We stumble into each other as we meet in the still-darkened hallway, the alarm clock screaming in our ears. Despite our differing heights, ages, and hair colors, we could be confused for twins.
Matching squints. Matching scowls. Matching exhaustion.
We crawl our way to the kitchen where I grope around for the coffee machine, and he, still too young for the brew, reaches sleepily for the orange juice. The poor guy is in such a fog, I think he might fall back asleep in the orange juice. I’m not much better, yawning noisily between every sip of my morning Joe.
I wish I could let him grab a few more minutes of shuteye, let him drift back into the beautiful dreamland that’s calling both our names, but when I glance up at the clock, I see that the hands are tauntingly ticking their way toward 7:00 AM. Tired or not, the minyan bus will be here before we can blink.
“Come on, Tzvi,” I urge, “please go get dressed.”
I lead him by the arm back to his room, to the stacked clothing I prepared the night before, and close the door to give him his privacy. Eventually, he staggers out like a drunkard.
I look him up and down. Something’s not right. “Uh, Tzvi, please put on your socks.”
He does it, glaring at me with white-hot rage.
“Now, please put on your shoes.”
Another glare, even angrier this time.
“And can you please put on your other shoe?”
I know. I’m so demanding.
When he is finally dressed, I wait with him outside, a little part of me wondering: Is this all really necessary? 7:30 minyan for my little 6th grader? He’s only 11 years old – his bar mitzvah is still two years away. He has plenty of time to get used to waking up early for a minyan. Couldn’t he sleep in a little longer – so I could sleep in a little longer?
Uh oh. Wait a minute. Do you think I’m the problem here?
Do you think he senses my feelings when my alarm clock goes off, and I fight the urge to hurl it across the room? Do you think he gets the hint when I hit snooze again and again and again before dragging myself out of bed, with my fingers clawing desperately at my pillows?
Hmm. Okay, so it might be a little obvious.
Watching the sun come up with Tzvi sitting beside me, listening to our synchronized yawns, I can’t help but think of Sondra, a woman I knew when I was growing up in Brooklyn.
Sondra had come to America from Russia with her two children not long after the fall of the Iron Curtain. When she arrived on the shores of New York City, she knew almost nothing about Judaism. She had been married to a non-Jew back in the Soviet Union, but somehow, her Jewish heart still beat beneath the frozen tundra of Communism, and now free, she desperately wanted a Torah life for her children.
A single mother with a limited grasp of English, Sondra struggled to make ends meet, taking on cleaning jobs and light clerical work. The small apartment she could afford was far from the frum community, and miles from the nearest minyan. She did not have the money to buy a car; even the city bus fare was beyond her budget. But as her son neared bar mitzvah, she knew he needed to daven with a minyan. She made no excuses. Instead, even in frigid temperatures, the pair walked two miles each night so her son could daven Maariv and learn with a chavrusa. Sondra would wait outside, shivering as the wind nipped at her ears, waiting for her son to emerge from the shul. She did this for years, watching with unabashed pride as her son blossomed into a respected and sincere talmid chacham.
Her son is married now, building a bayis ne’eman of his own, because each step they took, their tired feet thudding on New York’s cold pavement, echoed with his mother’s joy from her son’s tefillos, her pride in his willingness to stretch himself for Torah.
What will my son say? That his mornings echoed with his mother’s yawns, his mother’s sighs, his mother’s threats to throw her alarm clock out the window?
I can’t moan and groan if I want him to realize how much I value his tefillos, his willingness to get up when it is still dark, when he is still tired, when his body longs to stay in bed just a little bit longer.
The onus is on me.
So maybe this is why Hashem created coffee.
Maybe this is why Hashem created foundation to cover up the bags under my eyes.
Maybe this is why Hashem created the snooze button (to be hit gently, of course).
It’s to give me that extra bit of energy to swallow my yawns so I can greet the morning like a lion instead of like a grouch. This way, I can tell Tzvi, “There is nothing in the world I’d rather do then sit beside you while we wait for the minyan bus.” Maybe he will believe me.
And then, only then, can he begin to believe it for himself.