Why I Was Laughing in the Graveyard
Since I read her biography, I’ve been trying to visit Henny Machlis’ grave about once a week.
What do I experience when I’m there? Do I hear the voice of Henny’ soul? Do I hear what I imagine Henny would probably say? Either way, I always leave Henny’s grave feeling more clarity than when I arrived, an extra spring in my step and the corner of my lips turned up with the hint of a smile as I head towards the bus stop home on Bar Ilan Street.
This past Sunday, I paid Henny a visit before the last day of Passover. As usual, when I entered the cemetery I saw that over to the right there was a small crowd by Rav Ovadia Yosef’s grave. But, as usual, I turned left instead, to have some private moments with the rebbetzin.
And when I reached her grave, I told Henny the whole truth.
Pesach had had wonderful moments. But it had also been really challenging. The initially exhilarating and ultimately exhausting month of preparations followed by this holiday full of meals and outings and lots of children around me almost all the time. I was feeling really tired. Drained. Where was all that simchat Yom Tov I was supposed to be feeling? I was waiting, I confessed to Henny, a tear running down my cheek, for all of it to just be over.
And then I heard something I’ve never heard before at Henny’s grave. I heard, in my mind, uproarious laughter. A minute of Henny laughing and LAUGHING.
And I couldn’t help but start laughing too…A rare laughter yoga moment at the Sandhedria cemetery. At least the crowd by Rav Ovadia’s grave was too far away to notice all the hilarity happening over by Henny’s tombstone.
And when Henny stopped laughing long enough to catch her breath (or when my imagined perception of Henny calmed down a bit) Henny said, “Chana’le, and you think you’re the only one? Every mother in Am Yisrael is tired! You just cleaned your entire house, and then over Pesach you cooked and cleaned and took care of everybody. Do you know how important Passover is?! Do you know what a huge mitzvah you have performed?! And YOU DID IT! You don’t think I was exhausted by the last day of Passover? So the day after Passover, Chanale, go to sleep for a month. You deserve it!”
For a short time, before her final illness, Henny was my classmate in Rabbi Nivin’s personal development chabura. So I’m sure that Henny heard, as I have multiple times, Rabbi Nivin’s annual post-Pesach class which usually includes the reasons women are beating themselves up after Passover.
We beat ourselves up because over Passover she realizes that her children are imperfect, and her marriage is imperfect, and her extended family is imperfect, and, worst of all, she is imperfect! In fact, she is downright flawed! She isn’t a good enough mother or happy enough, efficient enough, energetic enough, close to Hashem enough.
And sitting by Henny’s grave, I thought of something else Rabbi Nivin taught Henny and me: he taught us about “PMR”–practical, measurable results.
True, my Passover experience wasn’t perfect…
But then again, what about my practical, measurable results?
Did I make sure my home was chametz-free for Passover (except for that bag of chocolate wafers Josh found hidden above the kitchen cabinets during bdikat chametz:))? Check.
Did my family have a beautiful (balagan of a) seder? Check.
Did my kids enjoy themselves (sometimes more, sometimes less) with special treats and trips and fun time together? Check.
Did I make sure there was food on the table when there was supposed to be and that the house was orderly? Check (well, sort of…)
And with that in mind, and Henny’s (my?) laughter echoing in my heart, I headed home.