Windows on the World
by Bassi Gruen
"Windows, my dear, that's what it's all about." she said. "It's a crime to raise children like this. What a narrow picture you are giving them. It's a beautiful universe we are living in, with so much to learn, so much to enjoy. And these poor dears . . . " her sweeping hand gesture took in all seven children at once, " . . . are in the dark, they know nothing of the arts, literature, even science. You are stifling them. Throw open the windows on the world; let them see the scenery each affords."
Miriam gave her guest a strained smile as she escorted her out of her home, and out of her life. Visiting Israel on her way to Turkey, Cynthia had felt she just must stop in to visit her brother's nephew and his children. Miriam had been enthusiastic about the idea when her husband first broached it; she was eager to welcome his non-religious relation, and had hoped that Cynthia would be touched by the warmth of their home. She had spent all morning cooking a delectable lunch and sprucing up the house, but it was soon apparent that Cynthia appreciated salmon fillet far less than she did one's ability to quote Shakespeare and converse intelligibly about physics. While Miriam could more than adequately keep the conversation afloat, her children could not do the same. Cynthia, whose only daughter was spending two years in Polynesia while writing her thesis on mental health issues among South Pacific Islanders, was openly appalled.
"It's not as if I don't think you and Shlomo are doing a wonderful job raising them all," she had said, too late in her tirade to seem genuine, "it's just that they seem to be lacking basic intellectual nourishment."
"Intellectual nourishment," Miriam pondered this phrase during quiet moments after her visitor's departure. Were her children really deprived? A little voice inside niggled at her. "She's right, you know," it would taunt. "This family is not exactly what anyone would call well-rounded. How many of your children would recognize Beethoven's Fifth? And that daughter of yours, in high school already, never heard of O'Henry. I will not even mention your son in yeshivah ketanah." Here the voice dripped with disdain.
Her deeper, truer self, always had a reply. "Who is to ascertain what it is the intellect needs to be nourished? The words and thoughts of Yeshayohu and Rabbi Akiva are every bit as effective in producing well-rounded adults as American fiction authors. And what about nourishment for the soul?" it would ask. In the eyes of Hashem, familiarization with the thoughts of tanaim and amoroim, not those of secular philosophers, is what counts. While knowledge is a good thing to have, one should be ever so selective of what knowledge he pursues.
"Ah, windows, my dear," the other voice would glibly respond. "There are beautiful views from so many of them and you are pulling the curtains on most." Sometimes she was too tired to respond.
She was mulling this over yet again as she folded laundry on a sticky, hot day. It was late afternoon and there was nothing she loved more than watching the sun drop majestically behind the hills, a ball of golden fire. She kept glancing out the window as she worked, but all she saw was lengthening shadows. As she watched, the white stones of the nearby buildings turned gold, and then deep rose. The pale blue of the sky deepened. As more time passed, she saw a sprinkling of stars appear on the deep blue of the night sky.
But never did she see the sun drop beneath the horizon, leaving the sky streaked with crimson and gold. For her window was facing the wrong direction.