Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

7 Av 5763 - August 5, 2003 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network











Home and Family

Man or Machine?
a story by Shira Shatzberg

Part I

What I vividly remember Mama proclaiming at every opportunity throughout my childhood was, "You'll be a man someday, my son. A real mensch..."

The image of her solemn brown eyes peering at me from below the kerchief worn so low down her forehead that it nearly skimmed her eyebrows is one that has accompanied me throughout life.

Perhaps this is because it was a scene repeated so often, I'd come to believe this to be Mama's ultimate expectation of me. It was a criterion I strove to achieve, yet also one I believed came naturally to me.

Time and again, I had protested as a teenager, "But Mama, I already am a man. You know that. I'm tough and enduring and ready to face real life. Everyone says I'm mature." I had good reason to be, having been an orphan since childhood, and helped with the finances ever since I could remember, first by delivering newspapers, then with other part-time jobs my rabbi and my rosh yeshiva had approved of for my circumstances.

But Mama would just shake her head and sometimes, I would catch her struggling to restrain a smile as she'd say with the forever wise look in her eyes, "You'll understand what I mean someday, Dovid." Mama was the only one who referred to me by my full Hebrew name. "Yes, with the extra womanly touch of a wife, you'll grow up to become the real man I always prayed to have for a son." And then she'd open up her worn siddur and continue praying.

I would walk off and ponder Mama's words on a philosophical level. Try as I might, I could never make any sense out of them. Perhaps it had to do with my lacking a father-role model. "So Mama wants me to grow into a real man. So far so good," I would think to myself. "But she doesn't trust me to become one on my own. She thinks I need the help... of a woman! I need a woman to help me be a man. How confusing!" I would then avert my thoughts to other issues of interest. I simply could not bear thinking thoughts so far above my head. I am a man of logic and have an innate need for everything to make sense.

I grew older and got myself through a night course where I obtained a degree in accountancy, a field in which I was extremely competent. I had soon secured myself a part-time job in a firm where my consistency, clear logic and punctuality earned me my name. I was still helping support Mama, and my rabbi had, again, approved me taking this excellent job, so long as I kept my afternoon-evening study sessions. Life was just fine.

But Mama would give me no rest. Her persistent nagging and nudging urged me to pursue, with accelerated celerity, the woman with whom I was destined to share my life. She was not long in coming.

Ahuva's mild, easygoing and somewhat humorous nature was a deep contrast to Mama's tenacious, earnest and all serious personality. Yet despite their obvious differences, there was chemistry between the two, right from the start.

About a week before the wedding, Mama called me aside for a private conference and I was shocked to discover that her eyes were moist. Mama was a strong woman; she never cried. "Dovid," she said, with a weakness in her voice I had never before known, "you have brought your old mother much joy. At last I can die in peace, knowing that my son is taken care of. Ahuva is just the one you need." It was but one year later that Mama passed on to a better world.

Throughout the funeral and the week of shiva thereafter, I fought back salty tears. Mama had been a pillar of strength, always there to lean back on. I missed her motherly wisdom, her straightforward manner and the solemn way in which she viewed life, but I refused to expose my weakness. This was no time to let Mama down. I would have to be a man.

Ahuva disagreed. After eyeing my inner battle in silence a couple of days, she could restrain herself no longer. "There's nothing wrong with crying, Davie. It's a human phenomenon and it's nothing to be ashamed of. Everyone cries during mourning." I couldn't help noting how different Ahuva's manner of speech was from Mama's. The casual brown of my wife's eyes lacked the passion and intensity that my mother's had always possessed. Then again, it was precisely that mildness of manner I had been seeking in a wife. Mama had been overwhelming at times.

"I don't know who everyone is," I retorted, "but I am not looking to emulate those people. I strive to be a man -- that's what Mama always wanted for me, too."

Ahuva sighed. "She didn't mean it the way you think. You misunderstood her."

I was barely listening. "Besides, crying is so insensible. I mean, will crying improve a situation? Can tears revive the dead? Weeping is pointless. It's baseless. Illogical."

"Sometimes emotions don't have to be logical." I looked questioningly at my wife but no explanation was forthcoming.

I sighed. "I guess you do have something in common with Mama, after all."

"Yeah? What's that?"

"She also had this irritating habit of making abstruse statements."

Ahuva smiled in amusement. "Words from the wise," she warned with a twinkle, "are not to be overlooked."


"Hi, there!" Ahuva called out as she burst into the house, laden with shopping bags. "How's everything? Did the baby wake up?"

"Nope. She slept through. I got a lot of learning done."

"Good. I'm glad. I found her some really adorable clothes. I guess she earned them. And Davie, I can't believe what a perfect baby present I found for Shifra's newborn. It's so her style... You have no idea..."


"It is. Were there any calls?"

"Of course." Need she have asked? Ahuva's pleasant, easygoing manner was very enticing. While in high school, she had accumulated scores of friends, with most of whom she had stayed in close contact throughout our year and a half of marriage. The phone was constantly ringing with old classmates of hers, eager to ask her opinion, chat, or update her on the latest.

I looked at the note where I'd scribbled down the names of the callers. "You got a call from Shifra. She wants your challa recipe, then Chevy Stern nee Rosenbaum called, plus a a call from Miriam Katz."

"Miriam Katz! I don't think I can bear talking to her. She graduated two years before me and she's still not married. I think she's the only single girl left from her whole class. I... I actually feel guilty when I talk to her."

"That's the most ridiculous thing I ever heard. Come on, it's not like it's your fault, or anything."

"I know, but still..." She perked up as an idea struck her. "I think I'll invite her over for lunch one day, just to show I care."

"Have her over all you want while I'm away. Just don't expect it to improve her situation."

"I don't know. It would make her feel better."

"Ahuva, you're not making any sense. It's not going to solve anything."

"Thank you, Davie, for your highly valued opinion. But this is just one particular area in which I prefer to use my own judgment."

I was about to give her a strange look, but decided it would be best to just leave her alone. "Whatever you say, Ma'am," I saluted her.

"Thanks," she said, picking up the cordless phone. "I appreciate that." And from the look on her face, I could see she truly did.


It was five to eight when I parked my car in the spacious parking lot buried beneath the tall silvery skyscraper in which I worked. With the rare luxury of an extra five minutes all for my own, I decided that instead of hopping into the elevator that would land me on the twenty-first floor in no time, I would take the longer route that involved ascending out of the parking area by foot and walking an extra few feet to the building's main entrance.

It was while I was confidently striding those few extra feet that were to take no longer than three brief moments that a man with a blue T shirt approached me. He was tall and broadly built, a mop of auburn hair combed neatly atop his head. There were only two features that distinguished him from all the other pedestrians walking the streets of downtown Chicago. The man had donned large, dark spectacles that made it impossible to glimpse his eyes, and a long, senior's cane hung limply from his hand, despite its apparent premature use. The man was blind.

"Excuse me, how do I get to 23rd Street?" he asked, sensing me nearby.

"That's quite a few blocks away. At the end of this street you turn right, then go straight and make a left to turn on to 20th Boulevard. From there you turn right on to 22nd St. and make a left at the second intersection."

I couldn't see his eyes, but I could sense his confusion. For a fleeting moment, I wondered how my instructions could be of use to a blind man, but then I glanced at my watch and all such thoughts dissipated into the wind. I had exactly one minute left to reach my office on time.

"My good man," the stranger hesitantly appealed to me once more, "would it be too much if I were to ask you to show me the way? I... I didn't realize I got off my bus too early and I don't think I can find my way on my own. Or are you in a rush?"

I was in a rush.

[Final part next week: The Making of a Man.]


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