Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

20 Iyar 5762 - May 2, 2002 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









Produced and housed by
Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network











Home and Family
by Shifra Bergman

Part I

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 day meal.

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 friends...

"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 teenage daughters..."

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 better!

"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


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