My Mortifying Erev Shabbat (4-Minute Mommy Peptalk)

My Mortifying Erev Shabbat (4-Minute Mommy Peptalk)

My humiliating moments in front our Shabbat guest.


This past Friday night, one of our guests was a rabbanit, the wife of a well-known rabbi, who is also the granddaughter of one of the greatest rabbis of the previous generation.

Before she came, I was a little nervous that I should do everything exactly right.

Unfortunately, despite my nervousness, when I was scheduling my Friday I did not take into account that my 4 older daughters wouldn’t, for various reasons, be around to help with the pre-Shabbat clean-up.

And that’s how it happened that this past Friday, candle-lighting time arrived, and both of my sinks were still full of dishes, my counters were still covered with measuring cups and lemon peels and spilled sugar, and my floors still looked like they hadn’t been swept in days, even though my cleaning lady had washed them just a few hours before.

The good news is that I live in Jerusalem, so candle-lighting time is 40 minutes not 18 minutes before Shabbat. Which usually would make me feel better, except for the fact that standing next to me was the rabbanit, the granddaughter of one of the greatest rabbis of the previous generation.

Maybe, as she stood there, I was breaking all sorts of laws that she knew at the age of 3, and that I don’t even know exist!

So everyone pitched in to get the kitchen ready quickly for Shabbat. One guest tackled the other sink of dishes, another swept the floors, one of my children wiped down the counters, and the rabbanit played with my mischievous 4-year-old so I could actually get the cleaning done.

As I stood there, washing dishes at the dairy sink, candle-lighting time already far behind me, I felt embarrassed. Mortified, actually.

But I worked hard to remain calm, to be nice to my children and my guests. To focus on how Hashem saw me, managing relatively well despite this pressured and humiliating situation, rather than how the rabbanit saw me.

I will not tell you how close to Shabbat I finally lit candles. Suffice it to say that my guest’s distinguished grandfather would be turning in his grave if he knew.

And then I took a deep breath and went to sit with the rabbanit in the living room. And she turned out to be, quite possibly, one of the most down-to-earth people I have ever met. Zero pretense, zero arrogance. Totally lovely and a pleasure to be around.

But despite that, since Friday night, in my heart I have felt the slight sting of humiliation. Like when you swim in the Dead Sea right after shaving your legs.

Anyway, the reason I’m sharing all this with you is because at my therapeutic writing class today with Yocheved Rottenberg, she gave us the following exercise to do:

Imagine that a detective came into our home for 20 minutes and had to write a report about what he saw. What would he write?

And I imagined that my detective came into my home as I was rushing to clean up my kitchen before Shabbat, mortified beyond words.

And I wrote down his report– about the messy kitchen, the woman (me) washing dishes, and then lighting some candles, and then sitting and smiling with another woman in the living room.

Suddenly, seeing it all through that detective’s eyes, without all the emotion I’d pumped into the situation, it all seemed suddenly not so bad after all. Silly even.

I heard an amazing metaphor from Rebbetzin Yitty Neustadt in honor of Tu B’Shvat.

A Jewish family is a tree. Your children are the branches, your husband is the trunk, and you, JewishMOM, are the roots.

If that mother isn’t filling herself up emotionally, spiritually, physically, then, like the roots of a tree during a drought, the entire tree will dry up.

And a Jewish mother is also like the roots of a tree because the work we do is so often unseen. Taking place underground, so to speak.

Behind our locked front doors. Or locked away, struggles hidden within our hearts, as I experienced this past mortifying Friday and through the detective’s wise eyes at the writing class today.

Have a great week and Tu B’Shvat Sameach

14 comments

  1. Very nice! Thank you for this post!

  2. I love it!!! The last part puts it all in perspective 🙂 You were nourishing the family with all of your cooking…and we have to nurture and not be hard on ourselves at all especially when we are doing our best…not saying we cannot learn from mistakes..just keep the lesson we have learned in our minds for the next time…guilt free 🙂

  3. Maybe the rabbanit appreciated it that you were a regular normal mom and not putting on a show for her? I would have appreciated that.

  4. Just wanted to say that I am so amazed at how you inspire us with the full gamut of religious Jewish teachers out there. It doesnt matter what ‘type’ they are as long as they have something to teach us! That’s pretty unique! I love Rebbetzin Neustadts teachings and was so happy to see something she said written here on your blog!

  5. Once, when I complained I felt I was failing in my tafkid and missing mitzvot opportunities a friend shared some wisdom with me. She said that we don’t actually know what aspect of any situation Hashem is focused on and was of significance. We can’t really know if lighting close to Shabbat was the important part. Maybe it was leading your goal-oriented clean-up team, or the extra zeal to honor Shabbat and your guests with a clean home, or just keeping your cool throughout. Maybe the messy kitchen was Hashem’s way of showing you (and your guest!!) all you can do in these kinds of situations.

  6. It’s a beautiful post but I’m just confused. Why couldn’t you just light candles with a messy kitchen?

  7. Zemadar Israel

    That is so beautiful. Thanks for all your hard work to all Jewish Mom. Wish you and all Eretz Yisrael a fruitful Year and many blessings to come.

  8. Dear Chana Jenny,
    This piece is way up there among your best! If you ever compile a Top 10, put this in. It’s worth re-reading as it covers so many essential thoughts we moms should consider.
    I appreciate your inclusion of Rebbetzin Neustadt’s mashal, and WOW to that “20 Minutes” essay idea from Yocheved Rottenberg. I’d like to think that what the detective “sees” takes into account whether the people s/he sees are basically well-adjusted, beloved and happy to be home.
    Thank you for being so honest – it really helps the rest of us chill out and appreciate being human. XO XO XO

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