My Lame Shavuot

My Lame Shavuot

I wrote this article a few years back…

I’ve been doing it for years, and it hasn’t bothered me one smidgen.

But for some reason, this year’s Shavuot stuck at home stuck in my throat like a painful fish bone that wouldn’t budge. This year, like every year, my husband was out teaching the whole night in a distant neighborhood, which meant there was no Shavuot class for me at 10:45 PM on “Shavuot and You: Discovering your Inner Ruth,” and no feeling of awe as I flowed with the masses down Jaffa Street to the Western Wall, and no spiritual ecstasy as the Jewish people and I recited “Shema” in unison as the Sun made its daily debut in a pirouette over the Mount of Olives.

This year, like every year, my Shavuot consisted of a ho-hum trip to the playground after candle-lighting, a lonely lasagna dinner eaten after my kids fell asleep, and 2 hours of learning on my own before my 11:30 bedtime so that I would not be a grouch the following morning when my kids woke me up at 6:30 AM in order to receive their holiday treats.

This year, like every year, on Shavuot morning I took my kids to King David’s tomb in the Old City. Most years I enjoy doing this. But this year I couldn’t shake the jealousy I felt for all of the tired people walking in the opposite direction who had spent the night studying and were stumbling home bleary-eyed from the Western Wall (or the more intense jealousy that still lingered for the Yiddish-speaking moms I had seen at the playground the previous evening for whom a perfect Shavuot consists of cheese-cakes prepared and blintzes eaten and Psalms recited between interruptions on the peeling playground bench).

I tried everything to stop feeling like such a martyr. As I pushed that double stroller to the Old City, I tried summoning up gratitude for everything I have in life. “OK, Chana, tell me 30 things you are thankful for!” Most days this really cheers me up, but that morning it really, really didn’t.

As I placed sun hats on my children’s heads and forced a smile, I tried to convince myself that the way I was spending that Shavuot- enabling my husband to teach Torah and being a good mom- was just as important as any mitzvah performed that night by those people stumbling home. But that didn’t work either.

On the long shlep home, I even tried formulating various mommy peptalks in my mind. How I realized this, or I realized that, and how that realization helped me to realize that being a mother is in fact the most fulfilling and rewarding and important pursuit in the whole world. But while it was all probably true, it all felt like lies. I arrived home feeling just as embittered as I was sweaty and hot.

The only realization I could accept as I collapsed on the sofa was that sometimes motherhood is just plain hard. Lots of times being a mom simply means that there are things you would really like to do that you just can’t do. There are disappointing moments that just stay downright disappointing. There are things and experiences and moments that we lose that we will never be able get back.

On Shabbat, I heard something beautiful in a class by Rebbetzin Rivka Segal about all these silent sacrifices offered up in the Holy Temple of Motherhood that managed to give a bit of a more positive twist to my thoroughly lame Shavuot.

Rebbetzin Segal showed us a beautiful quotation from Rabbi Charlop that I intend to glue (not tape) to my fridge. He wrote:

“The greatness of a human being is not primarily determined by his or her present, but rather by his or her future…In the same way that in a person’s life he or she is sowing seeds for plants that will sprout only in the future, so too a person is called an “Adam” from the word for ground (“Adama”). With human beings, everything that we create with the purity of our thoughts and the goodness of our deeds is like sowing the earth, from which will sprout and flower infinite and never-ending new blossoms in the future.”*

In other words, true spirituality, truly serving G-d, is not about the spiritual quick fix. It’s not about the moment when you see the Sun pirouetting over the Mt. of Olives and declare “G-d is One!” Truly serving G-d really starts when you step down from that pinnacle and get down on your hands and knees and get to work. It’s hot, you’re tired, your new shirt is getting dirty, but you plant what needs to be planted. You feed this one, change that one’s diaper, comfort yet another.

You keep planting and tending and pruning even though you are yet to see the fruits of your labor. But your labor will bear fruit. There is no such thing, Rabbi Charlop teaches us, as a good deed that doesn’t.

In the World to Come, Rebbetzin Segal explained, every single one of you will be seated down in a Celestial movie theater in order to watch “It’s a Wonderful Life” starring you. At that screening, you will be able to watch and see all the ways your unsung good deeds and minor and major sacrifices touched your family members and those around you and made their lives better in countless ways. You will be able to witness how your years spent gardening behind closed doors transformed your family and community into a blossoming orchard.

Each of us will see with our own eyes the hard-won fruits of the long afternoons with the children, and the even longer evenings cleaning up and preparing for the next day, and the fun, exciting, and even uplifting things we couldn’t and didn’t do because somebody had to take care of the kids, and that somebody, more often than not, was you and me.

A Final Note
I wrote this article called “My Lame Shavuot” a few years back. It was interesting to read this again, since my Shavuot looks EXACTLY the same today as it did back then, from the lonely lasagna dinner to the sunburning walk to King David’s Tomb with the kids. But today I don’t feel the bitterness I used to feel about it–at all. Today, I truly feel that by taking care of my kids and enabling my husband to teach Torah and learning a bit on my own, that I am doing what Hashem wants me to do, and that makes me feel happy and good about Shavuot (even though the reality of my Shavuot as a teacher’s wife still does remain and feel quite lame). Nice to know that peptalk by peptalk, inspiring class by inspiring class, I am really changing. That through inspiring other moms, I am really inspiring myself!

*May Marom, Rabbi Charlop, This translation differs slightly from the Hebrew original.

Photo courtesy of Flickr.com user Quinn Dombrowski

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6 comments

  1. Wow, so beautiful. I love that you kept trying to turn it around and put a spin on it, and finally just surrendered to the reality. And I love that your acceptance is growing. Very inspiring!

  2. I hear what you are saying, and you’re right that sometimes, what we do in the background is just as important as the person in the spotlight, but it does sound like your simchas yomtov is being sacrificed for other people’s benefit.
    Why can’t your husband be there for the evening meal? I know it’s a bit different because my husband has his own shul, but we had a lovely family + guests meal after maariv, before he went back to our shul’s tikkun leil event (with, for the first time, our oldest son, aged 11 – serious nachas moment! he stayed up all night, davenned and sang “anim zemiros at the end). My husband slept in the morning, then we had lunch together ( and enjoyed our chutz la’aretz second day). Maybe you could consider getting someone to sleep in, so you could go to early davenning with your older daughters?

    • JewishMom

      My husband teaches on Shavuos night and early morning at a women’s yeshiva about an hour walk from home. Though it is nice that he takes my school-age daughters with him to learn Torah there (although while that gives me nachas, it also does make my lasagna dinner even lonelier.)

      Maybe next year I could get a babysitting age daughter to stay home so I could go to the kotel for sunrise. Something I have yearned to do again for about 20 years! thanks vicki, you have inspired me to think if there’s a way to make next year’s shavuos not quite so lame!

  3. Thank you Chana,…great article…I know that feeling!!

  4. SO TRUE and beautifully expressed.

    I must share my experience this year: Shavuot was gearing up to be a carbon copy of yours (except for the lonely lasagne). After our post-netz-hubby-returned-thirsty-hungry-tired kiddush I steeled myself for the inevitable park rounds as a single, sad shavuot mother. Suddenly I heard a voice:

    “Do you want me to come with you?”

    It was my husband. I was too scared to say yes, too awed to say no. I nodded. HE CAME!!!!! He shlepped around, with his book of Likutey Moharan, to help me out until the toddler went to sleep.

    I told him: “YOU are the reason I am able to receive the Torah this year. THIS is Kiyum Torah. Thank you, thank you so much…. A woman receives Torah from her husband, and that’s literally what you are giving me now, for Shavuot. I just wish I could have been big enough to let you sleep….”

    And I think that because of this act, I might just survive from now on, solo. I wish I were as strong as you, Chana Jenny, but in the end I really think that all of us solo shavuot mothers, in our own ways, are receiving the Torah by that simple act of letting our husbands go. It’s saying : I do.

    btw: I’m an UMAN Rosh Hashana wife as well! So do I get cut a little slack? 🙂

    And lastly: Alone? Not on my watch! You can eat at our place, and bring that lasagne with you….YUM!

    • YL you can run but you can’t hide! You’re Yehudit Levi. I first “met” you as Jewish Mom of the Month and found your story SOOO inspiring. Then you won one of CJW’s essay contests for the most heartwarming story about your kids. I notice your comments (always signed YL – but I know it’s you!) on the postings here, and your letters to magazines! You need to write more. You should have a blog. And be submitting articles to the mags. I’m surprised Rishe Deitsch hasn’t picked you up (then again, I don’t read her publication!). Or DO you already write somewhere, and I just don’t know? Please tell me, would love to read more of your stuff!

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