July 23, 2024
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Judah Samuels never considered himself much of a disciplinarian. His wife Dina actually had used terms like “push over,” “marshmallow,” and “cream puff,” to describe his parenting skills. He was not the one to dispense the punishments in the Samuels house. In fact, the children knew to bypass their mother and go directly to their dad to ask for permission for any questionable activities. Judah was the one to allow the chocolate sandwiches for school lunches and the mud slide races in the backyard. The experiment in the bathtub using the entire bottle of Super Suds had also been on his watch (they found bubbles in the most unlikely places for days afterward).

So when behavioral problems started developing with the Samuels’ four-year-old son Daniel, Judah was not expected to be much help. Danny had not been considered an easy baby, and his reputation lived on into his toddler years. Danny, the apple of his parents’ eye, the youngest of the Samuels clan (and therefore the one who was expected to get away with murder), was not exactly a listener. No, he loved to test Judah and Dina’s tolerance. To a certain degree, a parent can pretend not to notice when a child pushes the outer limits of the mischief envelope. But things had started to go too far.

The straw that broke the camel’s back was when Danny started flushing things down the toilet. First toys such as Matchbox cars, Lego, and small action figures started vanishing. His sister Avigayil’s Polly Pockets started making their way down to Davey Jones’ locker at an alarming rate. Then toiletries began to get flushed. Toothbrushes, bars of soap, Q-tips, small medicine bottles–nothing was safe. But when Daniel Joshua Samuels discovered the joys of flushing entire toilet paper rolls, something had to give. The plumber had been to their home three times, and the Samuels’ patience was starting to wear thin.

One fine Sunday morning, when all the older Samuels children were out with their mother at a soccer game, Judah settled down with the New York Times Magazine to attack the crossword puzzle with nothing but a number two pencil and his steely mind. Danny was somewhere in the house playing, and Judah knew he should have checked on him. Mistakenly interpreting silence as the absence of misbehavior, Judah stuck to his puzzle. He was contemplating the five letters he needed for 13 Down (Mexican state east of Veracruz), when a strange rumbling could be felt shaking the house. If the Samuels family had lived in California, Judah’s apprehensions might have focused on an earthquake, but this being New Jersey, his thoughts turned elsewhere. Muttering under his breath, “Danny,” he dropped his magazine and ran for the stairs.

There was Danny, standing at the entrance to the master bathroom. His facial expression was one of wonder. He had shoved paper down the toilet before, but never with such an impressive result.

The only word that came to Judah’s mind was “geyser.” A large stream of water was rising from the toilet like some ancient geological phenomenon from Yellowstone National Park. It was quite impressive, and if the gusher hadn’t been in the process of turning his newly renovated bathroom into a swimming pool, Judah might have laughed with glee at the spectacle.

Instead, Judah Samuels raced into his bathroom and, braving the torrent of water, shut the valve at the base of the toilet. Judah’s wet hair was matted to his head, and his T-shirt and jeans felt cold against his body. He turned to his youngest son in amazement.

“Did you see that?” Danny said. “That was incredible.”

Something snapped inside Judah, something basic and primeval. He marched over to his son, grabbed him under his arms and carried him forcefully back to his room, dropping him on his bed.

“Danny, you–“

I cannot repeat what Judah said to his son, Suffice to say it was a loud, harsh rebuke that went on for quite some time. It was dark. It was scary. It had been bottled up inside of Judah, waiting for the right moment to burst free.

When he was done, Judah stormed out of Danny’s room and slammed the door, leaving his son in tears. In all his years as a parent he could not recall ever going off like that (though he had forgotten the time his son Yoni drew an impressive sketch of a dump truck on the living room wall in indelible marker). He tried to go back to his crossword puzzle (18 Down: Oriole Ripken), but he just couldn’t concentrate. Instead he stared blankly out the window.

Where did such anger come from? He was usually such a calm person, but he supposed everyone had his or her limits.

When Judah became a parent, 15 years earlier, he thought he finally understood how God felt about man and about Israel. In his entire school career in Jewish day schools he had been taught how Hashem was our father and we were His children, but Judah never understood what the rabbis meant until he saw how much he loved his own kids. Then he got it.

Now, sitting 30 feet across the house from his youngest child after having harangued him with a vehemence he didn’t even know he possessed, Judah thought that maybe he finally understood the tochachah, the curse that Moshe describes to the Jews in Parshat Ki Tavo and Parshat Bechukotai if they don’t follow God’s commandments. There is some really scary stuff described in those pesukim, plagues and pestilence, exile and humiliation. But only a parent could get that angry at his child, just as Judah did with his Danny a few minutes earlier.

Why was that?

God would forgive the Jews, just as he already forgiven Danny and regretted his uncharacteristic outburst. And Judah knew that in a few minutes he would go in and hug his son and tell him that he loved him. But first he had to let Danny sit for a few minutes and think about what he did wrong, maybe even regret his actions (though Judah seriously doubted it). Wasn’t that how “Time Out” worked?

Yes, the few minutes would allow both of them to cool down. And it would give him a chance to call the plumber. Judah thought he had the number on speed dial.

Larry Stiefel is a pediatrician at Tenafly Pediatrics and author of the parsha story blog themaggidofbergenfield.com

By Larry Stiefel

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