Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

10 Cheshvan 5760 - October 20, 1999 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Home and Family
a story by Chaya Levinson - Part One

"There is nothing as whole and perfect as a broken heart..." (R' Yisroel Salanter)

When the echoes of the joyous singing faded into silence and the dozens of flower bouquets and arrangements were distributed in suitable niches all around the house and Rivky finally began to seriously think about the awesome days looming up in her near future, she was suddenly beset by an original idea. Her classmates raised unbelieving eyebrows at the notion, but Rivky was undaunted and set about executing it a mere week after her engagement, with the tacit agreement of her parents. She scoured the best fabric stores in town and finally came home loaded down with armfuls of satiny material for her wedding dress. She designed the gown herself following a few visits to local wedding dress gemachs, after which she referred to her sewing course notebooks with their measurement ratios and pattern-making instructions. Studies at school were in high gear, with graduation not far off, and she had plenty of other matters to take care of, besides. But Rivky was determined to see this through, and set aside her evening hours for the challenge.

"Don't you think this is superfluous?" her mother dared ask her while the project was still in its infant stage. "You have so much to do, so many things to see to. Besides, you need to preserve your physical and emotional strength. You need precious peace of mind. Why take on this demanding and unnecessary undertaking?"

"D'you know, Ima, while I sew, I have time to think. My mind is uncluttered. I feel it is an excellent opportunity to prepare myself for marriage. It is just tailored for me. You know how much there is to pray for. I sort-of pray between the stitches..."

It seemed to Rivky's mother that these last words were said for her daughter's own ears. Such a lovely expression of gentleness and blissful delight seemed to settle upon her, like whenever her warmest, most fervent emotions were aroused. And so, Ima no longer attempted to dissuade her. Her heart seemed to whisper to her that this activity was an important catharsis, an outlet for Rivky's many mixed emotions.

"Let her pray, really pray. I'm all for the idea," Rivky heard her father tell her older sister, who tried to sabotage the notion. Rivky smiled to herself. Abba was fully aware of everything that went on in the house, but she never thought that Ima also reported the contents of their heart-to-heart talks.

"And in order to pray, one has to sew up one's own bridal gown? Doesn't she have enough worries on the eve of her wedding?"

"That will be enough. This is what she wants and we've allowed it. If she can't manage to finish it, she can always borrow a dress from a gemach. Besides, it will be good practice for her. You know that she intends to teach sewing."

"A bona fide, walking advertisement, a kalla in her own, homemade bridal gown!" Laiky muttered, still unconvinced.

"You're lucky that I'm busy with my sewing now and have no time to argue with you," Rivky replied dreamily. "You'll never understand. It's a miracle that Ima does."

Rivky carried on, sitting by her machine every evening, fitting together the pieces, gathering seams and letting them out, making pleats and ripping them apart to change the design. Her lips moved softly as she worked. Her small bedroom resembled a sweatshop with swatches of fabric, threads and sewing accessories strewn all over the place. The only difference was that everything was white, satiny, gleaming and heavily laden with emotion.

"I am weaving my innermost thoughts together with the stitches," she said to her best friend, Chani, one day. "It's not only the sewing. These hours by myself are my most precious commodity right now. I've asked the family not to disturb me while I'm sewing and they really try. This provides me with an island of respite and calm in the storm of activity that sweeps me up the rest of the time. Before I begin sewing, I try to study a little in Shaarei Tshuva or the like, and then I have time to think about it and internalize what I've read. Perhaps it is the darkness outside that gives my thoughts free rein and helps my emotions find expression in thought. These days come only once in a lifetime, and they are so important. Just think - I am about to establish a new home, a small scale beis hamikdash for the Shechina to dwell in. Doesn't this require me to cleanse and purify my heart, my mind, my entire being? These hours provide the perfect background for this task."

Rivky leaned against the fence, gazing dreamily into the future and didn't notice the admiring look in Chani's eyes. Her best friend had known her for over a dozen years, but this depth in Rivky's character had never yet been exposed.

Rivky went off to her room, to her needles and threads, silks and satins, and to her prayer-filled stitches. Ima would peep in every so often to shoo her off to bed - only to find her already asleep - head buried on her arms at her sewing table, an aristocratic mien of purity and grace softening her features. Her small siddur lay on the table next to her, as always, her constant companion, whose large yellow blotches testified to the emotions that had been poured into its pages.

You could see the dress taking shape and form, soon nearing completion. Its lines were very simple, and yet, exceptionally refined. Rivky sat and sewed small pearls and sequins on it, to highlight its simplicity with tiny pinpoints of light that added a dimension of elegance to its general effect.

"I can take it to my new home, can't I, Ima?" she asked one day. "I am so attached to it." She caressed its soft white folds, casually tracing the beads with a gentle finger while examining the quality of the stitching once again.

"Yes. It's yours. If you like, you can rent it out; it's really very beautiful. You are sure to find young kallos eager to get such a lovely gown much cheaper than renting one."

"Do you think that I would lend it out for money? I don't think so! I'd much prefer to give it to needy kallos for free!"

"I thought so, but I didn't want to suggest it myself. I am very glad that you thought of it yourself." Rivky could tell from her mother's tone of voice how involved she was in this project and especially, how much she shared her very own feelings towards it.

"When I wear it on my wedding day," she confided to Chani one day, "I will feel as if I am wearing all of the prayers I have offered up ever since my engagement... Even if it does not turn out as nice as other wedding gowns, it won't matter to me." Chani listened to the outpouring of her friend's emotions and tried to empathize, even though she had no experience in this area.

"It won't be any less lovely than other dresses," she finally said. "That I can guarantee."

"But ready-made dresses are much more professional. You can't deny that."

"True, but the simple elegance of your dress is rare. It is sewn together with prayers instead of threads."

"In addition to threads," Rivky corrected her with a smile.

When the dress was finally completed, not far from the red letter day on her calendar that was fast approaching, everyone admitted that no other dress could have suited Rivky more. Rivky herself felt it so deeply that tears of emotion drenched her face and dripped upon the shiny dress. Rivky did not make a move to wipe them off. Instead, she murmured something silently to herself and quickly removed the dress and hung it up on a hanger, then carefully wrapped it in a transparent plastic casing.


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