On Wednesday, in March 2008, our family moved to our current home at 3 Landau Lane. That Shabbos, two of our close friends—the Kraus and Schulgasser families, came to visit us and welcome us to our new home.
Until then we had been living in apartments. For the first few months of our marriage we lived in an apartment in Flatbush. [The year we married, Chani was in a one-year post-Israel seminary program. The day she took her last final was the day we moved to Monsey.] When we moved to Monsey we had lived in two different apartments.
It was exciting for us to be able to host our friends with their children in our first home, if even for a few hours. Sometime during the afternoon, one of the children used the downstairs bathroom and the toilet overflowed. I immediately went to fix the problem, but the water did not recede. One of our guests, who had been living in a house longer than three days, showed me how to shut off the water behind the toilet. Problem solved; or so we thought.
When someone used one of the upstairs bathrooms a few minutes later, the toilet downstairs again overflowed. Then, when someone washed their hands in the kitchen sink, that same toilet again overflowed. Luckily the downstairs bathroom is atop the garage, because very quickly the overflowed waters soaked the towels we lay down and were trickling into the garage below. We came to the realization that water draining from anywhere in the house was overflowing from that toilet.
On Motzei Shabbos we called an emergency number for a plumber who responded to a late-night weekend call. Luckily for us, our real estate agent had gifted us with a one-year warranty on all home appliances, and we were able to find a plumber who accepted that insurance.
The plumber arrived at midnight and began assessing the problem. That night I received an education about how our sewage line works. When the plumber snaked out to the street there was no interference, so the problem was clearly not outside the home. However, when he tried to snake from the pipe in the garage back into the house, it could not get through. There was something significant blocking the pipe, causing all draining water to come up from the downstairs toilet instead of continuing down the pipes and into the outside sewer.
The plumber tried a few times to break through but was unsuccessful. He informed me that he was going to try one more time, and if that didn’t work he would be forced to remove the downstairs toilet, which would cause an even bigger mess. He told me to bring over all our garbage cans, remove their contents, and place them beneath the stubborn pipe.
After doing so, I recited a silent prayer as he began to send his snake back up. With a mighty push, the snake broke through. I will spare you the details of what came out, but it was not pleasant. After the backed-up sewage drained, he began drawing out pieces of plaster and whole bathroom tiles.
The former owner of our home had moved out a few months prior, leaving the house in possession of a relocation company. The company had hired workers to paint and redo some of the tiling. Since no one was living there anyway, the workers took the liberty of dumping the waste down the toilet. When we had moved in on Wednesday, the blocked pipes began to fill. By the time Shabbos afternoon came around, the only place the water could escape from was the downstairs toilet. It made our first Shabbos in our new home that much more memorable.
Throughout Chumash Bereishis there is considerable discussion of brachos—receiving and, in some cases, usurping brachos.
Every one of us, by virtue of being endowed with a holy neshama, are a source and conduit to bring blessing into this world. The problem is that we often “stuff up” the spiritual pipelines that carry those blessings with all sorts of impeding debris, which doesn’t allow the blessings to reach their destination.
We seek the blessings of the holy and righteous in the belief that, due to their spiritual efforts and focus, they have a clearer pipeline and their souls are more connected to the Source of blessing. When they confer their blessing upon us, it can open channels we inherently possess but have blocked up.
Although blessings from great individuals are always wonderful and are also encouraging, we should remember that every one of us is a source of blessing. The more we keep our spiritual channels clear the more connected we are. However, a blessing from any Jew—no matter what level he or she is on—carries weight and helps. This is especially true when a bracha is conferred with emotion and love. That feeling of connection is itself a tremendous boon, and at time can accomplish more than an unemotional blessing from a greater person. The blessings we wish each other are far more powerful than we realize.
Those who have the custom to bless their children on Friday night should recognize the great power they wield in giving that blessing. Realistically, as the Shabbos seudah is set to begin, children can be unruly and restless, and it can be hard to give a blessing with full concentration. When giving our younger children those blessings, I try to get all the words out before they throw my hands off and try to slink away. Yet, it is such a beautiful custom, and the blessing of a parent should never be undervalued, even if given in a somewhat harried manner.
May Hashem bless every one of us with only health, goodness and happiness, and the wisdom to appreciate all our blessings.
By Rabbi Dani Staum
Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW, is the rabbi of Kehillat New Hempstead as well as a rebbe and the guidance counselor at Heichal HaTorah in Teaneck, New Jersey, principal at Mesivta Ohr Naftoli of New Windsor and a division head at Camp Dora Golding. He also presents parenting classes based on the acclaimed Love and Logic methods. His email address is [email protected] His website is www.stamtorah.info.