The Jewish Mother's Power Tool

(reprinted from Binah Magazine)

The Jewish Mother’s Power Tool by Chana Jenny Weisberg

When we moved into our new home five years ago, we received a unique mirror as a gift from an old and wise friend. What is special about this mirror is that there is a Birkat Habayit, a Blessing for the Home, printed upon it. Every time I read: “May this home be a dwelling-place of peace and happiness…” I can see my own face intermingled among the words of the blessing.

One day when I looked into this mirror, it occurred to me that this Birkat Habayit is the perfect illustration of my critical role as my family’s Akeret Habayit, the foundation of the home. When my mirror reflects a happy and shining face, then all the promises of this blessing will be fulfilled. And on those days when this mirror reflects an angry or frustrated face, then this blessing will light up my home just as effectively as a flashlight powered by a dead battery. This mirror reminds me of the truth of the old saying, “If mom ain’t happy, nobody’s happy.

I think of this mirror often, but especially on those frequent occasions when I find myself knee-deep in housework.

I have a few friends who are natural-born balabustas. I have one friend in particular named Chana, whose eyes gleam when she is sorting through bags of winter clothing, or preparing homemade rolls late at night for her children’s lunches, or creating a new recipe for chicken involving an array of dried fruits and lots of garlic. I admire Chana and her carefree enthusiasm for all things domestic. I wish that we had more in common than our first names.

My relationship with cooking and cleaning and the other “house” aspects of my housewifely life has been an evolving one. My attitude to housework started out, as my Israeli friends would say, “On its face.” For my first few years of marriage, cleaning the kitchen on motzaei Shabbos, for example, was a job that I detested with such passion that it could bring me to tears.

Over the years, I have thankfully discovered some helpful tools that provide the spoonful of sugar to make the housework go down. I have learned, for example, to trick my yetzer hara by ensuring it that I will only clean for 10 minutes. This silences its kicking and screaming long enough for me to put down my book and put on an apron. I have also learned that there are few things more enjoyable than sorting a week’s worth of laundry while listening to an inspiring Torah class on my MP3 player. But I have discovered one tool that works better than any other, that sprinkles sugar over even the least appetizing of domestic tasks. That tool is available 24/7 to every human being, and can be accessed by even the most low-tech among us. That tool is old-fashioned hakarat hatov, homegrown gratitude.

This past Shabbos, I had an opportunity to use the lone power tool in my housewifely toolbox.

I had stayed up very late on Friday night with guests, and when I came bleary-eyed into my living room on Shabbat morning, I discovered my children rolling with laughter as they played a game I couldn’t identify, but which involved a laundry basket full of stuffed animals and an entire bag of salt. By the time I found them, the laundry basket was still full, but the bag of salt was nearly empty. I didn’t know where all the salt had gone until I looked down at the formerly burgundy living room carpet and saw that it was as white as snow.

My blood pressure started to rise. My husband was probably already on his way home from shul, and the table was still not set. The carpet would just have to wait.

I finished clearing the table from the night before, set out a new tablecloth, laid out the place settings, put a pitcher of apple juice on the table, and arranged the salads. As if from far away, I heard my two-year-old saying the words, “Apple Juice! Apple Juice!” But I had no time. My husband would be walking in the door any moment. My two-year-old would just have to wait.

I turned around to get the challah board from the cabinet when I felt something on my foot. I looked down and saw that my foot was soaking wet. Then I looked at the table and saw that it was soaking wet as well. And then I looked at my two-year-old standing on her chair, and saw an empty pitcher in her hand. I had kept her waiting for too long, so she had decided to pour the long-awaited cup of apple juice all by herself.

If I had looked into my Birkat Habayit mirror at that moment, it would have shattered into a thousand pieces. A primal scream of pure, unadulterated frustration formed in my throat and sat there unscreamed, like spiritual acid.

The Weisberg homeland security commission was on red alert.

My two-year-old took one look at my face and began to cry. If I didn’t do something fast, the whole Weisberg family would soon be in tears.

I knew that gratitude was the only tool in my motherly toolbox powerful enough to rescue my family from this state of emergency. But what did I have to be grateful for on this completely entirely awful Shabbos morning? What did I possibly have to be thankful for?

I began clearing all of the place settings off the table, and after some good, hard thought, I came up with one lone thing for which I was grateful. I remembered the story my husband had told us the night before about a destitute family in the Shtetl that did not even have anything to eat for Shabbat. I whispered, “Thank You, G-d, that I have food to put on the table this morning.”

But what else? What else could I possibly thank G-d for on this impossible morning? As I cleared the salads and empty juice pitcher from the table, I glanced at my children playing on the salt-filled carpet. I remembered the friend I have been davening for who has been childless for eleven years. “Thank You, G-d, for my children. What a tremendous blessing You have given me. How can I possibly thank You enough for them?” I felt the unscreamed scream in my throat downgrade from a scream to a loud shout.

As I peeled the wet tablecloth off the table and spread out a new dry one, I remembered the neighbors who were forced to move in with friends along with their four young children because they could not pay their rent. I thought of the unmarked envelope I left with their hosts before Shabbat, and whispered, “Thank You, G-d, for my home. A home in Jerusalem, no less. That is a huge blessing. A luxury, even.” The unscreamed scream of frustration shrunk to a quiet whimper of protest.

I placed the salads back on the table, and rearranged the table settings. I looked around the room, at my children in their Shabbat best, at the wall lined with holy books, at the incandescent glow that fills our home every week from Friday sunset to Saturday night. I remembered 20 years of Saturdays consisting of morning cartoons, and corned beef sandwiches, and family trips to the mall. I said, “Thank You, Hashem, for giving me Shabbat kodesh. How can I possibly thank You enough for this incomparable gift of celebration and holiness week after week?”

At that moment, my husband walked in the door. “Shabbat Shalom!” he greeted me.

“Shabbat Shalom!” I answered. And I meant it.

When I rushed into the kitchen one last time to retrieve the forgotten kiddush cup, I caught my reflection in our special mirror. When I saw my shining face among its blessings, I knew that the blessing’s final words had been brought to life that morning: “May happiness and joy be joined with blessing and peace in the light of Your Holy Presence.

Related posts:

Why I Love My Mom by Anonymous
Mommy Peptalk: My Rosh Hashana Miracle
This Week's Mommy Peptalk: How to Be Happy (9-Minute Video)

3 comments

  1. Thank you for your vivd description of what you went through.

    I tremendously admire you for not allowing the scream to escape your throat.

    “If I didn’t do something fast, the whole Weisberg family would soon be in tears.” You didn’t let your emotions take you to a bad place. You immediately realized that you had to do something positive, and it was indeed beautiful.

    This is a lesson for all of us.

  2. Where can we buy a copy of that mirror?

Leave a Reply