Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

22 Adar II 5763 - March 26, 2003 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








The Good Things in Life

by B. Segel

Shlomi! Are you tramping through the house with muddy shoes again?" asked Gila, her voice echoing from one room to the next.

Shlomi, utterly unconcerned, glanced casually at his shoes and the muddy prints he was leaving behind and then continued to make his way towards the living room.

No! This time she would not let him get away with it, Gila decided. Striding briskly toward her five-year-old son, she grabbed him by the hand and said, "How many times have I told you not to come into the house with dirty shoes? I just finished washing the floor! Take off your shoes right now and leave them next to the bathroom. And I don't want this to happen again, do you understand?" Gila said forcefully, wagging a finger vigorously.

Shlomi nodded his head vigorously in turn. He pulled off his shoes quickly, and obediently carried them towards the bathroom door. Gila stood, angry and exasperated. When, oh when, will these children ever learn?

Late that night as Gila headed toward the bedroom for the few hours allotted her for sleep, she did her daily cheshbon hanefesh. The woeful image of Shlomi tracking mud into the house came into her thoughts. "Again you exploded," she scolded herself. "I thought you had decided you were not going to lose control, that you would reprimand in an appropriate manner."

Gila sighed. How could she remain true to her resolutions when reality kept barging onto the scene?


This is the story of Gila, the mother of a brood of children who are very sweet, but mischievous and full of energy.

By nature Gila is an extremely neat and clean person. When her little ones were very little she managed to keep her little kingdom impeccable. The house was always spotless, the blinds sparkling white, the windows perfectly transparent. All this was once upon a time, but the years flew by. Soon her babies and toddlers were already growing children and Gila faced a new set of facts that were not always so pleasant . . .

The children were constantly uncovering new ways to change the house's appearance. If it wasn't much work to restore order, Gila would later laugh and laugh at their originality.

One day, for example, she found that Shoshi, her three- year- old had opened the kitchen cabinet and taken out every object she had found there and faithfully transported the spoils into the living room where she placed every single item onto the couch. Her work was evidence that she had inherited her mother's sense of perfect order, for little Shoshi had arranged her stacks of dishes with exacting order.

But the game apparently about to begin ended the moment a fragile glass rolled onto the floor and broke with a loud shattering sound. Gila, who had been busy hanging wet laundry, ran towards the sound of breaking glass in a state of alarm.

When she laid eyes on the mess she felt near collapse. She sat down on a chair nearby, her heart pounding irregularly. Shoshi gazed at her mother with a look of complete innocence, not even bothering to apologize for her deed.

"What . . . what have you done?" Gila asked when she finally managed to extract intelligible words from her mouth. Her voice was nearly overwhelmed with sobbing. "Who said you could do this? Who? I'm asking you!" she shouted hysterically. There was no response.

Startled by her mother's behavior Shoshi began to cry. Once her sobbing had subsided she offered a partial explanation: "I wanted to make a store so Shlomi and Ze'evi would come to buy things and I would wrap them up nicely. That's why I took the fleishig dishes we use on Shabbos--because they're nicer!"

Gila couldn't even manage to laugh. The tight pain in her heart was overpowering. Without saying a word she strode towards the couch and began to put all of the dishes back in the right place. Shoshi watched her with sad eyes, upset that the game she had been planning so carefully was being ruined, and even more, upset that she would never be able to play the game because her mother was angry.

Gila was to face one surprise after another. More and more she found it was not worthwhile to invest so much time into cleaning and straightening out the house. Invariably the logical system she had worked so hard to arrange would soon be undone in order to carry out some scheme one of her children had concocted.


The wardrobe incident was very similar. A glance at the shelves of Gila's wardrobes can take one's breath away. Her clothing shelves are as neat as the most orderly pharmacist's shelves ever were.

And this did not come easily. She put a lot of hard work into her precision folding of clothes, sheets and towels. Every type of item had its own special folding method and Gila had devised an exact shelving system. She was always very careful not to allow anything to stray even an inch from its designated space for she had instituted an ironclad rule: One inch out of place leads to many inches out of place.

As a result, Gila did not allow family members free access to the wardrobe. That was the last thing she needed! Some imprudent individual would come along and pull a sweater out from the middle of a pile lined up as straight as a ruler; one hasty movement could bring the whole pile tumbling out onto the floor. No, absolutely not! Not in her home.

Not until her little ones started to get bigger, that is. Then Gila discovered a whole new world.

The big "disaster," as Gila thought of it, transpired on a perfectly ordinary afternoon. Exhausted from a tiring morning, she decided to lie down for just a few minutes to gather some strength for the rest of the day.

Meanwhile her bored band of urchins had decided they were tired of all the toys and games. For some unknown reason the wardrobe drew their attention. The idea was the brainchild of Ze'evi, the six-year-old. He announced that they would now hold a Purim party (though the calendar showed they were still in Cheshvan). Everyone would take a few clothing items out of the wardrobe and put together a costume. "Let's go!" they all shouted.

The wardrobe doors swung open and within a matter of minutes the neat piles were transformed into a mountain of haphazardly strewn clothes with a few new wrinkles here and there. As they were trying to mix and match in search of the right costume combination, Gila, stirring from her catnap, perked her ear up to unusual sounds.

When she reached the doorway and laid eyes on the spectacle, her face fell. Again she felt the tight pain in her heart. "What's going on here?" she cried out.

The children, utterly ridiculous in their incomplete outfits, looked up at her in innocence. They couldn't understand why their mother looked so pale and faint.

And Gila? She felt that if someone were to come along and check her blood pressure at that particular moment she would be sent straight to the hospital.

We will not weary our readers with the outcome of Ze'evi's brilliant idea. That afternoon Gila spent two hours rearranging the wardrobe. As a punishment the children were not allowed to go out to play in the yard the next day. Gila felt they had gone too far. "That's a way for you to act?" she said to them firmly at the end of that unhappy day. "To make an instant mess of this wonderful order that I work on for hours? Don't you understand that what you did was simply inhumane?"

No, in the hidden recesses of their hearts they had to admit they did not really understand. The incident she was referring to seemed perfectly normal and natural. What was the big deal? After all some of those clothes belonged to them, and they had every intention of putting them all back once the party was over!


The lack of mutual understanding between Gila and her children increased following this incident. It left Gila with a bitter taste. On one hand she defended her principles. If she decided neatness and cleanliness were to be among her foremost concerns, every member of the household would have to identify with her wholeheartedly.

But still, something was eating away at her, giving her no rest. She wondered if perhaps she was demanding too much of her children. After all they were small children and generally quite decent. "Why should I limit them in their own home?" she thought.

Sometimes Gila would reach the conclusion that she ought to rein in her furious reactions. Maybe a few words of wisdom on the topic of order and cleanliness would suffice. Maybe that would release some pressure.

But decisions are one thing and actions are another. She found it very difficult to remain passive in the face of their disdain for household cleanliness.

Thus Gila turned into a not-so-pleasant mother. Seldom did she sit and enjoy her children's company; instead she would periodically issue orders or harsh remarks about changes in the normal domestic order.

The children continued to be their cute selves. While they tried to comply with their mother's directives -- not to walk on the washed floor until it was completely dry, not to bring sand into the house, etc. -- nonetheless because of their tender ages, there were of course numerous "mishaps," such as muddy footprints or sticky drinks spilling on the floor.

What really surprised Gila were the compliments she sometimes received from her mother-in-law when she would call on the phone. Although she lived far away and did not see Gila's children often, she would always remark how "wonderful" they were.

"What successful kids you have, Gila. They're really perfect!" she would say cheerfully.

Gila assumed she was not telling the whole story or just wanted to flatter her. Yet she sounded perfectly sincere.

Of course Gila did not contradict her, but after every conversation of this sort she would tell herself, "My mother- in-law must be right. I know they are very successful in their studies and they are certainly very smart, but how come I can't manage to see only the good in them? Why do the escapades over cleanliness keep popping up in my head?"

Similarly, when she spent Shabbos at her parents' house she would find them brimming with pleasure over their sweet and talented grandchildren. Gila would hear her parents' cooing about them for days.

Gila would no doubt have continued to be a fastidious mother who derived little pleasure from her children had she not met the new neighbor who rented out the apartment below hers. This encounter was an act of Heavenly grace that opened Gila's eyes to the good surrounding her, as we will see.


One morning, as Gila was busy cleaning the blinds, a moving truck parked under her window. "Must be someone else coming to rent that pathetic apartment," Gila thought to herself.

"I would run for my life just at the sight of the walls in that apartment," she mused, recalling the peeling paint and the water stains on the ceiling. The kitchen, too, was in a sorry state and the bathrooms were best left unmentioned. "What a contrast between that derelict apartment and my own. I wonder who the new tenants are."

Curious, Gila peered between the slats and caught sight of a couple stepping down from the truck. Based on appearances they seem to have plenty of yiras Shomayim. The woman was wearing a very quiet tichel and her clothes were very tzniusdik. And her husband, his payos curling down the sides of his face, gave the impression of a respectable, young avreich. Two children bounded after them.

Gila watched the furniture being unloaded from the truck.

"Oy. They are definitely not very well off!" Gila ascertained unequivocally at the sight of beds that looked like they came straight from the Jewish Agency, and worn chairs whose upholstery had certainly seen better days.

"Enough!" Gila told herself. "It's not nice to poke your nose into other people's things. Maybe I'll introduce myself to her one of these days or even pop over for a visit!" Gila decided, returning to her routine cleaning energetically.

Over the coming days, Gila found out more about the new neighbors.

One day, as Gila was busy as usual scrubbing her blinds, she caught sight of her neighbor walking towards the building with her son. The boy, who looked about seven, picked up a glass bottle and gleefully hurled it at the wall near the entrance to the building. Gila was shocked and irate at this kind of behavior.

Yet surprisingly the mother did not lose her composure over the malicious act. Watching carefully Gila saw her explaining in a quiet voice and pointing toward the broken glass. The boy listened to her for a moment until all of a sudden there was a screeching of brakes as a car came to an abrupt halt behind them.

Still the woman remained completely calm. She brushed the broken glass off to the side with her foot. A few minutes later she was back with a broom and dustpan. She proceeded to sweep up all the glass and then tossed it into the trash bin. Then she continued with her son into the building as if nothing had happened.

Gila's amazement grew. What was this strange behavior all about?

As if that was not enough, the next day Gila again encountered her new neighbor in a similar situation. This time Gila was returning from a shopping trip in the city, carrying several packages. As she approached the building she saw her neighbor walking ahead, this time with her daughter, who looked to be about five. The girl was licking some sort of lollipop when suddenly she tossed the wrapper onto the floor of the entranceway to the building. Her mother stopped, spoke to her quietly and pointed at the empty wrapper. Then she bent down, picked up the wrapper and handed it to her daughter, who walked over to the trash can and dropped it inside.

Gila was shaken to the core, not knowing what to make of this unusual behavior by her new neighbor (whose name she did not even know yet). "Does it stem from indifference or peace of mind? I have to find out!" Gila determined.

Their meeting was not long in coming. Gila was racing down the stairs to get to the bank on time when she came across her neighbor stepping out of her apartment. Gila stopped, smiled and informed the lady she was her upstairs neighbor. "Yishuv tov!" Gila wished her. The lady seemed surprised by Gila's gracious effort to make contact.

"Glad to meet you," she replied gaily. "My name is Tali Levy."

"Oh," added Gila in a rush. "I forgot to introduce myself. My name's Gila Cohen."

"Levy and Cohen--marvelous!" Tali exclaimed. Gila smiled back at her. Why not? If the neighbor lady feels so comfortable, why shouldn't I smile back at her?

Gila ended the conversation with an invitation to bring her children over to play. "Sure! I'd be glad to send them over. My chamudim will be very pleased. What time is good for you?" asked Tali excitedly.

"Around four," replied Gila, continuing on her way before the bank closed.

At 4:02 there was a knock at the door. The "chamudim" stood there smiling. Gila surveyed them quickly and invited them in. Based on their attire she realized she had been right in her original assessment. The family really did have limited means.

The children, Shimon and Tehilla as they announced, were indeed cute, but plenty mischievous as well. They picked up games freely, but "forgot" to put them back when they finished.

Gila kept an eye on them. They played happily, making a thorough mess of the room.

"Almost like my kids!" Gila determined, but there was a slight difference. They wore expressions of children who are not under pressure, children who are given a bit of freedom in their lives. Gila had to admit that her children looked different. A bit of stress could be clearly discerned on their faces; they looked as if they didn't get enough attention. And Gila knew the reason for this. Once again she felt an inner conflict stirring: the house or the children?


After the initial contact between the two mothers, Gila decided she would visit Tali more often. Perhaps she should make them feel more at home in their new apartment or even invite them over for Shabbos meals. Who knew what her family background might be?

Eventually Gila found a pretext to visit. She was intrigued by a new shiur that had begun in the neighborhood. It was on chinuch habonim. She had to go. Maybe she would hear how to raise happy children and keep a tidy house at the same time! It occurred to her that perhaps Tali might want to join her. Why not? She would certainly be happy at the invitation. Who's unwilling to get some good advice on child rearing?

That evening Gila knocked on her door. Tali opened it cheerfully and invited her in. Not wanting to be a nuisance Gila planned on staying for just a few minutes, but Tali acted as if her whole evening was free. She asked Gila to sit down and even offered her a drink. Gila soon found herself seated on a chair (the one she had seen through the blinds) facing Tali.

Tali was brimming with goodwill, chatting freely as if they were old friends, and Gila discovered it was actually pleasant sitting there in the neglected apartment. She felt none of the strain that pervaded her own apartment; here life flowed at its own pace.

The conversation roamed from one topic to the next and then, as if the curtains were lifted, Tali began to tell her life story in detail, illuminating the dark corners of her life.


"I grew up in Holon," Tali began. Our lives lacked even a drop of Yiddishkeit. My two brothers and I grew up in a manner very different from many other children our age. Our home was very unlike other homes. My father worked at a quarry in the South.

"Do you know what that kind of work demands?" Tali asked.

"No," Gila said, adding to herself that she didn't even know where the quarries were in Eretz Yisroel.

"The quarry worker has a lot of responsibility. He has to wake up at 5:00 a.m. to get to the site by 6:00. Then he begins long hours of work under very noisy conditions. When my father came home in the afternoon he would be totally worn out. The noise at work left him nerve-wracked. We knew that when Abba came home there had to be total silence in the house. No music, no friends, no loud voices.

"With Ima it was a totally different story. She worked as a domestic for a very wealthy family from the US that could afford full-time help. You're familiar with the Filipino workers?" she asked Gila, pausing.

"That's something like what my mother did years ago," Tali said, a bit uncomfortably. "She began work in the early afternoon and finished late at night. The only time I normally saw her was in the morning before I went to school. If I got up early enough, I had time to tell her a bit about my school life, but if I got up late I barely had time to say good morning before rushing out the door. Once, the family left the country for three weeks and at their request Ima traveled with them abroad.

"I will never forget those three weeks. They were really hard for me. Even those precious few moments in the morning from which I drew encouragement for the whole day had been taken away from me. At night I would cry into my pillow, but during the day I tried to be strong. I was just glad it happened only once.

"We lived very independent lives. I had to solve my problems on my own, for the most part. I couldn't share much with my mother and, believe me, the three of us were very hard- working children. The surprising thing is we were very respectful towards our parents. We understood their situation and even felt somewhat sorry that they had to work so hard. On more than one occasion I wondered, `If Abba and Ima work so hard they must earn a lot of money, so why is money always so tight?'

"I couldn't figure it out, but of course I never dared to ask them questions about money.

"When I was in eighth grade a dramatic change took place in our lives. Kiruv workers came to Holon to encourage students to switch to chareidi schools. Among those who were persuaded were my two brothers. So I, too, came into contact with chareidi life. Later I went to a boarding school in Bnei Brak that allowed me to go home only once every three weeks. My friends in school were sometimes so homesick they cried.

"Some girls received special permission to go home, in addition to the free Shabbosim. For me it was much easier. My previous life had inured me to such things. Although I felt homesick too, the tough home life I was accustomed to made it much easier. During this period my parents also drew much closer to Yiddishkeit and eventually, besiyata deShmaya, became Jews with yiras Shomayim.

"Only when I was about 16 did my mother quit her grinding job and once again become a regular housewife. Then I happened to find out why she had had to work such long hours, when snippets of a conversation reached my ears. `Finally the debt is paid off,' Abba told her. `You can quit your job now!' I was overcome with curiosity over this mysterious debt. Once I gathered the nerve to break the silence by asking my mother about it directly.

"My mother looked at me with sad eyes and said in a quiet voice, `Ten years ago your father signed as a guarantor on a very large loan for a friend. The borrower was unable to pay back the loan and fled the country. The payments fell on Abba's shoulders. Knowing what an honest man your father is and that he would pay back every last cent, I had no choice but to help him,' my mother explained in a broken voice as she wiped away the tears that streamed down her face.

"Now everything was clear -- oy, too clear! How I pitied my poor parents, but more than that I started to feel proud to have such honest parents. No wonder they had the nachas to see all of their children receive a Torah education!

"Once my mother quit her job she changed completely. While once I had known her as a strong woman, hard as nails, now she became soft and delicate. Often we would sit together when I came home and she would look at me saying, `Oy, my Tali! I missed out on all of the lovely years of your and your brothers' childhood, the years in which you built yourselves, the years in which childhood innocence is so sweet!'

"I would try to calm her feelings of regret, saying with siyata deShmaya we are traveling down the right path and even without seeing our parents much we knew they cared about us and wanted to see us succeed.

"But despite what I told my mother I learned a lesson from her bitter experience: Don't let yourself miss the good things in life! And don't think it's easy for me," said Tali, stopping the flow of her words for a moment and smiling at Gila, who was listening very intently. "After I got married we went from one rental to another. I had to do menial labor, such as caring for the elderly and washing floors -- whatever it took to allow my husband to keep learning day-and-night. When I became a mother I set a fundamental rule for myself: not to miss the beauty in raising them. Sometimes one of the children takes advantage of my attentiveness and misbehaves."

Gila noted how instead of saying "annoys me" or "gets on my nerves" she used the words "takes advantage of my attentiveness."

"If I feel I should handle the matter by coming down with a hard hand, I stop for a moment and tell myself, `Tali, watch it or you might miss out!' I analyze the incident and on second thought ask whether the behavior stemmed from malicious intentions or whether it was conduct normal for a mischievous child. This makes it much easier for me to educate them properly."

Now Gila understood her tolerant attitude toward her children. She couldn't help but envy her. What a true observation!

After a moment of silence Tali added in a quiet voice, "In fact we were unsure about renting this apartment, too. When I first saw it I wanted to leave and never come back! But later I thought it over and explained to myself rationally, `Tali, you want to live in a chareidi area so you will have to sacrifice some luxury and live in an apartment where you'll be able to afford the rent. In our financial state this is as good as it gets. And sometimes, when I feel really bad about the apartment, I remember what fabulous neighbors I have here, and then I feel relief--especially about you, Gila. I'm really happy to have you as my neighbor!"

Gila smiled in embarrassment. She wasn't touched by the compliment, but rather felt an unpleasant sensation. "She thinks I'm fabulous," Gila chuckled to herself bitterly. "If only she could see how I act towards my own children she would change her tune. And to think I wanted to suggest she join me to hear a lecture on chinuch habonim!"

The old clock on the wall chimed 10:00 o'clock. "Oh, I've kept you, I'm really sorry. It's just that getting to know you was a real pleasure for me. Please forgive me for taking up so much of your time! You must be very busy."

"No, no," Gila insisted. "This was a tremendous lesson for me and I have a lot of homework to do. I just hope I'll know how to put it to good use. Thanks for being a great teacher!"


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