I hung up the phone and grinned in anticipation. My married-
for-three-months daughter, Rena, would be coming to us for
Shabbos and I was looking forward to spending time with her,
hearing how life was coming along. She'd been calling home
once or twice a week since she'd been married, asking how to
get ink out of shirts or what kind of cake to make for
dessert when there wasn't much flour in the house, and
although these were quickie calls (dialed at prime time),
they amused me no end.
Rena, while still living at home, would politely and gently
hint that I was baking, cleaning or laundering all wrong and
would be better off doing it her way. Now that she was
married, she was calling me for advice! Pretty funny.
We're very similar types and have, boruch Hashem,
usually gotten along well, so that her implied criticism back
then hadn't even bothered me. Now I just give her the
information she wants without rubbing it in.
I was hoping that over Shabbos I'd learn how wonderful her
Yaakov Dovid was, how she was adjusting to running her own
home, how she enjoyed life in another city and how her job
hunt was coming along.
Rena and her husband arrived breathlessly erev
Shabbos, and what with her older married siblings popping
in to visit and her younger siblings wanting a chance to talk
with her and reassure themselves that under the new
sheitel she was still the same Rena, we didn't get a
chance for our "heart-to-heart" talk until after the Shabbos
We went for a walk and Rena began, "I have a neighbor...
(naturally, she didn't tell me a name, so let's just call her
Irit) ...who lives on one of the higher floors of our
building. She has three little children, not much money, and
says that she doesn't get along so well with her husband. She
also keeps complaining that she has no strength for the mess
in the apartment. What kind of advice can I give her?"
I was listening to Rena and all of a sudden, I remembered
Sharon. I stopped walking. I hadn't thought of her in
years. I had loved Sharon. We had been such close
"Before you were born," I said to Rena, "we lived in America
in a small town. We just had two children then. There were a
few of us kollel wives and we were young and idealistic.
Sharon was one of the scant handful of religious women who
were there before the kollel came, and she helped us get
settled in. She was originally from a big city and had three
My voice trailed away as I remembered how overawed I had been
by Sharon at first. She was slim, glamorous, and very
dramatic. Being with her was almost like watching a theater
production. Out of the ordinary, larger than life, dynamic
and charismatic. Slowly we got to be friends and I sort of
hoped that some of the glamour and glitz would rub off a
little on me. I was flattered whenever she asked my opinion
and listened intently, although I was a good fifteen years
younger than her.
Sharon was very generous with the use of her car, and would
let me hitch a ride with her whenever she did her weekly
shopping, went to the Jewish community center pool or the
shopping mall. She was a great listener, too, and could warm
a person with her praise.
"I really enjoyed being in her company," I said aloud, "and
we hit it off well. On the other hand, she was cynical and
jaded. I guess her teenagers really gave her a hard time.
Before I become friends with her, I used to say
Tehillim a lot, but her worldliness somehow cooled me
off and made me feel I'd been too super-religious."
Rena looked uncomfortable. "Irit was complaining to me that
her children never cooperate. I suggested she say a short
perek Tehillim before she asks them to do something
she feels is important. She laughed in my face."
I raised my eyebrows significantly and we resumed walking,
looking ahead. "Sharon didn't like living in a small town and
she hated housework. She said it depressed her, and that her
teenagers were such slobs that she didn't have any desire to
even try to keep a nice home. I used to encourage her to
tackle the different jobs and would go over and wash towering
piles of pots and plates and battle mountains of laundry. I
wanted to help her, to do chessed, and she made me
feel so needed and appreciated. You know how it is -- working
in my own home gained me no thanks from anyone, but when I
helped out in her house, she'd compliment me lavishly.
"Worse than her attitude about housework was how she felt
about her in-laws, husband and children." I didn't want to
spell out for Rena all of Sharon's pet peeves. Why put
negative ideas into her head when I was trying so hard to get
rid of them, myself, even as memories? I remembered trying to
put Sharon's family in a good light and back in her good
graces, but she would invariably grumble, "Men are so
arrogant/ stupid/ crazy (fill in the blank to fit the
situation)," or "Children are such brats..." and launch into
a long, dramatic monologue about what her husband or teenager
had just done.
"To make her feel better by showing her that her situation
was still within normal range, I'd tell over some similar
loshon hora about my husband or child. Imagine that,
Rena! I was using my family as a scapegoat and transgressing
the prohibition of harmful speech just so she'd feel
"Naturally, I began to view my own family members negatively.
I was so wrapped up in thinking about Sharon and her problems
that when I was on good terms with my husband, I felt as if I
were betraying her! What a bizarre way to think!"
I figured that by listening to her complain, I'd be able to
help her and at the same time, be able to feel
grateful that my family wasn't as difficult as hers,
but it didn't work out that way. It's kind of like playing
with quicksand; you get dragged down. And because I thought
that I could help her, I would stay on the phone whenever she
called, even if I had been in the middle of reading a bedtime
story aloud, serving dinner or about to take the children out
to the park. "Hey, Sharon needed me!"
Second part next week, b"H