Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Pious Appliance

Today was Tishah be-Av, the saddest day in the Jewish calendar, when we commemorate the terrible tragedies that befell the Jewish people throughout history. Three weeks prior to this date, we cease all joyful activity. On Tishah be-Av itself we mourn and fast. And today my refrigerator, no doubt overwhelmed by the sadness of the day, decided to observe it by breaking down.

When my refrigerator is working well, it hums merrily along in several pitches at once: a low one for the motor, a higher one for the fan and probably a few others that I’m not aware of. This morning it sounded anything but merry. After listening carefully I realized I was hearing only the low-pitched hum. No fan. When I opened the refrigerator my worst fears were confirmed: it was all but room temperature in there.

Room temperature ... in Jerusalem. In July.

(You have to admit that there is something symbolic—and a bit spooky—about a refrigerator breaking down on a day when Jews are not supposed to eat.)

I called the repairman and described the problem. Getting up my courage, I asked him: What could this problem be, and how much will it cost to fix? He replied that it could be anything from a minor repair to one that would cost approximately two thousand shekels.

We learn that Tishah be-Av has two main aspects. One involves grief over the destruction of both Temples, the exiles and the horrific events that have befallen us throughout history. The other is the spark of redemption present even in the darkest, most difficult times. The Messiah, it is said, will be born on the Ninth of Av. And so, combining this Jewish teaching with current events, I found myself hoping that whatever the repairman discovered would have more to do with the day’s aspect of redemption than of mourning.

After some tests he determined that the problem was a broken thermostat. He replaced it, put the freezer back together and even replaced the plug. I paid him and went happily off to work. (Well, maybe not happily; it was still Tishah be-Av, after all.)

I came home hours later and headed for the refrigerator, anticipating the blast of cool air that would tell me all was well. Alas, no. The inside is barely cooler than it was this morning, the refrigerator is back to its unhappy, low-pitched, fanless hum, and I’ve called the repairman again, asking for a date sometime tomorrow.

Perhaps when he arrives he will tell my refrigerator, ever so gently, that Tishah be-Av is over.

(The next day: He did.)

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