Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

22 Av 5766 - August 16, 2006 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network











Home and Family

The Joy of the Berachah
by Esther Weil

Part III

"They contribute, they participate, they do, they bring up, they help . . . " Who are they?

That's how Hadassa (an alias) describes children of blessedly large families. Our generation has merited a real blessing, where families with fourteen or eighteen children are not rare. We wanted to hear how children in such families feel. How they give and how they receive; what experiences they have and what memories they cherish and how the parents fit into the picture.

A picture of blessing.

Shopping for an Institution

"At home, we always had an atmosphere of happiness and unity among the siblings," says Yehudit, the daughter of a large family, who is already married with a home of her own. "It was nice to be in our home, the atmosphere was alive, full of energy and joy. After I got married, it was hard for me to study for tests because I wasn't used to studying in quiet; the noise and tumult were missing.

"Being in a big family, I learned a lot as a child and I have such fond memories of noise and mess and . . . constant happiness. Shopping for a family as large as ours was an experience. I once bought basic winter clothes for the whole family and the saleslady asked me if I was buying for an institution."

Who, in your opinion, created this happy atmosphere?

"My parents. My mother was the type of person who was full of happiness, taking everything in stride. During the day, we were "allowed" to make noise and commotion and she didn't prevent us from being cheerful girls. I know that she compromised on her love of orderliness so that it would be pleasant for us and the atmosphere would be positive and contented.

"If one day a child wanted to roll paper tubes around the house, she let us. Another wanted to draw and the entire children's room looked like an art studio. Generally, the living room in every house is the neatest room. By us, the living room was the center of activity, always a mess and full of life. One did homework there, another learned with a friend for a test, the third drew, and Ima accepted all this and let us live in a calm and peaceful atmosphere."

Tell us about special moments or funny situations that you recall.

"There were many moments of `togetherness.' On Purim, for example, my father sat all the children together and all the boys sang meaningful songs. It was an uplifting time for all of us.

"Something funny? We all went together once to a simchah in a van and traveling with us there were other people. When we got there, we started to get out. One of the passengers looked at us wide-eyed and counted: `This one, too, and also this one; you're all one family?' he asked amazed, when my last brother had descended.

"Shabbos meals were special. My father organized the table so that it would accommodate both big and small. First he would speak to the big ones, tell over ideas and perushim, then he would review the school parshah pages of the middle ones and finally we would sing the songs that the little ones learned in kindergarten. Everyone was given attention and a place at the Shabbos table."

Father's Home, So is Joy

Your mother radiated an atmosphere of joy at home. What was the contribution of the husband/father to the special atmosphere in the family?

"I see the role of the father as elevating." says Hadassa. "He is responsible for everything from above, carrying a great burden on his shoulders and elevating and supporting the woman in all her activities. He is responsible to see that she can handle all her roles, checks on how his wife is feeling about everything and how she is managing.

"Not always is participation expressed in active performance. In truth, we, the womenfolk, manage the house, bring home the paycheck, but the husband carries us all on his shoulders. If he sees that it's difficult for the woman or she's stressed out about something, something bothers her, he can, for example, call over the oldest daughter and say to her: `Ima needs to rest in the afternoons. During this time, watch over the children.' The husband looks at the whole scenario and deals with whatever might throw the system off balance.

"The husband supervises damage control, helps his wife deal with the problems, lends a supportive hand. I've noticed that with the years, my husband has taken on more and more roles. As the family has grown, especially the children, the issues to deal with have grown as well -- choosing yeshivas, even seminaries, finding shidduchim for the children, in all these issues and more, my husband is the navigator."

"A shining countenance and tranquility," stresses Hadassa, "are worth more than any role. They reach everyone in the family -- the wife and each child -- and create a calm and warm atmosphere. They spread throughout the house. Patience towards the wife and appreciation of the way in which she manages the home is his basic characteristic: Patience towards the children, as well as to the tendencies and needs of each one. Because he sees the big picture, the husband has a great deal of tolerance. Comforting and encouraging words to each one at the right time, are in my opinion, the pinnacle of what my husband contributes to us.

"My youngest child, for example, (who isn't small at all) turns bedtime into a nightmare. It's a point in time when I'm tired and every time, he makes a new request to postpone going to sleep. But I know that everything will fall into place as soon as my husband comes home. He'll say a few cheerful words to him, he'll say Shema with him and the child, as if by magic wand, will go to sleep willingly and peacefully.

"When he comes home, peace, love and good communication enter with him. One of his important tasks is to organize the Shabbos table. We have, Baruch Hashem, both older and young children, and it requires great wisdom to occupy and relate to each one according to his age, to know what to say to each one, what the abilities and the needs of each child are. And that each one receives the attention he needs.

"I remember well the Shabbos table of my parents. We were a big family bli ayin hora, and at the time there weren't big children. All my siblings, from the youngest to the oldest, said something on the parashah and Abba listened to everyone and then made an encouraging comment or added a supporting idea. In my father's eyes, whatever anyone said was important; he accepted every sentence and idea with joy, which he projected to the child so that he'd want to talk again next week. There was never a critical word, only encouragement.

"Abba instituted a tradition in our house. When he came home from shul on Friday night, he would go over to the table immediately and begin saying Sholom Aleichem and immediately, all ten children, as if by magic, would gather round. There was no need to call them or hurry them or rebuke them. That was his power of leadership.

"We did not have designated seats; each one found a place and sat down immediately without Abba having to say a word. There were no fights, for the simple reason that my father wouldn't pay any attention to a fight that broke out. If parents don't pay attention to bickering, these incidents fade away very quickly. On the other hand, if a child sang or gave a dvar Torah, he got a heaping measure of loving attention."

"Abba was almost never home," says Yehudit. "The children saw him mainly on Shabbos. Abba used to photocopy a page from the Chumash and distribute it to all the children and then learn it together with the children aged five to nineteen. Learning together really united us. Abba explained, afterwards, and each one contributed something. Abba's Torah united the entire family.

"My father added a lot of joy to the home. During Bein Hazmanim, he would take us on short trips which we all took part in. We played ball, Abba and all the children, from the 2-year-old toddler to the eldest girl. Abba cheered us on from the sidelines. We sang a lot at home. Abba organized the children to sing at every opportunity. During Shabbos meals and when we didn't have guests, we all sang the bircas hamozon with Abba to an old familiar tune.

"But mainly, Abba spread unity and joy around learning. The girls also had special learning time with him. Each time we studied another Mussar book or discussed a current event that was relevant. On seder night, Abba sat like a king at the head of the table, the boys leaning all around him, and we girls sat on the opposite side of the table. The table pulled out to four meters and Abba looked like the king of this beautiful empire, conducting the recitation of the Haggadah while singing. I remember this special atmosphere to this day.

"Not long ago, my father celebrated his birthday. All of the boys in yeshivah, without prior arrangement, wrote letters of good wishes to Abba. I read the letters and they all expressed appreciation for Abba and his Torah: `You should continue to publish seforim,' `Continue growing in Torah,' each one repeated. This is the image that stands before them and serves as a living role model."

Rebbetzin Chana also recalls her Shabbos table as one of the most beautiful and happy moments of family togetherness. Her husband would give out prizes to each child who sang nicely. In general, everyone got a prize in the end. Despite the chaos that sometimes reigned, the happy atmosphere contributed to everyone and to this day, her big married children remember the happy Shabbos meals that they experienced in their home.

"The children knew," adds Rebbetzin Chana, " that my husband was the decision-maker in every important matter. We always asked Abba. For us he was the supreme and final authority. My husband was hardly ever home, but he guided us from behind the scenes. The children saw him only on Shabbos or during bein hazemanim when he took them on trips or to the beach -- that they always remember.

"The period of bein hazemanim was used for a joint pleasurable outing. Also during the holidays, including Chanukah, when he came home to light candles, he used the short amount of time with the children to play games with them. The children knew that when Abba came home they'd have a joyful time."

"My father was an especially calm man, incomparably confident and he infused these two characteristics in the home," explains Tzivi. "Any time there was pressure in the family, Abba supported us all and said, 'Everything is from the Blessed One, there's no reason to worry, Hashem is with us.' Abba would calm us all down and create a pleasant atmosphere.

"You couldn't anger him. Even faced with the tremendous tumult that we made, he remained calm and the atmosphere around him always remained serene and even happy. I noticed that Abba contributed to the family's togetherness by showing his respect for Ima. He tried to demonstrate this to us children through compliments and appreciation. That created a pleasant atmosphere in the home."

What are some of the happy and nice moments you remember in your family?

"Every family simchah was cause for a celebration. Eveyone contributed his part spontaneously and without being asked, each one according to his talents: writing a poem for the bride and groom, cooking or setting the table. From my childhood, I remember that the Shabbos table was always happy and stress-free. Abba would say a dvar Torah but wouldn't force us to listen to it. Whoever was old enough listened and understood and enjoyed. Abba tried to make it appropriate for all ages and everyone felt like he was talking to them.

"The summer holidays where days of happiness and family togetherness. Ima and the girls went out to a distant city near the beach for the whole vacation and Abba and the boys joined us for Shabbos during bein hazemanim. When Abba arrived on Friday, he would take us all on trips so that Ima could prepare Shabbos calmly. I remember these walks well. Abba would hold our hands and we walked abreast in one long line while skipping on the hills and hopping in fields and singing. The atmosphere was especially joyful and we all felt lighthearted."


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