Thursday, September 15, 2016

My Obnoxious Little Conscience: A Short Story of Fiction

Leah and I were never what you’d call close friends. It’s just that all our kids were the same age and they were tight. I mean, if they weren’t at my house they were at hers, mostly at mine since she always had so many projects going that she wasn’t home much. That was okay, though. The six of them got along so well together that it kept my three from fighting. Now that they’re big she and I don’t talk that much but we’re still around to help each other out. At least I am.

Leah’s a borrower. Which is fine. I mean, we’re supposed to cheerfully lend things. But we’re also supposed to return them on time and in good order. Not like when she borrowed my extra Shabbat hot plate. Two weeks passed and I needed it so I sent my oldest to get it from her and when I plugged it in nothing happened. Cold as cucumber straight from the fridge. Well, thankfully, my husband is handy and he opened it up, played with some wires, and had it working before candle lighting.

But I felt I had to say something to Leah. I mean, you don’t return someone’s property not working, right? Did I make a mistake! Leah gave me an earful.

“Do you really think I’d break your hot plate and not tell you about it? It worked fine by me. Obviously something happened when your son schlepped it home.”

I was speechless. No apology. Just blaming my son. And why hadn’t her son brought it back?

Well, I decided to swallow it. I mean, my husband had fixed the hotplate. I ignored the fact that it was at the expense of him washing the kitchen floor and you-know-who had to do it.

Then a few weeks later Leah was in a panic to catch the bus and asked to borrow some money. I didn’t have any change and gave her a large bill. Well, I waited and waited for her to return the money. And I waited some more. After two weeks I picked up the phone.

“Chaim gave your husband the money at evening services the same day,” Leah informed me.   

“He did?” I felt rather foolish.

“Of course! You better talk to him.”

So I did and he didn’t remember getting the hundred shekels from Leah’s husband. But he’s a little absent minded. Not for nothing the Sages teach us to put financial matters in writing. But Leah had been in such a hurry. Next time you better believe I’ll protect myself.

After all this I decided I could ask a favor of Leah. I knew they always went to her mother’s on the last Shabbat in Av. So I called her the Sunday before and exchanged a few pleasantries before getting to the point.

“Rebbetzin Levy and her husband are coming this Shabbat…”

“I’m going to miss her class,” Leah moaned.

“Well, uh, this was the time she could come.”

Rebbetzin Levy taught me back when I was fresh out of high school and I never lost contact with her. She’s a sought after speaker but when she comes to me for Shabbat she always gives a lecture for free.  

“Okay,” Leah sighed. “Do you want her to stay at my house?”

“That would be perfect!”

But Friday morning Leah called me.

“I’m so sorry,” she began the conversations. “There’s been a change of plans and my mother and my sisters and their husbands decided they want to come here for Shabbat. The house will be full but we can put the Levys in the basement.”

“No thanks,” I muttered. Although her basement did have a high rise it was also the catch-all for years of junk and smelled like mildew. “I’ll find someplace else.”

Only I didn’t so we gave the Levys our room and we slept in our basement.  Leah and her family were able to come to the class. I tried to give Leah the benefit of the doubt. I tried not to be resentful, but I was.

Elul came and I was hearing the blasts of the shofar every morning. Every time I heard it I also heard an obnoxious little conscience telling me I should make peace with Leah.  I shouldn’t go into Rosh Hashanah with bad feelings.  

So I tried calling her. I couldn’t believe the heart palpitations I had as I pushed in her phone number. Five rings and the answering machine came on. Oh well, I shrugged my shoulders as I replaced the receiver. I’d made my effort. It wasn’t my fault Leah wasn’t home. But that obnoxious little conscience wouldn’t give up. I kept on trying over the course of the week and on the fourth try I finally found Leah home.

“Can I come over?” I asked.

“Sure,” Leah didn’t bother to ask what I wanted and she had a cup of juice waiting for me when I walked into her cluttered kitchen. “What’s up?”

“Um, well, uh, I think we should clear the air before we start another year.”

“Excellent idea!” Instead of smiling at me, though, Leah’s eyes shot bullets at mine. It was almost as if she was upset with me.

“You have a problem, too?” I faltered.

“Of course,” Leah wasn’t mincing words. “I’ve had it with you always judging me. You think you’re the best mother, the best housekeeper, the best person on the block. Well, I may not be perfect but I’m a person, not a robot and when I loan someone something I don’t make them feel bad if they take their time returning it. And if something comes back broken I fix it with money from my Shalom Fund.”

“Shalom Fund?”

“Yeah, I put money aside every week so when there’s a money issue I go to my fund instead of fighting about it.”

“Whoa, that’s interesting.” In my surprise I let go of some of my resentment. “But what if it’s a really big sum? Like if someone borrows your car and, G-d forbid, has an accident.”

“Then I’d go to the rabbi and ask him what to do. That’s what I did when someone broke the computer.”

As Leah spoke matter-of-factly I realized she would never have complained about the hot plate or missing money if our roles were reversed. Okay, but she’s she and I’m me.

“You really think I judge you?” I asked in a small voice.

“All the time.”

“That’s terrible,” I mumbled. “I’ll try to stop.”

“Well,” Leah no longer seemed angry. “I’ll try to be a more responsible borrower.”

“You do that,” I smiled. “And I’ll start my own Shalom Fund.”

“It’s a deal,” Leah grinned back at me.

And that’s how I quieted my obnoxious little conscience and went into Rosh Hashanah with good feelings.

courtesy of

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