Ode to That Mother Feeding Her Baby at 4 AM by Rabbi Menachem Nissel

Ode to That Mother Feeding Her Baby at 4 AM by Rabbi Menachem Nissel

Rav Yerucham of Mir asked how we know if a person has achieved greatness. And the answer, Rav Yerucham explains, is that we can always know if a person has achieved true Jewish greatness by watching how they do small things. If in those small things you see greatness then everything about them is great. And in those small things you find smallness, then everything about that person is small.
So what does this mean?
I believe very strongly that this idea comes out especially with women. There’s no question in my mind that society sets you all women up for failure. Because all of you are expected you to become heroes as defined by secular society.
There is a certain institution for religious girls, and once I was looking at its brochure and there was a section titled “You too can become a hero of our school!” This section listed the schools’ hero graduates–they mentioned the CEO of a company, a partner in a law firm, but they only listed women who had achievements based on the secular definition of heroism.
And of course, nobody is going to mention all the alumni of this school who, even though they’re exhausted, and even though nobody will ever know, wake up at 4 AM to nurse their babies. Even though that is the true Jewish definition of greatness.
Once my rebbe, Rabbi Moshe Shapiro zt”l, came to my home to settle an argument between some of my neighbors. While he was in my apartment, our cleaning lady, Sara, asked him if he would like a cup of tea or water. He said, “No, it’s OK, thank you.”
Afterward, having successfully made peace between the neighbors, Rav Moshe and I started walking down the stairs to leave my building. And then, suddenly, he said, “Oh, I forgot something” and motioned for me to stay behind as he ran back up to my apartment on the 3rd floor. And I (too curious to stay behind) followed him up and saw how he went into my apartment and went from room to room to room until he located Sara, the cleaning lady, and said, “Goodbye!” to her, and then left.
At that moment I had an epiphany, that this man was my rebbe. I saw that everything about him is greatness. That somebody who did the small things, like saying goodbye to the cleaning lady, with such total greatness, has greatness on every level.
I would like to give a parting blessing to you. You should all look at your own lives, and not give in to the pressures and the tyranny of a society that pushes you to be out there. It’s OK to be Jewishly great, to do small things with greatness. It’s OK to be like our tsadikim, who did small things, quietly and with greatness, That is Jewish greatness.
My blessing is that you should find this inside of you, to do a small deed of greatness and another small deed of greatness and another, until you are truly great. And doing good deeds and acts of kindness for the Jewish people. And you will be the ones that Moshiach is going to look for when he arrives. And he’s going to say “Thank you! You’re the ones who brought me here.”


  1. Thank you so much for posting. This really resonated with me. I also think we are being set up for failure as mothers. Parenting trends and fads change all the time and are so rigid now and with that comes a huge amount of judgement. What do you mean, you are not feeding your baby x at x age? What do you mean you are/are not letting them sleep in your bed/putting them in sling/giving or not giving pacifier/weaning or not weaning at certain age, etc? Somehow you are supposed to be always perfect, always able to do everything, whatever the newest trend is meant to be. I often feel that this all obscures the healthy intuition and natural connection a mother has to her children and causes extra anxiety. Knowing that it is the little unsung heroism that counts really helps.

  2. Mina Gordon

    Thank you Chana for posting Rabbi Nissel’s empowering words. It is important to keep in our mind’s eye a pair of heavenly glasses through which we can see beyond the surface and adjust our perspective to match the view from Above.What counts on Earth is not what counts in Heaven.

  3. Mina Gordon

    Or maybe all those unsung Jewish Mums will found down here busy bringing Heaven down to Earth

  4. Thank you for posting this! I need to read this daily. I chose to stay home & I sometimes feel ‘less’ because I don’t have a degree, or job. Nor an inspirational blog;). So thanks for the encouragement!

  5. Again your blog is greatness because you give us huge kohot to be jewish moms and to be sattisfed about it!! May Hashem bless you!
    Its so true that even in the religious world the definition of greatness is a secular one and especially for women the pressure is unbearable. I raise a large families and i am proud to raise future jewish moms..i dont care if they are lasyers or journalists this is cheker!!

  6. Phenomenal post! So truly inspirational. I have been teaching and leading small schools, and working in larger schools for many years. I never got any letters after my name and sometimes feel like a nobody! I know in my heart that I am a great teacher, yet I never won any awards or recognition for my efforts. The one year I got a plaque that said #1 Teacher was from a tiny school with only four teachers so it was meaningless to me.. Even though that year I really feel like I made a difference in the lives of my 5 students all operating on different levels with behavioral issues. Keep up your amazing work. Kesiva v’chasima tova

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