I Don’t Make Birthday Parties
I don’t throw birthday parties. Instead, I make siyums. Any time a child of ours completes any type of Jewish learning, Torah book, or sefer, we make a celebration. They choose how they want to celebrate, and we do our best to implement their plan. When my son, Josh, was nine, he finished Sefer Yehoshua and chose to take several friends bowling. Emmy finished Sefer Tehillim at the age of seven and wanted to take a few friends to an indoor trampoline park.
When Nava finished Pirkei Avot at nine she requested a different kind of party. She invited some friends to the house to do a cook-off, much like the television show, Chopped. Participants received a set of random ingredients, and had to concoct a creative dish.
At the party, each girl was given a chef’s hat, personalized apron, and a white box with secret ingredients inside. Every box contained the precise measurements to make a specific dish. No one knew what her ingredients were beforehand, and no recipes were handed out. The girls had to examine their ingredients and do their best to use all of them to create something delicious.
Everyone opened the boxes, and the cook-off began.
One child said, “Oh, I’m so happy with my box!” (There was whipped cream inside.)
Others seemed unexcited or unsure of how to proceed.
“Fish? Yuck, I don’t want to make fish!”
“Lentils? What am I supposed to do with lentils?”
“Hmm, carrots? Mango? What should I make?”
“You got chocolate chips? I wish I got that one!”
I gave them a few helpful hints and full access to my kitchen and all the tools inside. (Eek!) Although the girls were given the exact measurements they needed, some girls started eating their ingredients. Others used only small amounts of each one. Some girls even asked for additional ingredients to garnish, or make a different dish altogether.
My husband graciously acted as the judge for the competition, and we rated their dishes based on creativity, presentation, the number of ingredients used, and, of course, taste.
Anyone who helped a competitor or helped clean up received additional points. If a child asked for additional ingredients beyond their allotted portion, points were removed.
The girls had a blast, and they all surprised us with their capabilities. They utilized platters and cutting boards I never thought to use for presentation, and it all looked fabulous. Each presentation was more beautiful, creative, and tasty than the next.
The more I thought about this culinary experience, the more I realized how similar it is to life. In this game called life, we are each given a box of ingredients—aka talents, attributes, and character traits. Some of us have “better” ingredients than others. We may have been given the gift of beauty, wisdom, health, or wealth. These ingredients were given to us because we need them to accomplish our specific task on Earth. Just like my kitchen and all utensils within it were available to the girls, the world is at our disposal. We must ask ourselves whether we are utilizing each ingredient to its full capacity, or wasting these gifts.
Some of the children wished for their competitors’ ingredients like whipped cream or chocolate chips. So too, many of us are unhappy with our portion in life. When jealousy arises, we must endeavor to remember that Hashem has given us exactly what we need to fulfill our own life’s mission. Lentil soup or fish may be boring, but protein is necessary for a well-balanced meal. We can’t all be dessert! It is useless to complain about another person’s ingredients, because we don’t need whipped cream to make fish. (And it would be pretty gross to try to make that combination work!) Each of us has a job to do on Earth, and while some may seem more important than others, each one of us is needed, and cannot be replaced by anyone else.
One of the major themes in Pirkei Avot is humility, and my husband and I really emphasized this pasuk when learning it with our daughter. A favorite line is, “Do not seek greatness for yourself, and do not covet honour. Practice more than you learn.” This sentence has everything to do with the cook-off!
Humility does not mean that we walk around with our head down and feeling low about ourselves. Rather, it is recognizing that we are great, but also that the greatness only comes from Hashem. He hands us our talents and attributes, and we have the grave responsibility to do something special with them
I had a recipe in mind for each girl at the party, and many of them created exactly what was expected. Others missed the mark, not using all of their ingredients and asking for different items to supplement what they wanted to create. A few even surpassed my expectations.
Similarly, we must ask ourselves, Are we reaching our own potential? Is the creation that we make of ourselves the same as what Hashem had in mind for us? Are we concocting our best selves, given our hand in life?
Do we utilize all of our ingredients, or are we wasting them?
There is an image in Heaven of who we are meant to become, and the potential we are supposed to rise to. After 120 years we will face that image, and be judged on how close we came. Hashem will remind us that He gave us everything we needed to reach our potential. Hopefully, we won’t squander this time, or the gifts.
I asked my daughter what her favorite quote from Pirkei Avot was. She answered, “Who is rich? One who is happy with his lot.” This pasuk doesn’t just refer to finances. It also means being happy with our personal “box of supplies” and our job on Earth. We each have a tafkid, delineated by God. Humility does not mean thinking, I am nothing. No! It’s recognizing that I am great! And appreciating whatever job I have been given. It’s finding happiness within that role and thinking, I will be happy, and serve G-d the way He wants me to.
With all of the holidays quickly approaching, we are cooking up a storm. On Rosh Hashanah, we crown Hashem as King. The most powerful way to do this is to find happiness with our box of ingredients, and serve Him the way He wants to be served.
May we all be inscribed and sealed in the book of life.
 Pirkei Avot, 6:5
 Pirkei Avot 4:1