I have recently become an expert – nay, a master – of white rice preparation. How, you ask? I don’t know exactly, but my white rice of late has had the perfect balance of oil, salt, moistness, and fluff. It is everything I ever hoped for and dreamed for in a calorie-heavy, nutrition-light accompaniment to the delicious (and likewise unhealthy) sweet and sour meatballs I make many a Shabbos.
But this past erev Shabbos (that’s Friday afternoon in Jew speak) I flubbed my precious rice. Twice. I double flubbed it. Flubbled it. (OK, enough word play.) One of my recent rice-making-breakthroughs is to take the pot off the flame earlier than I used to. (Hey, it was earth shattering to me.)
Once the water appears to have boiled away, I tilt the pot to make sure there’s none left at the bottom. Usually the rice is sticky enough to stay put. I found out on Friday that if the water-check-tilt is done too soon and the rice is not sticky enough to stay put, half of it dumps onto your floor. That was flub number one. Flumber one.
Flumber two happened later in the day when I realized that the rice was still a bit raw due to my first faux-pas and I stuck it back on the flame for a little more cooking. “Just a few minutes and I’ll take it off,” I thought. “No need to set a timer.” But then the baby cried. The phone rang. The girls started fighting. And before I knew it, that rice was the furthest thing from my mind.
When I finally came back to the kitchen to get my daughter a drink, I noticed a faint toastiness wafting around the oven. I quickly inspected the area, but nothing appeared to be causing the smell, so I left. I was completely oblivious to the fact that I had stuck rice on the stove for a re-cook and continued to be until a while later when the smoke detector started blaring. Only then did I return to find my beloved grains burnt to a crisp.
As I began picking up the pieces of my shattered side dish, I realized how foolish I had been. Timers were created to remind us to complete important tasks. We might have the best intentions to accomplish things in life, but unless we have a system in place to remind us to act, life has a way of getting in the way.
As the wise Ferris Bueller once said: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” The observant Jewish life is chock full of reminders to make sure that the essence of life does not get missed in the details of life.
From the moment we open our eyes in the morning and acknowledge that a new opportunity to live has been given (with the “modeh ani” prayer), to the various blessings recited throughout the day, to the three formal daily prayers, to the nightly personal reflection in the bedtime Shema, the Jewish life is a mindful life.
Week by week, we keep track of our time and our goals with Shabbos. Month by month with Rosh Chodesh. Year by year with Rosh Hashana. (Of course it is possible to live an observantly Jewish life on cruise control, but that’s not how it’s meant to be. Even a set timer that gets ignored is useless.)
Let’s take charge of our time before it slips away. If a ruined side dish could cause so much disappointment, imagine how much despair one would feel if an entire life passed by due to the same neglect.