Jewish Journal

A Day at the Fair

by Rabbi Ilana Grinblat

May 5, 2010 | 3:14 pm

This past Sunday, my family and I went to a carnival for Lag B’omer. The celebration took place in the middle of a major street which was closed to traffic and filled instead with rides and booths. The day was hot, and the sun beat down upon us as we stood in line for the rides. But when the kids went on the rides, they smiled from ear to ear and waved. When they climbed the slide, I was amazed by my three year-old daughter Hannah’s agility and bravery as she scaled up without a second thought. I was particularly glad to see my six-year-old son Jeremy push her up when she needed an extra lift.

The afternoon was a manic experience. Most of the time, I was hot and bored in line, but then I was happy watching them enjoy the rides. Reading this week’s portion also feels like bi-polar mood swings. This week is a double portion called B’har-B’hukkotai (On the Mountain-In My Laws). B’hukkotai lists wonderful blessings for following God’s commandments and gruesome curses for disobeying. The blessings are absolutely beautiful and uplifting to read, and the curses are downright disgusting and depressing.

The balance also seems out of whack. The blessings are eight verses long while the curses go on for 27 verses – outnumbering the blessings by more than a three to one ratio. The rabbis wondered why the portion dwells on the negative. Several commentators noted that although the curses outnumber the blessings, the blessings outweigh them in quality. The good counts more than the bad.

Indeed, in reviewing our afternoon at the carnival if I added up the number of annoying minutes compared to the joyful minutes, the irritating moments would certainly win by a wide margin. We probably spent 30 minutes waiting for every 2 minutes on the ride. Likewise, if I were to honestly tabulating the experience of parenting as a whole, the moments of frustration would outnumber those of joy. (For example, during pregnancy I spent most of the time feeling sick and miserable, but had some few moments of wonder at how my body was changing. During my children’s infancy, I spent most of an exhausted fog – with some incredible times holding and nursing the baby.)

However, life is not a simple math problem. The good moments mean more. The image of Jeremy helping Hannah on the slide is one I will carry with me long after I forget how hot and bored we were in line.

The next morning, I overheard Jeremy say to Hannah, “Remember how we went on the slide together yesterday? Wasn’t that fun?” She nodded and I smiled, and thought the commentators were right. The blessings of life surely outweigh the rest.

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Rabbi Ilana Grinblat teaches rabbinic literature at the American Jewish University’s Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and their...

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