Sunday, April 28, 2019

Envying the Rich

Matzah the poor man's bread
I don't remember my parents ever envying the rich, only enjoying their friendship-- my father, anyway. It made him feel rich, golfing with someone who had a medical degree (in his day medicine meant money) or playing poker with a man who didn't mind losing a few dollars by midnight, when the men went home to their wives and lied that they came out even. The night after a poker night would be a good time for me to hit my father up for pocket money.

My parents would return from a destination wedding and regale us with the details, simply happy to be a part of it. I do think that they were happy with their lot, that they were ash-rei b'chelko (rhymes with posh-tray-b'-well-tow, happy with one's portion), albeit ever striving for more. Both grew up poor. My father liked to tell me that he picked feathers and lice off of chickens at his first job in America, immigrating from Poland. (He had stories about being the new kid in class, speaking no English). My mother, born in Chicago to immigrants, describes not having a nickel to buy a coke at the local "drug store" like the other girls. She really was envious of them, come to think of it.

No matter. I'm more like my father, maybe, one of those people who marvels it what others have, what they buy, and think, This makes them happy? All I want is to have enough left over at the end of the quarter to pay the IRS. Someone once said to me, I love paying my taxes. Some of us get that.

How does one get to a a point of no complaint?

I don't know.

I liken it, however, to accepting things as they are, not exactly mindfulness, but surrender. The winter in Chicago, for example, simply having the wherewithal to get through it, this is the key. Then just when you think it is over, it snows in the last days of April, and you're not happy, but you do what you did all winter, get on with your life.

We just finished Passover, which is like moving out of your house then moving back in. You clean it first, top to bottom, everything, your ovens, refrigerators, remove every vestige of leavening agents or things that have yeast (or flour!) from your home and then settle into the holiday and eat matzah for 8 days. It is a tough holiday, tough on us physically, gastro-intestinally, too. We bring up Passover dishes and pots and pans from the basement and eat off of these for the week. Then we pack them all back up and bring them back down after the holiday, put the kitchen back with the everyday appliances, the food processor, toaster, coffee maker and microwave tray to get our lives back in order. During the holiday we didn't use them, wouldn't risk contaminating our unleavened food. A crazy holiday.

Exhausting.

Rich people go away to resorts and eat food that other people have cooked for them, supposedly under the close supervision of a rabbi. Friends of mine, rich or not, won't do this, fearful that the rabbi isn't watching very closely, fearful of breaking the law, eating something that perhaps isn't even kosher, let alone, not kosher for Passover.

The holiday accomplishes one thing, however, rich or poor It makes us happy for what we have. The matzah is what it is all about, the poor man's bread. It is emphasized in the telling of the story of Passover, and naturally, all week long with butter or cream cheese. In the biblical story, the Jews, running from the Egyptian king, the Pharaoh, who is about to change his mind about letting them leave slavery in Egypt, are commanded by their Higher Power to take their dough, not wait for it to rise (as I am doing right now) and leave Egypt immediately.

It turns out that unleavened bread, difficult to digest, is filling and would go a long way during that long trek from Egypt, the perfect camping food. The Jews would theoretically be going camping for a month before they reached their destination.

So much more to the story, but suffice it to say that matzah is and always has been the Poor Man's Bread, and the reason it has so much to do with Passover is that we are to be reminded, when we eat it, that not only were we poor, but we were slaves for over two hundred years in Egypt. Being poor, we are reminded for one week out of the year, having no real bread, is where we come from, all of us in my tribe.

We may feel like slaves every day as we head off to work early in the morning. We may resent those who don't have to work hard, who don't have to rob Peter to pay Paul, and for sure, we are likely to be envious of the heated sidewalks of acquaintances when we're forced outdoors, shovel in hand. But to a great degree we are free. We have free will. There is so much that we can do as our own boss to a  large degree.
Leavened bread, wheat bran

Why are some of us less content with what we have than others? I think it has to do with hope, more than anything. If we have that, if we can keep striving, trying, plotting, planning, creating, whether or not we think it will get us anywhere, we can dream, and take pride, and hope for a better tomorrow. It is when we lose that, when we cannot push on, that the things that others have reminds us of our ultimate powerlessness. And we don't like that.

Religion being a great equalizer, we can pray together, rich and poor, and connect, occasionally socially, work on projects for the common good. Some will even play poker, golf.

Last night FD swept up, but I just finished putting away the toys and vacuuming up the last of the crumbs of the holiday this morning. And I thought: I wouldn't trade a day it with family, with all of my children here at my table, or playing Chess and checkers, Mancala and Connect 4. That's rich.



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Envying the Rich