October 20, 2005
On the holiday of Sukkot, it is customary to read Kohelet, the Book of Ecclesiastes, written by King Solomon. The following "updated" version of Kohelet is written by Judy Gruen, with major apologies to King Solomon.
"Futility of futilities," Sarah Rivkah bas Leah Rochel said. "All is futile."
What profit does a balabusta have for all her labor, which she toils in the supermarket and in the kitchen?
A table of guests comes and a table of guests goes, but Yom Tov endures almost forever. And the sun rises and the sun sets -- then it is Yom Tov again. All the guests flow into the sukkah, yet the sukkah is not full until we invite the ushpizin (seven souls). (Could have fooled me; there is hardly room to put the soup.)
All meals become wearying; one becomes speechless, except for my youngest child, who won't let anyone else get a word in edgewise. Whatever has been cooked is what will be served, and whatever was forgotten in the back of the refrigerator will not be served. There are no new recipes beneath the sun (except at Susan's house -- she has more than 100 cookbooks, and even uses them). Sometimes there is a salad of which one says, "Look! This is new!" Yet it is simply arugula with mustard vinaigrette, and it has already existed in the ages before us.
I, a balabusta, am queen over my kitchen in Pico-Robertson, so why do I feel like a galley slave? I applied my mind and body to creatively prepare for two-dozen Yom Tov meals -- it is a task that God has given to the daughters of Israel with which to be concerned. But I have seen all I want to see of the aisles of the kosher store this week, and behold, finding parking becomes a vexation of the spirit. A car twisted into taking two parking spots cannot be made to fit in one parking spot if you don't have the keys; and what I will spend in the market cannot be numbered.
Then I looked at all the things that I had done and the energy I had expended in doing them; it was clear that was all madness and folly, since the fly-catcher I had hung in the sukkah fell down and went splat on the ground and a great stink rose in the sukkah. This, too, was a vexation of the spirit and caused much grief, as she who even inadvertently creates a stink in the sukkah increases pain.
Everything has its season, and there is a time for everything under the heavens:
A time to plan menus, and a time to shop.
A time to cook, and a time to set the table.
A time to put children in time out, and a time to heal.
A time to bake cakes and a time to eat.
A time to shop again, and a time to pray for parking.
A time to chop vegetables, and a time to borrow two onions from your neighbor.
A time to serve guests, and a time to clean up.
A time to feel exhausted ... is a good time to stay silent.
I have observed that God put an enigma in our minds so that we cannot comprehend why He wants us to do so much cooking and serving. Thus I have perceived that I may as well rejoice and cook more meals before the next dozen guests sidle into the sukkah. Indeed most men and women who eat and drink will find satisfaction in all my labor -- it is a gift from God (and since Yom Tov is not yet over I hope it is a gift that will keep on giving).
Go, eat your bread with joy and drink your wine with a glad heart, since I put it all on the Visa and the store merchant approved my credit. Take care lest you spill dark grape juice on my white tablecloth, or I may be tempted to anoint your head with oil.
The race to the bakery is indeed won by the swift and the grocery shopping achieved by the strong, and this is a good thing since weeks of Yom Tov will happen to us all. Like fish caught in a net, like birds seized in a snare, so are women caught in a moment of disaster when Yom Tov falls upon them suddenly. This, too, I have observed personally, and it affected me profoundly.
The balabusta seeks to rejoice under the "clouds of glory," no matter how many three-day Yom Tovs there are, and feed her guests without comparing her menu to that of her neighbor, who has been baking since before Labor Day, since that would be a vexation of the spirit. Home-baked challah will also be digested in the same way as store-bought challah. After all, a feast is made for laughter and wine gladdens life, so let your heart cheer you in the days of Yom Tov, especially if you have not spent most of the previous month in the kitchen. Wear sensible shoes in the kitchen, for you will stand there for a long time.
The sum of the matter, when all is considered: Fear God and keep His commandments, and remember to stock up on Shabbas candles and extra canned goods that can quickly be made into a salad in case you leave a dish on the stove for too long. This is not a balabusta's whole duty, but it sure is a big part of it during Yom Tov.
Judy Gruen is the mother of four kids and humor writer. Read more of her columns and order copies of her award-winning humor books on www.judygruen.com.