What I Will be Doing this Shavuot

What I Will be Doing this Shavuot

“What will you be doing for Shavuot?” my friend just asked me.

You might remember from posts I’ve written in the past, that as the (immensely proud!) wife of an educator and mother of older as well as younger children, my Shavuot is more or less about enabling others to do what they need or want to do.

Enabling my husband to stay up all night teaching Torah and and then teach some more in the afternoon.

Enabling my older children to stay up late or even all night learning Torah.

Enabling my 3 youngest children to have a pleasant Shavuot by getting to bed early and taking care of them and doing things they enjoy on Shavuot day.

And how do I feel about that?

It’s been a process of many years, but nowadays I actually feel OK with it.

I will make sure to do small things here and there to uplift myself and connect with Shavuot. Like (as Rabbi Nivin recommends) spending some time learning my favorite kind of Torah and contemplating my goals for the Omer period and the year. Like reading a book related to Shavuot and Matan Torah while my kids run around the playground (would love recommendations…) Like eating special dairy treats I enjoy.

But, overall, my Shavuot will look very different than it would if I didn’t have a bunch of small children to take care of.

And if that is your life situation as well, I wanted to share the thought that will inspire me over the long hours caring for my kids this Shavuot.

While researching Henny Machlis’ biography, Sara Yocheved Rigler asked Henny’s teacher, Rabbi Nivin, what was Henny’s greatest personal challenge. And this is what he responded:

“What did Henny work on most?

“To know when not to be spiritual.

“Sometimes it’s a bigger mitzvah to do the laundry than to pray at the graves of tsadikkim…

“To be G-dlike rather than being with G-d. Henny had such a high soul that was hard for her.

“Avraham Avinu had to break his chesed, his kindness, his primary trait, in order to sacrifice his son. Henny’s struggle was to be mevater [to give up] on her spirituality, because she was so much into it. This is the biggest test–to be mevater on the thing you’re strongest in.

“For example, Rav Aharon Kotler said, ‘My World to Come will not be for all my great Torah learning and classes. It will be for the days when the yeshiva was about to close and I collected money on the subways of New York.”

So how will I be spending this Shavuot? I will be spending this Shavuot being G-d-like.

The fact that being G-d-like entails pushing my 2-year-old on the swing, breaking up squabbles between my 6-year-old and my 4-year-old, and passing out bags of bamba will remain our little secret.


  1. Thank you for this reminder to appreciate and focus on our role right now.
    We will probably even miss this stage of life when it is over!

  2. after staying home from shul for 20 years, i finally started attending shabbos morning davening when my youngest was 3 years old. Hashem gifted me with a child who actually likes to sit still and not be bored during the long davening, so she has become my shul buddy for the past 3 years. there’s an added bonus that my “baby” loves to talk to the shul ladies. the older women who come to shul every week have become her friends. she makes sure to show them her new shabbos shoes and shabbos dresses, and they delight in her friendship.
    all my years of davening at home amidst the children has paid off. now i can sit in shul and daven without being distracted by the presence/noise/distractions of others.
    what a gift!

  3. Chana, that part of the book has been the one part that makes me feel that Henny did not start out on the same level as all of us! She was born with a higher neshama, you picked the one part of the book that bothers me. I want to be like her, but I wasn’t born having to fight my spiritual self to not be spiritual!

  4. Sara, I just finished reading the book. I didn’t know Henny, so i can’t say this for sure. But it seemed to be like she wasn’t born that way. Rather, she was always a thinker, striving for truth and connection. And like many of us Jewishmoms can attest, it’s much more attractive to be involved in personal spiritual pursuits rather than seemingly mundane child rearing activities. Just because something gives you a good feeling of spiritual connection doesn’t mean it actually is the most spiritual activity.
    Chana Jenny, you illustrated this nuance so well – of being “Gd like” rather than “being with Gd”. Such a challenge to find the balance!
    As for reading material, I like “Book of our Heritage” – classic but really covers so many aspects of every chag!

  5. You really get to the point : so many women are frustrated today because they have been brainwashed that the most important contribution is outside the house at work or in shul or by going to shiourim or to community meetings whereas being home with our children no matter what is our best whereas discreet contribution

  6. Hadassah

    Book suggestion: Let my nation serve me by Yosef Deutsch. It is medrash about the Jews preparing for getting the Torah.
    Even though my kids are grown I do not do late night learning…
    It is important to bring even little ones to hear the Ten Commandments even if they can’t sit through the davening. We want to reenact the giving of the Torah and we were all there!

  7. I can’t thank you enough for this article. Had I not read it beforehand I would have had an extremely disappointing and frustrating Chag. I was looking forward to the growth and high the spiritual holiday would bring but instead I had my hands full and was overwhelmed by overtired and wild kids that demanded my attention and calm. I kept reminding myself that this was my Tafkid of the day and while I wish I could have Davened more or learnt something I kept rereading your article in my head and accepting the greatness of caring for the kids and allowing my husband to learn and then rest after a long night. Thank you

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