Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

7 Nissan 5762 - March 20, 2002 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network











Home and Family
The Story
by N. Bar

Tova stifled a yawn which was threatening to escape, gathered the rest of the strength she didn't know she had, and crawled out of bed. The exhaustion of the last few sleepless nights, compounded by the overwhelmingly busy days, threatened to overwhelm her. It wasn't that she was worried about Tzippy; even the doctor had reassured her that the lack of sleep was due to teething. As far as her little girl was concerned, she didn't look sick at all, especially after being picked up and brought over to her mother's bed. Actually, that's when she really cheered up and her tears turned to joy.

"Boruch Hashem!" Tova sighed to herself. Boruch Hashem that the crying isn't due to anything more serious than teething or spoiling. But even though she wasn't worried, she was afraid that she wouldn't be able to manage the house at this pace. How long could she keep it up on four hours of sleep -- with interruptions and cries in the middle? It seemed that this past night she had woken up every fifteen minutes.

She went over to the little one whose cries seemed to increase from moment to moment. Even before she could decide what to do, Tzippy had leaped into her arms and was now playing with the chain hanging from her neck. Not even a trace of tears was left on her face.

Tova held back a whoop of joy, so that the rest of the family wouldn't wake up. But the fact remained that she had no idea what she was going to do now with Tzippy -- at this point she didn't look like she had a problem. Now, walking into her bedroom with the clever, manipulative child in her arms, Tova tried to think what she would do with her plans for the rest of the night. The only alternative, which seemed totally unappealing to her, was to take the child into bed with her. And this is what she finally did.

She lay down on her bed with the baby and tried to put her to sleep. The possibilities seemed remote, especially when little Tzippy started crawling around on the bed, pulling here and there at the sheets, threatening to wake up her father who had also fallen asleep at a late hour.

"I guess I'm meant to be up late tonight," she mused. Tova found herself becoming more and more tired from lying around with Tzippy and in a burst of energy, she picked up the child and took her out to the living room, where a pile of toys sat in the corner. Depositing her carefully, she was amused to see Tzippy becoming engrossed within a few minutes and playing as if it were the middle of the day.

"She'll make up for it tomorrow," Tova said to herself, "but I'll have to wait awhile before I can make up for lost sleep." She sat down on the sofa and felt her eyes getting heavy. Trying her best to keep an eye on the little one, she wondered what she could do to keep from falling asleep. Suddenly, she noticed the paper lying on the table. Great. She could read the Shabbos section she hadn't had a chance to look at this week. The weekdays were filled with chores and Shabbos was so short, she hardly had a chance to read anything at all. She quickly grabbed the paper and sat down to read. The interesting material would surely keep her wide awake.


The first pages were torn and scribbled upon. Now she remembered why the paper had been left on the table. There was a notice there about a Tehillim group being organized for a sick woman whom she knew and Tova had intended to volunteer for this important mitzva, but by the time she got around to writing down the number, lively Chaimke had torn that page to shreds.

She remembered the feeling of frustration and helplessness she felt whenever the children got out of control. Instead of her being in charge, these little beings controlled her in the daytime as well as at night. "Look at that," she thought gloomily, "here I was ready to go and say Tehillim with a group, in spite of the difficulty, and dear little Chaim came and tore the paper. Now how am I supposed to go and find the number I need?"

She had put the paper aside, planning to search for the scrap that had the number circled in red. That was, if she ever got the chance to look, or the possibility to find... and then, the time to actually attend... Her mornings were taken up with the two little ones and the house, and in the afternoon the rest of the lively crew joined the family circle.


She didn't know exactly what it was; perhaps the long night or the exhaustion, or both, that suddenly made her depressed about her situation at home. No, that's not what she had expected out of life. That's not how a home should be run, or how kids should behave. She was even more disappointed in herself and her relationship to them.

Tova glanced across the living room. Her whole house looked like a kingdom ruled by rambunctious children. The living room and bedrooms had certainly seen better days and hopefully, there would again be better ones in the future. The children had long ago stopped playing only in their room and now their toys extended to every corner of the living room as well.

True, she tried to make order every day -- to pick up the shreds of paper, broken crayons (before they got hopelessly crushed underfoot) and even to erase fresh markings on the walls, but still, Tova had no doubt that a living room was meant to be more orderly and pleasing to the eye.

Fortunately, the sofa still looked decent, thanks to the practical cover she had put on while it was still new. When would she every enjoy the lovely velvet couch underneath it, in all its beauty? When it was finally torn and its springs sprung? Instead of the elegant vases which used to grace the table, there were some old baskets filled with dusty artificial flowers. "At least those don't break," she comforted herself.

The buffet was full of small fingerprints and even the mirror was decorated with chocolate marks. Was it surprising that she was so exhausted and disappointed? She looked at Tzippy playing calmly, no traces of pain or tiredness on her face. Tova noticed now with dismay that she had dressed her sweet one-year-old darling in mismatching pajamas, and added this to her list of disappointments.

Who would ever believe this of her -- a purple top with a pink print and red pants with blue roses? True, the other pajamas were still in the wash because of last night's misadventure, but still, she couldn't come to terms with this mismatch. Even the bed sheets and pillowcases didn't seem to match any more in the children's room. How had she ever reached such a stage? Of course she was trying her best, and the children were clean and decently dressed during the day, but somehow, she was sure that by others, things like this didn't happen. If at least this lack of order left her feeling relaxed and not guilty, she wouldn't have minded it, but she knew she did. It made her nervous and more upset with the children.

Yes, she was aware that she didn't have enough patience for her children. Once upon a time she had been accustomed to playing with them in the afternoon or telling them an interesting story. Today, the way things were, the little ones interrupted and upset the games, and she had no patience to calm them and keep them out of mischief while she occupied the older ones with something worthwhile that she could supervise and enhance. She solved the problem with lots of paper, coloring books, felt tipped markers, crayons and cutouts. No didactics; no mother-child conversations, nothing -- just a comfortable substitute which allowed her to help Sorele with her first grade homework. At least she managed that...

She was a total disappointment to herself. Not only was she tired all the time, but also a failure in running her life. Once she had found time to sew a bit, to knit, to paint, to decorate the house attractively, but these days she could hardly keep up with the basics. She had managed to finish that little skirt for her daughter's gan party, but the sweaters she had planned to knit had turned into sleeveless vests for lack of time to finish them off. What a shame! What a pity! How was it that everyone managed except for her?


Tzippy continud to play, all the while emitting little gurgles of contentment. Tova couldn't help smiling at her shining little face. "I must read that story. Its auther, S. Zehavi, is rather good," she thought to herself as she picked up the paper lying next to her. But as she read, her face reflected more and more anxiety. She never realized a story could hurt so much and make her feel so inept. She couldn't have picked a worse time to read it. At one point, she just stopped reading without even getting into the plot. After just the first paragraphs, she felt her nerves being stretched to the breaking point. As if she wasn't anxious enough before starting to read.

The heroine Gita was a young woman in her early thirties who managed her home superbly; she was the type every woman dreams of being. She took care of her house and six children in a calm, unruffled manner while her Kollel husband confined himself to the `four cubits of Torah,' learning without any interference. Not only that: everything worked perfectly according to schedule. Her successful children were simply, yet tastefully, dressed, in clothing she had helped to make herself. They did well in their studies due to the support they got at home from their mother, in the form of actual encouragement and help with homework, and the congenial atmosphere in their calm, neat home.

In Gita's home, games were stored in boxes on the shelves and although used frequently, they were always put back in place without any fuss. The house was tastefully decorated with pictures and flowers, yet it was simple enough so that the children could feel at home. Gita always looked fresh and relaxed and spoke in a calm manner. Her whole demeanor simply commanded respect and admiration, especially in the afternoons when instead of resting, she devoted her time to the children after she finished her chores in the morning. She would sit on the bench in the front yard and feed the little ones fruit and yoghurts while telling an interesting story to the older children. The children had the best of everything -- they enjoyed the food, their mother's attention, the fresh air, and the games with their friends.

Tova just couldn't go on reading any more. Envy was burning inside of her and she didn't know if it was the positive kind of envy or just plain old jealousy gnawing away at her bones. She felt that if she wanted to continue watching her Tzippy without losing her mind, she just couldn't continue with the story. In her heart, she tried to comfort herself by saying that such women only existed in stories.

To think that she, who tried so hard to be like the woman in the story, was so far from her ideal. For instance, the idea of going down in the afternoon with the children -- well, she did that often enough, if only to maintain any semblance of the order she had managed to install during the morning, but where was the relaxation, the joy? For her, it was not a matter of choice, since they would all be much worse off in the house, getting in each other's way and on each other's nerves. How often had she felt during those rainy afternoons that she was getting nowhere. So when she could, she went down to let the kids get rid of their excess energy outside, where she could also enjoy some fresh air. Maybe there their attention would be diverted and they would stop taking advantage of her and she would be able to control her anger better when it came to bedtime. "Nu," she thought, "go and compare a simple action like going down with the kids by her and with this paragon, this Gita-character in the story. "No wonder she makes me nervous."


Tzippy stopped playing, crawled over to her and lay her head in Tova's lap. It seemed she was finally getting tired. She picked up the little girl and gently laid her down in her crib. To her sublime happiness, Tzippy fell sound asleep as soon as her head touched the pillow and Tova hoped she could finally catch a few hours of much needed sleep, herself.


The next day was pretty much the same as the one before. Straighten up the house and do some cleaning, cook, go shopping. By 4:30 in the afternoon she had finished helping Sorele with her homework and felt she didn't have the patience to get through the rest of the afternoon with the little ones at home. She put everything on hold -- the dirty lunch dishes, the (mild) disorder in every room, the Tehillim she had wanted to finish (she had gotten hold of the full name of her friend and decided to say Tehillim for her at home), and went down with the children to her place of refuge, the bench in the front yard. There the children usually behaved better and she could also relax a bit.


Then she arrived. The truth was that Tova hardly knew her; she had only recently moved into the neighborhood, and besides a friendly `Shalom', they really had nothing in common. Tova knew from her neighbors that her name was Golda Shapiro and that she lived in the building opposite them on the top floor. Why was this Golda coming towards her now with a big smile spread all over her face? Tova couldn't figure it out.

"Thanks so much. I've been meaning to tell you. I hope you're not upset with me."

Tova checked her surroundings to see if anyone else was being addressed or if Golda was actually speaking to her. But no one else was around and without a doubt, she was addressing Tova.

All sorts of thoughts raced through her mind: perhaps she had recently sent a cake to the chessed organization, which she did occasionally, and Golda, for some reason, had received it? Perhaps as a Welcome- to-the-Community? But no; she really couldn't remember the last time she had baked a cake for someone. She had offered to prepare meals for the chessed group but at this point, she had no time for baking.

O.K. So the thanks wasn't for a cake, nor for anything else she could imagine. It was clear she hadn't extended help to this lady in any way. "You're probably mixing me up with someone else," Tova mumbled apologetically. But Golda didn't seem put off by her confusion.

"No, I've been meaning to thank you and only you. What - - you haven't figured it out? I thought you would be upset that I took advantage of you."

"You took advantage of me? How?" Her look of incredulity revealed that she really had no inkling of what this woman was talking about.

"It seemed so obvious to me," said Golda. "I was sure you'd recognize yourself immediately."

"Me? What in the world are you talking about?"

"I'm talking about the story, of course!"

"What story? I don't remember having lent you any books or even exchanged half a dozen words with you!" Tova exclaimed. Golda smiled so brightly that Tova found herself getting somewhat annoyed.

"Alright. I see you really don't realize what it's all about. Well, let me tell you. I don't feel comfortable with this, but I simply based my last story on you, and elaborated in great detail. I made you the central character and I was sure you would recognize yourself immediately. I was also afraid you'd be angry but I guess you never even read it."

Tova was still confused. "Wait... What do you mean you wrote about me? Where? To whom? What could you possibly write about me, anyway? You don't even know me!" The questions flowed from her in a stream and for the time being, she forgot all about her daily problems and the guilt feelings that weighed her down constantly. To her relief, the children were busy with their games so that she could chat for a few moments. She moved aside and patted the place next to her on the bench in a silent invitation to her new neighbor. It would be nice to get to know her.

"Well, if you don't already know, I'm a writer. I write for the newspaper. Not as regularly as I'd like to, but often enough."

"But I never came across your name before," Tova said with natural curiosity, almost forgetting that she was somehow connected to the latest story.

"Oh, that's because I use a pen name: Zehavi."

"You mean to tell me that you're S. Zehavi?" exclaimed Tova. "Oh sure, I've read your stories and they're usually quite good. Except for the last one, which was... which was..." Tova wanted to say how much that last story had upset and annoyed her, but didn't want to hurt Gita's feelings.

Meanwhile, Gita had taken up the thread of the conversation. "The last story was dedicated to you. Yes, I realize that we hardly know each other, but ever since I've moved here, I've been watching you. From the porch of my third floor apartment, I see you many afternoons during the most exhausting hours of the day together with your children. You sit so patiently with them and occupy yourself with them, even telling them stories sometimes as you hand out fruit or yoghurts. I admire you so much. Your calm demeanor, the children's wonderful behavior, their simple but charming clothing. It's all so lovely and inspiring.

"So I decided I had to write about you. Even if I couldn't emulate you, at least I could write a story about you. I don't know if you remember, but when I first moved in, I came to your house late one night to borrow something and even then, I was surprised at the order in your home and at the nice home touches of flowers. Your living room looked lived in, and very comfortably so. So now you know that I decided to write about you last week. I'm just surprised that no one mentioned it to you. Even the name is the same except that I switched it to the Yiddish and called the central character Gita."

"Oh." That was the only sound Tova could manage. She was too astonished to react. What could she say, anyway? That her personality was as far removed from Gita's as east from west? Should she tell Golda how much the story had irked her and aroused her jealousy? Luckily, it was dusk, and Golda couldn't discern the surprise on her face.

"If you haven't read it, you should. I hope you'll enjoy it," Golda said with a friendly smile. "I'd love to have your opinion afterwards. Don't worry, I didn't write anything bad about you. I don't think I ever could..."

Golda's children were shouting down from their third floor porch and Gita got up to go. After making up to meet soon, Tova collected her children and took them home, her mood much brighter than it had been in a long time.

Much later, when the children were finally asleep, their breathing even and relaxed and with her husband's gemora niggun in the background, Tova dared sit down with a cup of tea to read the story from beginning to end. For some reason, Gita seemed less threatening.

"At least we have the same name and number of children," she mused. "Who knows? Maybe there are even some other similarities..."


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