Putting the Toilet Seat Down

Double Mitzvah Jewrotica Parsha

Written by Sender Rozesz. Sender Rozesz is a practicing attorney with a background in Jewish pluralistic education for adults. Sender Rozesz is Jewrotica’s resident Double Mitzvah columnist. The views reflected in his writing represent his own personal views, and are not intended to reflect the views of any organizations, institutes or associations with whom he may be affiliated.

Rated PG

Imagine if our life was accompanied by a musical soundtrack. An uplifting, victorious track would accompany our positive actions and decisions, growing to a crescendo for the really important, life-altering ones. A somber, mournful and discomfiting track would signal our wrong decisions, our missed opportunities. And suspenseful, thriller music would alert us to an approaching crossroads, in which the fate world hangs in the balance, awaiting our action. The lulling, gentle music in between would allow us to doze off and relax; sure, there’s some character and plot development taking place during the gentle track, but we can afford to check out until the dramatic music returns.

A soundtrack would make it easy to identify the important and meaningful moments in our life.

It is said of the famous Austrian composer, Joseph Haydn, that he was irritated at the way his audience would fall asleep during the soft staccato music that begins the second movement of Haydn’s Symphony No. 94. Thus, he deliberately inserted a sudden loud chord, supposedly to awaken the sleeping members of the audience. This became known as “Haydn’s Surprise.”

But alas, we don’t have a life soundtrack, or a Hayden’s Surprise. We don’t have a sudden orchestra hit to rouse us from sleepy complacency and self-absorption. And without a soundtrack, it is often very difficult to discern the important moments from the unimportant ones. We incorrectly assume that important moments are big-ticket items, and that we can afford to neglect the smaller stuff.

This is particularly true in our relationships. Despite our natural tendencies to be preoccupied with ourselves, we emerge from our bubble to be there for the other person for special events, such as birthdays, anniversaries, mother’s day, father’s day; or for classic traumatic events, such as changing or losing a job, moving, sickness, or G-d forbid, the loss of a friend or family member. Once the event is over, or the crisis has passed, however, there can be a tendency to retreat back into our bubble until the next big-ticket item comes around.

Most failed relationships do not end in a spectacular explosion that sends the two parties careening away from each other. In other words, while there are certainly many relationships that are destroyed by monumental schisms — such as infidelity, or the kind of neglect that makes one miss even the big-ticket items — most failed relationships quietly and slowly erode away due to the lack of upkeep and ongoing cultivation. They fail because the parties are snoozing in between the dramatic moments, mistakenly treating those in-between moments as trivial and unimportant.

Yet one of the top complaints that married women have about their spouses is that they have grown inattentive. What does inattentive mean? Did he forget a birthday or anniversary? Nah, not even he is likely to be that bad. No, it means that he no longer focuses on her as he used to — and that’s all in the little stuff. The little things that he used to do that demonstrated that he was thinking of her, that she was the center of his universe. The unimportant things. Opening the door for her. Giving her a kiss goodbye. Memorizing her preferences, her favorite drink, her favorite color. Buying her a random card.

Ever wonder how the ubiquitous “putting down the toilet seat” became the threshold for determining potential husband material? It’s simple: A guy who lives on his own (or in a bubble) will leave the toilet seat up. If he puts it down, it is because he is thinking outside of himself, about the female with whom he shares the bathroom. That alone is worthy of a musical crescendo. It sounds pathetic, but that small act can speak louder than the obligatory flower bouquet on an anniversary.

The small things are often what demonstrate the health and vitality of a relationship. Sure, the big things are important; but by their very nature, they don’t really tell you much about the relationship, because they are huge, bright, neon signs saying: “These are vital to your relationship — don’t forget them!” But how about when we’re not being coached? How important is our relationship really? That’s all in the small stuff.

Our relationship with G-d is no different. Sure, there are the Ten Commandments, given with thunder, lightning and trumpets. Sure, we can say: “G-d just wants me to be a good person.” And that’s true — He does.

This week’s Parshah, Eikev, however, opens with the words: וְהָיָ֣ה עֵ֣קֶב תִּשְׁמְע֗וּן אֵ֤ת הַמִּשְׁפָּטִים֙ הָאֵ֔לֶּה — “And it will be, because you will heed these ordinances and keep them and perform, that the Lord, your G-d, will keep for you the covenant and the kindness that He swore to your forefathers.” [1] The simple translation of the Hebrew word עקב — “Eikev,” after which our Parshah is named — “because.” It is, however, a very odd word to use in that context, as there as several far more common Hebrew words that mean “because”; and even if that were not the case, it seems unlikely that the entire Parshah would be named after a simple conjunction.

Thus, the famous commentator Rashi immediately notes that, by using the word “Eikev,” the Torah must have been hinting to its other meaning: Heel. Jacob was named Ya’akov — from the word Eikev — because he emerged from his mother’s womb holding onto Esau’s heel. Rashi thus explains that the Torah specifically used the word “Eikev” here to remind us that the vitality of our relationship with G-d rests upon those commandments that are usually trodden upon by the heel; Mitzvot that are in danger of being trampled underfoot by being mistakenly treated as being of minor importance. The test of our attentiveness toward G-d is not in the big and scary stuff; rather, it is in the things that appear to be small and trivial that our devotion is most reflected.

What if we heard that suspense track growing in intensity just as we were about to put the toilet seat down? What if we heard the victory music play when we refrained from sharing some tantalizing gossip? Or in making a blessing over our food? [2] These seem like relatively insignificant items — but if we could hear the celestial soundtrack, we might have a better appreciation for the small stuff.

Shabbat Shalom!

Works Cited

[1] Deuteronomy, 7:12.
[2] See Deuteronomy, 8:10.