BY RACHEL LaVICTOIRE / AJT //
I was a really picky eater when I was young – and I mean really picky. I didn’t like tomatoes, onions, lettuce (well, pretty much all vegetables), corned beef, thin salami (thick was OK), mayonnaise, pepper, fish, beans, sausage, honeydew, cherries…the list goes on and on!
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I even went through a period when I liked peanuts but not peanut butter, and then a stage when I liked peanut butter but not peanuts!
But with all of those absurdly strange preferences, there was one that I will never forget: the Taco Bell tacos. Before I was daring enough to try the pre-combined jack/cheddar cheese from Moe’s, my mom used to bring my brother and me to Taco Bell, where I always ordered the No. 8 combo.
Now, the picture on the menu shows the No. 8 as three hard-shell tacos with ground beef, lettuce and cheese – but I obviously never got that. I would step up when it was my turn to order and sort of look down and speak very quietly, telling the cashier that I wanted a No. 8 with soft-shell tacos and no lettuce, no meat; just cheese.
Nine out of ten times, when I opened up my No. 8, one of two things would be there: either lettuce or melted cheese. Both constituted a re-order.
But here’s where I should probably add in my problem a little more important than my pickiness: my shyness. Even though I liked things a certain way, I was well aware that it wasn’t the easiest way, and I really hated to cause any trouble.
So on those nine out of ten times when the order came out wrong, I would send my brother back up to the cashier while I hid in the big plastic booth. And that’s how things went – I was never the one to send back an order.
But one day my grandma shared a bit of advice with me that changed everything.
“The worst thing that could happen when you ask is that they say ‘no,’” she said. “As long as you can deal with ‘no,’ then you’re OK. So don’t be afraid to ask, as long as you can handle no.”
It seemed reasonable. My requests were questions, not demands, and the waiter or cashier could say “no” – but that’s all they could do. So asking for what I want meant either getting it or being told “no,” and I could handle either outcome.
I tell you this story because in this week’s Torah portion, Behaalotecha, a small group of men come to the same realization, albeit on a much larger scale. The third alliyah, or reading, of this parsha begins as follows:
“The Lord spoke to Moses in the Sinai Desert…saying: The children of Israel shall make the Passover…on the afternoon of the fourteenth of this month…in accordance with all its statutes and all its ordinances (Numbers 9:1-3).”
Moses relayed this message to the Israelites, and they began preparation for the Passover. And when all was said and done, and the sacrifice had been made, a group of men approached Moses and Aaron with a daring question.
The law clearly states that those who have had contact with the dead are ritually unclean and that those who are ritually unclean may not partake in the Passover sacrifice. But these men asked anyway:
“We are ritually unclean because of contact with a dead person; but why should we be excluded so as not to bring the offering of the Lord in its appointed time with all the children of Israel? (Numbers 9:7).”
I was scared for those men when I read this. Here you have a group of ritually unclean men approaching two powerful leaders in order to question a commandment of the one being that’s even more powerful than the leaders themselves. So what happens?
Moses hears the men, brings their inquiry to G-d, and listens as G-d responds by saying:
“Speak to the children of Israel, saying any person who becomes unclean from contact with the dead, or is on a distant journey, whether among you or in future generations, he shall make a Passover sacrifice for the Lord (Numbers 9:10).”
It was as simple as that – ask and receive. Which brings up another aspect of this whole asking thing, and that’s confidence.
We ask for things because we either want them or we feel deserving of them. If you think about it, by asking for something specific, you’re really just petitioning for someone to agree with you.
So how confident are you? If you feel you’ve earned a raise, why should your boss think differently? If you believe you deserve the specific meal that you ordered (politely), why should you feel guilty sending it back?
Finally, if you’re any human being who feels strongly about making a connection to G-d, why should you sit idly and allow rules to prevent you from doing so?
Don’t be afraid to ask, as long as you can handle “no.”
Rachel LaVictoire (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a graduate of the Davis Academy and Westminster High School, recipient of the prestigious Nemerov Writing and Thomas H. Elliott Merit scholarships at Washington University of St. Louis and an active member of Temple Emanu-El and the Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta. She was recently named to the board of St. Louis Hillel.