Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

15 Sivan 5761 - June 6, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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











Home and Family
If I Am Not I
by Bruchy Laufer

Zahava closed the book deliberately and let out a deep satisfied sigh. She had just finished reading a most inspiring tale of great people and wished to emulate them for the perfect marriage.

It was Thursday night and Zahava decided that Friday morning was a prime time to implement the changes which would lead to an even better marriage. With happy heart and firm resolve, she went to sleep anticipating the morrow's sunshine.

The next morning found Zahava puttering around in the kitchen bright and early. Mordy was already at the minyan and would go straight to the yeshiva for the special Friday shiur from there. Then he'd come home for a quick breakfast, roll up his sleeves and do the floors (sponja, in Israeli lingo). The interim would give her ample time to work on her grand plans. By the time her husband came home, she hoped to have a beautiful surprise breakfast ready, one that would do justice to those exemplary people she had read about.

Zahava and Mordy were happy newlyweds of six weeks. Being idealistic, Zahava wanted to do a super duper job at building a bayis ne'eman and thought that this beautiful breakfast would be just the right boost. Singing while she worked, she could just imagine the surprise and delight on her husband's face as he entered the kitchen. She'd do it all the way. Zahava dug up the matching place mats and cloth napkins she had received as wedding gifts but hadn't used yet. These fancy napkins would mean more work for her, but she figured that the cause justified the consequences. Laundry and ironing there would be, anyway. A pious sense of purpose filled her whole being. Finally, the clock struck noon. Mordy should have come already. What was keeping him?


Meanwhile, Mordy had had a busy morning of his own. Today's shmuess in yeshiva had centered around sholom bayis. The speaker had pointed out how a good husband bought little gifts for his wife from time to time. They needn't be anything expensive, and a nice bouquet of flowers with a personal note, for example, would always be appreciated. Helping one's wife was another point the speaker had dwelled on. "Look for ways to make things easier for her."

An idealistic young fellow, Mordy took these instructions seriously and instead of going directly home like he usually did, he took a detour to Geula. He picked up a lovely bunch of eighteen red roses interspersed with pine branches. The strong fragrance would pervade the entire house for the whole Shabbos.

Next, he stepped into the butcher's and bought several kinds of cold cuts to make Zahava's Shabbos preparations easier. His mother resorted to them whenever she felt overwhelmed with extra guests or extra work. Mordy was eager to get home already and see the delighted smile of surprise on Zahava's face.

On each side of the front door stood half of a smiling couple.

Desperately wanting to greet her husband with a warm and welcoming "Hello," Zahava found herself sneezing instead. "Hachooo! Hachooo!" she exploded, moving aside to let Mordy in. Mordy headed for the kitchen to put the bouquet of roses into a vase or pitcher. He looked stricken after one look at the set table. A beautiful chocolate cheesecake held center stage, while steaming hot coffee with whipped cream was set next to each place. He hated coffee, and his digestive system didn't respond kindly to anything made with cocoa, either. What he wanted now -- and it was a lunch that was replacing a breakfast -- was FOOD. Plain, substantial. Something like a vegetable salad and leben. He realized how much work must have gone into the preparation of this repast and decided not to say anything. Zahava, being an astute wife, had hopefully picked up his silent alarm. But Zahava was busy blowing her nose in between violent sneezes.

"My, doesn't Mendy realize that pine makes me sneeze like this?" she wondered.

True to the rules of the book, she decided this time to be very quiet in order to allow her husband a calm transition time from the outside world to his private domain. But Mordy was wondering what had happened to his usually happy, gregarious wife, whose bubbly greetings he looked forward to. Assuming she had been insulted by his non-enchantment with the breakfast, he made a last ditch effort to put this humpty-dumpty together again.

"Look what I bought for Shabbos! I wanted to save you some work," he said proudly as he pulled out the cold cuts from the bag with the satisfaction of a magician pulling a rabbit out of a hat.

"Junk food!" Zahava was appalled. Fats and feathers, is what her mother had told her was ground up with the meat. Was she such a bad cook? How could any self respecting housewife serve cold cuts on a Shabbos? It was the meal of last resort in the home she came from. She was deeply insulted.

The ten minutes of transition time the book had advised had passed. But by now, Zahava was not inclined to talk at all.


This Friday was a grand flop. Nothing like what the book had indicated. Sadly, Zahava reviewed everything she had learned from those exemplary people in the book. She had done everything precisely like the heroine: the wife had had coffee and cake ready for her husband when he came home. She had kept quiet and let him unwind first. What had gone wrong? Why weren't they `living happily ever after'?

It was a miserable Zahava who cleaned off the table and went ahead, putting the finishing touches to her Shabbos preparations. "All that effort for nothing," she moped.

Mordy's thoughts were down in the doldrums, or going down the drain with the dirty suds from his floorwashing. "All that extra expense for nothing. What a pity! It just wasn't appreciated." He decided to finish up and go spend the extra time in the beis midrash to look over the parsha and think things through...

As he settled himself in a corner, Mordy heard, "...and so the Rebbe R' Zusha decided that while he wouldn't be held accountable for not being like his brother, the famous R' Elimelech, and certainly not like anyone of the previous generations, like Moshe Rabbenu, he WOULD be taken to task if he was not himself, Zusha, if he did not live up to his own potential, and serve Hashem in the best way that he possibly could, as Zusha!"

The young man telling the story looked around at the group of youngsters whose attention was riveted on his face, listening intently to his superb storytelling. They nodded silently, absorbing the message he had just imparted, then, at a signal, they proceeded to open up their Tehillim for the second part of their Friday afternoon masmidim group program.

Mordy was similarly reflecting on the gem of wisdom he had just acquired. "How very true. I was trying to please my wife with things and ways that make other people happy, without stopping to think if she would appreciate them or not. And I guess it worked the other way, too, that she tried to honor me with things other men would find delectable."


After shul that night, Mordy walked home escorted by the two angels of peace. As he entered his candle-lit home, he wished his wife a "Gut Shabbos" and asked her if she minded if he told her a story now, or preferred to keep it for after Kiddush. Zahava, her exuberant self again, had something she wanted to tell him as well, but listened with delight at the story about R' Zusha and Mordy's personal conclusion about it.

"You are so right. I was trying to fit us into the mold of the couple in the book and imitate the way they honored one another. Well, we're different and we have to learn how to work with ourselves, as we are, with our individual likes and dislikes, our temperaments, and how we can complement one another and cause each other happiness and fulfillment."

"Amen!" answered the angels of peace, and Mordy launched into a hearty "Sholom Aleichem."


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