What Rabbi Scheinberg told an Autistic Child’s Mother
The following is a letter to the editor that was printed in Binah Magazine this week. I thought this was extremely powerful, and also an important reminder for all of us JewishMOMs to refrain from passing judgment on other mothers for their children’s behavior…
[I am the mother of two children with autism]. My younger son is more verbal and his disability is less obvious, which created more of a struggle for me in terms of dealing with other people’s censure.
I would be on a city bus, for example, and he’d refuse to get up for an elderly passenger, so I’d get up and give my own seat. I got such dirty looks from people and there were many times I wanted to blurt out, “My child is autistic and has severe behavioral and comprehension issues. He looks like he gets it, but he doesn’t.” I was wary of making a chillul Hashem, but my child was intelligent enough that I couldn’t say that in front of him without crushing him. So I absorbed his shame.
I’ll never forget the time a family member said that it was my parenting that was causing his issues. “These problems never existed in my days. He needs tough discipline and all his ‘issues” will go away.”…I came home from that family event so crushed, and full of self-doubt and guilt.
My husband made an appointment for me to see Rabbi Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg, zt”l, who was in town at the time. We walked into the room and I began to sob. I told Rabbi Scheinberg about the pain and shame this child puts me through and how I can’t even tell people that he has issues because he’s sensitive and understands that I’m putting him down.
Rabbi Scheinberg then told me something I’ll never forget: “There is one merit that has stood in Rachel Imeinu’s stead all these years—she absorbed her sister’s shame and gave her the simanim.*
Generations will come and go, but they will all reap rewards from the many moments you absorb the pain so as not to shame your child, an exalted soul.” These words continue to comfort and encourage me.
*According to Jewish tradition, Jacob and Rachel suspected that Laban would try to switch Leah to be the bride on the night Jacob was supposed to marry Rachel. So Jacob and Rachel came up with a secret sign between them so he would know he was marrying Rachel and not Leah. But on the night of the wedding, when Rachel saw that Leah was wearing the wedding dress, she shared the secret sign with her sister so that she wouldn’t be ashamed. Rachel was willing to give up marrying the love of her life in order to not embarrass her sister, and this was a source of tremendous blessing for her.