I couldn’t help but smile when I heard my child ask his younger sister to fetch the phone charger from upstairs. When she replied that she couldn’t, he remarked, “Yes you can, you just don’t want to.”
Without getting into who’s in the right, those wise words weren’t new to me. In fact, back in Russia, a wagon driver whose wagon was submerged in mud responded this to Chassidim when they were unwilling to interrupt their Torah learning to help unstick the wagon. “You can, you just don’t want to.”
People don’t always intend to be rude. So what makes us unwilling to help another, even when we are easily able to? Sometimes we’re just plain old busy with something that seems to take precedence.
My child is busy coloring—why should she disrupt her artwork for a sibling’s charger?
When I’m in the middle of my early Shabbos prep, why should I stop, drop, and roll for a long phone call with a friend who’s invited out for both meals and isn’t making Shabbos, but needs a listening ear? I’m happy to be there for her, but during my cooking marathon just doesn’t seem like an opportune time.
I see my teens encountering these situations too. Like the time Leah just got home from a long day of school and had to study for a big exam, when her friend asked if she could join her for an errand in case she couldn’t find a parking spot.
Or when Moishy came home from yeshiva and was about to take a well-deserved nap, so he could be well rested for his upcoming week of learning, when instead I found him playing “Guess Who” with my youngest, who was thrilled to have his big brother home.
Oftentimes, we just forge on and do the act, because we are torn between two rights.
Like when Moshe had to drive the Jews out of the Yam Suf against their will. They were so immersed in the directive of collecting riches, that they failed to realize that although staying put felt right, the call of the hour was to move on—something that didn’t feel as sensible. Sometimes, we struggle to recognize what each situation calls for. What feels right and what is right do not always align. So Moshe has to shift the Jews’ itinerary against their will. Because although Hashem did command them to collect the riches, now was not the time. Although they were entirely invested in clearing the sea of the spoils, there was a new task at hand. It was time to get going. To focus completely on forging on to receive the Torah.
That’s what Moishy was trying to explain to me when I asked him why he forfeited his nap for a measly game of “Guess Who” with my toddler.
He’s a yeshiva bochur, a boy of a few words—he just shrugged. But what he was trying to say was, “Ma, what we sometimes fail to recognize is the call of the hour. Sometimes we can, but we don’t want to. Sometimes we can, and we need to. There’s a time and place for everything. I can sleep later, but I can only play the game now, when it actually means something.”
Yes, Moishy. You’re right.
Next Friday morning, when I’m deep in the midst of Shabbos prep and the phone rings, I’ll pick it up. I can, and I want to.
Chaya Silver is passionate about continuously learning and finding meaning in the mundane.