The Frog Who Saved Pesach
It was the year the frog saved Pesach. In a scene that was toad-ally hilarious, we thought we’d gone hopping mad. (Frog-give all the bad frog puns – my brain is a little addled from the Windex fumes). But the scaly amphibian who arrived unannounced at my home that Pesach arrived at exactly the right moment, changing the trajectory of our Yom Tov in exactly the way we needed.
Back when I was expecting my now six-year-old son, I was living in Miami, completely overwhelmed at the thought of making Pesach alone. My husband was a fulltime student in middle of a rigorous internship, I had three kids too young to help out at all, and I? I could not move.
When I finally got my little guys to sleep at night, I would stare at my kitchen cabinets and imagine them cleaning themselves. I’d make lists – but even looking at the lists exhausted me – so I would crawl off to bed, convinced I’d have more energy come morning (spoiler alert: I did not).
As Pesach crept closer, my parents heard the panic in my voice and agreed to come rescue me, booking tickets for themselves and for my sisters. In the back of their minds, I think they were imagining a glamourous Pesach getaway, joining the jet-set crew and flying off to Florida for a restful Yom Tov just steps away from the beach.
Except their Pesach would be anything but restful.
My mother did a lot of the cooking in her house, so while the rest of the jetsetters got to the airport with just their luggage in tow, my parents schlepped boxes crammed with meats, chickens, and Pesach lokshen, praying the boxes wouldn’t burst open and spill ladyfingers all over cargo.
And when they showed up at my house (in North Miami Beach – many miles away from any sand or seashells) they didn’t find glamour: there was no 24-hour tearoom in my bungalow-sized house and no smiley valet eager to carry their luggage.
Instead, they found me: a tired, cranky, swollen-at-the-ankles woman who was still hoping she could skip Pesach altogether just this once. It was ninety degrees outside, and while the air conditioner was doing the best job it could (honestly – I think it was scared of me), the house never got cool enough for me to feel like I wasn’t slogging through Jell-O.
But my mother and my sisters were heroes. They rolled up their sleeves and tried valiantly to whip my house into Pesach readiness, while my father tried to keep my children from undoing everything that had been done. I, uh, supervised from my perch on the couch, trying to seem helpful but knowing I was pretty much useless.
On Erev Pesach, my husband came running through the door an hour before candlelighting and found a house that was (miraculously!) ready for Pesach. But he also found a group of women who were too tired to move a finger, too drained to make rational conversation, and too depleted to enjoy the beautiful seder they had worked so hard to prepare.
As my husband donned his kittel, I remember him muttering. “This Pesach is going to be amazing.”
I didn’t think he was going to be wrong.
When the men came home from shul, my father led the seder, but he didn’t really have anyone to lead. The women fell asleep during Maggid, the kids stole the afikomen and then passed out under the dining room table after they recited the Ma Nishtana, and my poor husband, still trying to impress the shver, all but fell asleep in his soup during Shulchan Orech.
By the time we were ready to open the door for Eliyahu Hanavi, it seemed like all had been lost. In a last-ditch effort to save the seder, my father urged all the women to open the door together, hoping the blast of (hot) air would wake us up for the seder’s last leg.
So, we lumbered toward the door together, halfhearted and half asleep, and when we opened the door, we were in for an unexpected surprise.
A single frog – a huge one! – hopped through the front door and headed straight toward the seder table.
Like those images from Makas Tzfardea that we all grew up with, the warty intruder darted through my house. He ably eluded capture, bouncing and bounding off the walls and croaking with annoyance every time we tried to show him the door.
Before we knew it, the kids were awake, joining in the chase. When the furtive frog finally jumped into a matzah box (maybe he thought it was an oven?), my eight-year-old tried to block me as I headed to let it free outside. Tearfully, he insisted he wanted to keep his new friend as a pet. (Almost seven years later, he is still recovering from my withering glare.)
When we made it back to the seder table, we could not stop laughing (for everyone but me, it might have been the wine), and I’m not being hyperbolic when I say Mr. Frog changed the tenor of our entire Yom Tov. It jolted us out of our fatigue to remind us of the reason we work so hard for Pesach: to fulfill the mitzvos with joy – with energy! – and not with mind-numbing exhaustion.
If Chananya, Mishael, and Azaria could be inspired by a frog, so could I. And thanks to my web-footed friend, we were awake and engaged and excited for the rest of the seder and for the next night too. My pregnancy-induced exhaustion didn’t disappear, but my commitment to overcoming it was reinvigorated.
I think of Mr. Frog today because we’re in the final pre-Pesach stretch now, and we all have reasons to be exhausted and overwhelmed and even a little resentful.
A lot of us take on more than we can handle. We strain ourselves physically, emotionally, and financially during the weeks before Pesach, because we embrace the mitzvah, and because we want our families to be together (we remember too well the pain of being alone last year!). Most of all, we want our families to enjoy a beautiful, memorable, and uplifting Pesach.
But none of it is all that enjoyable if we are too tired to enjoy it. None of it is meaningful if we sacrifice the meaning to embrace the stress instead.
We’ve got to “pass over” (oops – these puns are out of control) the things that cause tension and instead find the humor, the reasons to smile, the moments filled with spirit and joy.
If you’re in Brooklyn this Pesach, I don’t think it’s likely that a frog will hop through your doors, but I bet you can still expect the unexpected, welcome the wearying and the wacky, and accept the tiring and toad-ally hilarious.
Because if we don’t sweat the small stuff, we’ll get to enjoy the big stuff – and that is my pre-Pesach bracha for us all.
Wishing you a Frog Kasher V’Sameach!
(Sorry! I couldn’t resist one more!)