May 18, 2024
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May 18, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Devarim: 8: 11-18

“Home sweet home.”


Sam and Eden Berenson had been working on their house for what felt like an eternity. They had lived at 494 Rutherford Street for eight years without changing anything but a lightbulb. They had tolerated the 1950s decor, the green tile bathroom, and the blue Formica kitchen countertops for as long as they could. But after their fourth child was born, the Berensons knew they either had to move to a larger house or remodel their old homestead. They were very comfortable on Rutherford Street; the trees were beautiful, and the sun exposure was perfect. But most important of all, their neighbors were their close friends. After careful deliberation, they decided to remodel their home.

It had taken over a year to create the proper plans with the architect and tweak them until they were just right. It had taken four months to obtain a building permit from the town. It had taken three months to choose a contractor. And although the contractor promised the project would take only seven months, it had taken over 10 months to complete construction. Now, after renting a small house down the block for almost a year, all they needed was a certificate of occupancy from the town in order to move into their new, old home.

The building process had not gone as smoothly as they had hoped. The basement needed more excavating than had been expected. The new bathtub for the master bedroom (with the Jacuzzi jets) had arrived with a crack. The backsplash for the kitchen sink had been the wrong color. The bay window for the living room turned out to be the wrong size for the space. It had been a trying experience. But in the end, everything came together, and their remodeled house looked beautiful.

The entire site inspection took five minutes before the town building inspector issued the C. of O. Now all they had to do was put up their mezuzas and hire the mover, and they would be back in their house.

Sam and Eden lay on the floor of their cavernous new kitchen (Subzero Fridge, Viking Stove) and stared up at the skylight in the ceiling and the afternoon sky above. Perhaps the kitchen wasn’t really cavernous, but by the standards of the phone booth–like space the six Berensons had cooked and eaten in before the construction, the new space felt like Yankee Stadium.

“I can’t believe it’s finally over,” Eden said.

“Joy to the world,” Sam said.

“OK, what’s bothering you? You’ve been moping for a week now.”

“I don’t know.”

“Come on, let’s have it.”

“I just feel funny, having built this giant house.”

“Is it really that giant?” Eden asked. She stood and started walking around the main floor. Sam followed behind her.

“It’s pretty big,” Sam said. “It’s certainly much bigger than what we had before. And we managed in the old house for years.’

“It was your idea to have children,” Eden said.

“Ha! As I recall, you used to want 10.”

“Yeah, that was before the yeshiva bills.”

“Still, this isn’t all my fault,” Sam said.

“I know, I know. It takes two to tango, as you might say.”

Sam smiled. They walked into the new living room and turned on the lights (six ceiling-mounted high hats). The room smelled like the new hardwood floor (light maple). Eden stared out at the beige walls (oatmeal) imagining where all their artwork would hang. She would put her favorite chair (a funky armchair from Macy’s in a pattern called Tonka Lollipop) in the far corner, by the fireplace. There was nice afternoon light in that spot.

“So what’s really on your mind?” Eden asked.

“I’m just wondering how much is too much,” Sam said. “I was reviewing this week’s parsha, Eikev, and in the parsha, Moshe tells the Jewish people that they have to be careful not to forget Hashem. It says Pen yochal vesavata uvatim tovim tivneh veyashavta. Lest you eat and be satisfied, and you build good houses and settle. The next thing you know, kesef vezahav yirbeh, you’re increasing gold and silver for yourself, and suddenly veshachachta et Hashem Elokecha, you’ve forgotten God. So it’s just a hop, skip and a jump from building a good house to forgetting your Creator.”

Eden and Sam walked into their new den, with its neutral blue carpeting (subtle azure) and its ceiling fan (Airflow Antique Brass). Sam could envision his children sitting on their leather couches watching a movie on a big-screen television. The Berensons didn’t have one at present, but judging from the way things were going, it was just a matter of time.

“Sam, you’re being very silly,” Eden said. “Our new home is definitely larger, but it’s not exactly the Taj Mahal. Besides, it was inevitable that the Israelites would leave the desert, conquer the land of Canaan and build houses. Being prosperous is not a punishment, it’s a reward. You don’t have to say Kochi ve’otzem yadi asa li et hachayil hazeh, that my strength and the might of my hand made me all this wealth. You can still do all the mitzvot, the commandments, and use your resources wisely to be charitable and to do good deeds, even if you live comfortably. If I’m not mistaken, in the perek you’re quoting, Moshe also says Vezacharta et Hashem Elokecha ki Hu hanoten lecha koach la’asot chayil, then you shall remember Hashem your God, that it was He who gave you the strength to make wealth. You don’t have to lose your way just because you’re financially successful.”

“I suppose,” Sam said with a sigh.

“So you’re going to be OK with the house?”

“I guess. I’m sure that five minutes after the boxes are unpacked, I’m going to pop one of my favorite Charlie Parker CDs into the new surround-sound stereo system, and I’ll learn to adjust.”

“You’re a real trouper.”

“I know you mean that.”

Larry Stiefel is a pediatrician at Tenafly Pediatrics.

By Larry Stiefel

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