Why I Was Laughing in the Graveyard

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.

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14 comments

  1. Thank you Chana Jenny.

  2. Thank you for the validation!!
    One more super-important Rabbi Nivin message for right now. He always talks about taking time to transition after a holiday, instead of expecting ourselves to bounce right back into our fast-paced lives. So enjoy your nap…

  3. Thanks… Did I ever need that

  4. This year was the pits, didn’t leave the kitchen! Thankyou for reminding me to put it all in perspective, and that I’m not the only one who feels this way! If only I would hear some thankyous, I think I’d have more ability to cope!

  5. Felt the same way

  6. savta ima

    Hey, Mammas, can we all re-define “perfect?”
    To illustrate: IN my child-rearing days I had a close friend whose children were all friends of my children. Several of hers had heavy-duty learning disabilities and delays. She opted to home-school them for a while, hiring special tutors, with the plan of building her kids up as much as possible and not subjecting them to a system that might beat them down. Her ever-positive attitude about her kids was stated with frequency – it was not “I love my kids however imperfect they are, and I will work hard to overlook their issues and count my blessings,” but: “My children ARE PERFECT – Because Hashem made them this way, and Hashem’s plan is perfect, nothing less.” That was such Mussar for me. I am now thinking about what you said was hard for you on Pesach, and how we all, myself quite included, share that intense vortex of exhaustion sometimes. Perhaps we need a little “tracht gut, vet zein gut.” Meaning, let’s at least call our exhaustion, and our family bombarding us with their constant needs, and our being “chained” to the stove 3/4 of the time “PERFECT” – because this Yom Tov labor is Hashem’s plan. Maybe it would be possible to smile through the exhaustion, when we think about the plan we are participating in. Are our efforts to be valued any less than the draining 10-hour days of workouts that Olympian athletes are subject to? And for how much greater an aim? …Congratulations, perfect Mamas! We are CHAMPIONS!

  7. savta ima

    PS – May I add that I am not talking about self-torture. Stay healthy and be good to yourselves! Don’t do stuff that is all about perfectionism! Yet how can we avoid exhausting yomim tovim? I am thinking about giving it a positive twist.

  8. A little tip: I ordered tons of precooked food this year (in Israel) . Yes one does pay extra for the service but if you think about all the hassle to.shop and.cook…. this him handed was so much easier: just taking things out of the freezer mostly…. I highly advise this for all frazzled pesach mothers, at least once! Even.if it’s just kiddie foods like shnitzels and.meatballs or even containers of chicken soup (gasp!) It is SUCH a mechaye!! Or maybe cakes and desserts…. set yourself free and let someone else do some of the work. Next year!

  9. Chana Jenny, Thank you for your constant unwavering honesty which always lets us know that we are normal and in good company!

  10. How. Did. You. Know.
    It’s just after Pesach, we also just moved to a nice big house and I’m telling myself “now we have this nice big house, why am I not happy and puttering around the house making it beautiful?”

    I am just totally bone-tired. I could definitely use a month-long nap!

    Have a good Shabbos!

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