat to a corner in order to nurse his wounds. However, at such times, someone would generally catch him "doing nothing" and would strew salt on his already aching wounds and retort: "That way for sure you'll never finish."

In school some kids were more sensitive, and some less. Generally, in the middle of a game, when the competition between the teams was at its peak and all that the kids wanted to do was to win, someone would always blame the team's loss on Tzvika, who couldn't vindicate himself, simply because he was certain that his friends were right. At such times, all he wanted to say was: "I know all that, and you don't have to repeat it again and again and again."

But in truth, he didn't say a thing, and merely bit his lips in pain, feeling that his heart could not withstand the pain.

@Big Let Body=Shimshon was a young kollel student. He had recently gotten married in England, and soon after his marriage had come to Eretz Yisroel to study. He and his wife had left their families, and moved to Eretz Yisroel so that he could grow in Torah. They found a modest apartment right next door to the Rotner's.

When they had moved in, Mrs. Rotner had welcomed them with a fancy cake and had even offered to help them. But apparently, the British couple was following the age-old British tradition of being reserved and keeping to themselves, and no one thought to violate their wishes.

A short while after they arrived in Eretz Yisroel, Tzvika Rotner turned bar mitzvah. The preparations for the bar- mitzvah swept in all of the neighbors who pitched in to help Mrs. Rotner. It was quite natural for the young couple opposite the Rotner's to help out a bit too, offering refrigerator space and even lending their only table.

And so, hearts opened and Mrs. Rotner and Shimon's wife "discovered" each other, even managing to engage in a few pleasant conversations. Soon they struck up a wonderful friendship, in which one helped the other while keeping the necessary distance.

Shimshon, whose sole purpose in leaving his birthplace was to grow in Torah, did not take much part in the extensive preparations for the bar mitzvah. However in the evenings he would update himself on their progress. From the corner of his eyes, he saw Tzvika -- the baal hasimcha -- shuffling amidst those preparing the seuda, a cloud over-casting his mood. The next time he also noticed what had preceded that bleak mood.

He himself heard Tzvika's big sister angrily retort: "I've already told you that if you continue to dream, even your bar mitzvah seuda won't be on time."

It wasn't difficult for Shimshon, the avreich with the sensitive heart, to connect the obvious to the nonobvious, and to understand the picture in its entirety. He felt bad about the pathetic situation of the nice little kid. He saw the sincere efforts of Mr. and Mrs. Rotner to control themselves and not to go berserk over Tzvika's slowness, which sometimes seemed deliberate. He also understood that the parents had tried to wean their son from this trait but hadn't succeeded, and had, in the maelstrom of life, reconciled themselves to the sorry fact, trying to ignore it as much as they could.

Shimshon was a very sensitive person and had a deep understanding of chinuch. He felt that as an outside party, he could surely help Tzvika. However, his own British reserve prevented him from getting straight to the point and offering to tutor Tzvika.

The bar mitzvah seuda passed and was behind them, and Tzvika began to study in yeshiva ketana. Of course, the staff of the yeshiva was informed of his limitations, while Tzvika promised to try and keep to a schedule, even though he had no idea how he would manage to do that.

Shimshon also began the new zman and progressed in his studies. But somewhere in the back of his mind, which was mainly in limud, a tiny and warm spot for the little neighbor across the hall who so needed help and support and really wanted to progress, but didn't know how, continued to glow.

Shimshon waited for an appropriate time. It seemed strange to him just to knock on the door and ask to speak with Tzvika. A bit of the softness and weakness which had caused him so much sorrow when, as a child, his friends had sarcastically been called "Shimshon the gibbor," still clung to him. Perhaps the fact that he had succeeded in overcoming this shortcoming on his own strength was what made him feel certain that he would, be'ezras Hashem succeed in helping Tzvika, and making him happy.

Shimshon didn't have to wait long. The opportunity arrived sooner than expected.

On motzei Yom Kippur, after he had recuperated a bit from the fast, Shimshon knocked on the Rotner's door.

"Hello, and a gmar tov," he said. "Can one of your kids help me put up my Sukkah?"

The whoops of glee of the Rotner boys made it difficult for Mr. Rotner to select one of them. Each of the kids wanted to help the neighbor. Mr. Rotner didn't lose control of the situation, and asked his kids to go to their room. Then he went into the living room to speak with the neighbor.

"Do you need real help?" he asked gently.

"The truth is all that I need is pair of hands to hold the boards. If you don't mind, I would like Tzvika to come."

Mr. Rotner was a bit surprised. He didn't want to speak loshon hora about his son. But he also feared that the neighbor might not get the help he needed. Therefore, he discreetly told him that Tzvika wasn't as fast as the other children, and that if Shimshon wanted to finish putting up the Sukkah quickly, it would be better to ask Reuven or Dudi, or even eight-year-old Mayer for their help.

Shimshon smiled and, as if sharing a secret, said: "Davka that is why I want Tzvika to help me. I'm sure that his absence won't be felt in your house, while we will help each other."

The father didn't oppose the offer. Deep down, he felt that the neighbor had chapped the situation correctly. Tzvika needed pampering, and had to be treated with the patience that his genial English neighbor obviously possessed in abundance. At home, Tzvika would receive quite the opposite: shouts, insults and all the other bitter dregs he had been fed in the past.

The children were startled when Mr. Rotner told them that Tzvika was chosen, and only the fact that a Yom Kippur atmosphere still prevailed, prevented them from picking on Tzvika.

The moment Tzvika was in the neighbor's house, he felt a need to apologize, something he knew how to do quite well. He explained that he was a bit slow, and hoped that he wouldn't disappoint Shimshon. He also said: "If you feel that I'm not doing a good job, you can send me home, and call one of my brothers."

Shimshon smiled goodheartedly, stroked Tzvika's shoulder, and said: "I don't think that you are really slow. When you were little, you did have some sort of slowness, and since you didn't manage to overcome it, the slowness decided to stick to you and to become your trademark. Today, no one expects you to be fast. People have reconciled themselves to the fact that you aren't speedy and don't believe that you are capable of doing things quickly. Their lack of confidence in you has clung to you, and even though you try, you don't manage to be quick. Here, far from the eyes of everyone who knows you, you will be able to see for yourself that you can do it. After we practice together, you will become an expert, and will succeed in being fast in other places too."

"I hope so," Tzvika replied in a hushed voice.

When the pounding of hammers began to resound from the Rotner's home, Shimshon and Tzvika were still taking the boards out of the shed and transferring them to the porch. When they finished, it was too late to begin hammering. The framework of the Rotner Sukkah was already up, but that didn't ruin Tzvika's mood. He and Shimshon checked and saw that the time it took Tzvika to transfer the last board was less than the time it had taken him to transfer the first one, and it didn't matter how much less. What counted was that he was progressing.

Shimon explained that Tzvika would become more proficient from board to board and compared Tzvika's situation to that of an electrical appliance, which begins at a certain pace, and gains impetus gradually. "An electrical appliance," Shimshon said, "can't start off at top speed. It always needs time in which to reach maximal speed. Tzvika, start off as best you can, while trying to increase your speed from board to board."

Tzvika smiled. He had never known this. No one had ever drawn his attention to that rule in life.

The next day, Tzvika worked at screwing on the "butterflies." It was important for him to check how his rate improved from screwing to screwing. Shimshon volunteered to check this on the secondhand of his watch, and the result pleased both of them: "An improvement of 30% from "butterfly" to "butterfly" -- from the first screw to the last one," Shimshon encouragingly said.

While building the Sukkah, the two chatted about many and varied subjects. Tzvika, who felt loved and competent, opened his heart to the neighbor who listened to him with sincere understanding and empathy. Tzvika's parents were aware of the process. They thanked Hashem for having sent the special shaliach to help Tzvika where they had failed.

In the house, the first buds of an accelerated pace began to sprout. The satisfaction which his family displayed served as the best incentive and was far more effective than the proddings he had heard day and night, in the past.

It is difficult to describe the impact of the satisfaction Tzvika felt upon seeing the Sukkah standing upright. It isn't difficult to surmise that at home, he had never felt like a real partner to the building of the Sukkah. At home, by the time he had managed to complete one task the others had finished all of their work, while in this case, only he and Shimshon had built the Sukkah. It was no wonder that Tzvika gladly accepted the invitation of the friendly neighbor for the rest of the holiday.

On Sukkos, they studied gemora together, and Shimshon warmly complemented him on his vast knowledge, even noting that his past slowness (and he stressed the word "past") had advantages too. "Moderation, is a very important trait in the acquisition of Torah," Shimshon said.

Together they opened Orchos Tzaddikim, and discovered that in "Shaar Hazerizus," the author notes that one shouldn't be too swift, and says: "One who rides quickly is very likely to stumble . . . Chazal have said: `Be moderate in the din.' "

"One who studies at a moderate pace, grasps the depths of an issue," Shimshon said, adding, with a meaningful wink: "While practicing swiftness, Tzvika, don't forget to be moderate when necessary, because one who isn't accustomed to the trait of moderation will find it very hard to acquire it. Moderation is a priceless treasure which you possess, and you must be careful not to lose it."

After the sublime days of Yom Tov, no one doubted which of the Rotner children would help Shimshon dismantle the Sukkah. Tzvika had proved to all that he deserved that privilege.

During his daily life, it was harder for him to be faster. Many obstacles stood in Tzvika's way, the greatest being the preconceived notions of all who knew him. It was difficult for him to undo an image, especially one which had accompanied him all of his thirteen years on earth.

The fastest pace of which he was capable at that point was still considered slow in his social circle. And in that social circle, one who can't keep up with the pace, drops out. Day after day, Tzvika fought tenaciously, while Shimshon offered him support and strength. Together they examined the various sources which discussed the trait of zerizus, and by means of various exercises and devices worked on accelerating Tzvika's pace and on progressing and not regressing.

Shimshon presented Tzvika with many challenges, beginning with shortening the time it took him to get dressed, and ending in various tasks which had to be completed within a specific period of time. In order to prod him, he promised that if he succeeded in completing these tasks, he would treat him to a special surprise during bein hazmanim of Nisan.

And Tzvika succeeded.

@Big Let Body=Rosh Chodesh Nisan dawned that year like a housewife's dream. The sun shone in all its glory and dried all the laundry on the lines. From the corner of his eye, Tzvika saw Shimshon coming into shul the moment they had begun to daven. With much effort, Tzvika managed to drive away the question marks which danced in his mind, enticing him to try and guess what surprise Shimshon had in store for him.

Shimshon did not disappoint him. Immediately after davening, he went over to Tzvika and said: "I didn't forget my promise. But I am sure that you agree that it's not right to duck the cleaning jobs precisely now that you are capable of doing them at a reasonable pace. Let's ask your mother what she wants you to do, and the moment you finish, come inside and I'll tell you all about the special surprise."

Tzvika worked briskly. For four hours, he scrubbed the closet room. When he felt that he was working too slowly, he followed Shimshon's advice, and put a lively cassette in the tape recorder, working in time to the rhythm of the songs.

When he finished, his mother let him go to Shimshon's, where the two began to study gemora, immersing themselves in their studies with rischo deOraisa. When Mrs. Rotner called Tzvika to lunch, Tzvika said: "You still haven't told me what kind of surprise you have for me."

"It's something related to our goal and to Pesach at the same time," Shimshon hinted to Tzvika. "The answer is found in a verse in Shemos and in its Rashi. When you know the answer, come and tell me."

"I know now," Tzvika almost shouted. "It says: `Ushemartem es hamatzos,' and Rashi cites the words of Rabbi Yoshia: al tikro `es hamatzos' elo `es hamitzvos.' Im bo'o leyodcho, asei osoh miyad."

A smile of satisfaction spread across Shimshon's face. "Indeed, every mitzvah requires speed, however as far as the preparation of matzos is concerned, speed is crucial, and constitutes the essential difference between chometz and matzo. After lunch, I'll take you with me to bake matzos."

Tzvika didn't believe what he had heard: " Me? Tzvika? To bake matzos? Will I be able to keep up the pace? Won't the dough swell underneath my hands?"

It was clear to him that had Shishmon not depended on him 100%, he wouldn't have invited him to the bakery. Baking matzos isn't child's play, and one can't practice at the bakery. At the matzo bakery one has to keep up with the pace, and he would keep up. He would succeed!

Before they left for the bakery, Shimshon explained to Tzvika the stages of the work. He told him: "The mashgiach paces the room the entire time, looking at his watch, and whoever is lax in his work, can't continue. They are also very strict about cleanliness in the bakery, and you have to be very careful about that."

The aroma of the matzos filled the street. The closer they came to the bakery, the more excited Tzvika grew. But suddenly, the voice of the third grade melamed rose up from the distant past and echoed in his ear: "You'll never be able to bake matzos. At your pace, all of the matzos will become bread, even without yeast."

Tzvika felt the scathing insult surging from the recesses of his memories, and a burning wish welled up within him: If only that melamed were to appear in the bakery and with his very own eyes see me baking matzos.

Tzvika washed his hands and dried them well. He put on a large apron and felt that his dream was coming true. Briskly, he flattened the balls of dough he was given. Shimshon stood beside him, and gave him instructions. When he was afraid that Tzvika's pace was too slow, he helped him and supported him. Although Tzvika felt that he was in a totally different stratosphere, he tried to contain his thoughts so that they wouldn't wander too far. As his lips murmured: "Lesheim matzas mitzvah . . . Lesheim matzas mitzvah," he reflected: "One doesn't machmitz mitzvos or matzos, and I am succeeding! I am succeeding!"

Then, as if to complete Tzvika's sweet dream, the mashgiach appeared from somewhere, and inspected the concentration of the industrious laborers, making comments when necessary. Something in the mashgiach's face seemed familiar, too familiar. At last he identified him -- how not? -- the third grade melamed!

Tzvika didn't want to complain to him, but knew that he would be doing him a chesed if he reminded him of that hapless remark because then he would be more careful in the future and stop predicting the futures of his students with the pessimism which had characterized him until then.

During recess, Tzvika went over to him, and with a smile said "Hello." The melamed looked at him with a penetrating gaze -- and recognized him. The five years which had passed since then, hadn't obliterated the melamed's memory of the slow student, and once more he let his tongue reign free and with a marked tone of doubt, said: "Tzvika in a matzo factory?"

"Tzvika in a matzo factory," Shimshon replied in his pleasant voice. "Tzvika is baking matzos mehudoros. Matzos of 18 minutes."

Without knowing a thing about the bleak past which overcast the relationship between the two, Shimshon's remark broke down the mountain which separated them. With fatherly love, Shimshon told the melamed that Tzvika, as his name indicates, is swift to perform every dovor bekedusha, and every adult with a personality flaw may learn a chapter in middos improvement from Tzvika.

After recess, they continued working. The mashgiach stared at Tzvika's swift-moving hands in amazement and at Tzvika's lips which joyously murmured: "Lesheim matzas mitzvah."

Every eighteen-minute cycle yielded a significant quantity of matzos mehudoros whose very sight revived the spirits of Tzvika, who became confident.

Those eighteen minutes in which he watched over the matzo so that they should not become leaven, lit up his life from a hopeful angle. Accompanied by the support of Shimshon, and by the promise that one who comes to purify himself is aided from Shomayim, Tzvika looked forward to a bright future.

He was invigorated by new spiritual and physical powers, and filled with energy to continue along the paved path leading to the ideal aim of: "Hevei rotz katzvi la'asos retzon Ovicho she'baShomayim -- be swift as a deer to do the will of your Father in Heaven."


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