Posts tagged " mothers "

Devotion on Steroids

June 3rd, 2020 Posted by Practical Parenting, Your Mother's Guidance No Comment yet

A ‘Your Mother’s Guidance’ Post by Rebecca Masinter

Numbers 7:1 says, “And it was on the day that Moses finished erecting the Tabernacle…” Ancient Jewish wisdom asks why Moses is credited with the Tabernacle when we know that Betzalel, Ahaliav, and a team of others actually did the work.  The answer is that Moses is credited with the Tabernacle because he dedicated himself to it with devotion. The Hebrew phrase is mesirus nefesh, which implies devotion and dedication on steroids.  Even though others actually did the work, Moses was completely dedicated to making sure each piece was made according to the dimensions and descriptions Hashem had given him.  Because of his devotion for the Tabernacle, he gets the credit.  Similarly, even though King David’s son Solomon built the Temple, it is called “House of David” because of his mesirus nefesh for it. 

Apparently, when someone has mesirus nefesh for something, even if they don’t actually do the job completely themselves, the job becomes entwined with their essence and it becomes their own.  Do you know when else we see this?  A high school teacher of mine years ago pointed out to us that often in the Book of Kings, kings are identified as the sons of their mothers.  This isn’t what you expect—kingship passes from father to son, so why does the prophet tell us their mothers’ names?  For the very same reason as above.  Mothers were moser nefesh to raise children who became kings, so of course they have to be credited.

There is a lot of mesirus nefesh going on in all of our homes these days.  Every time we push ourselves to answer one more request, to read one more story, to speak calmly one more time, to bite our tongues from criticizing just this once, we are showing our devotion and dedication to our families and raising our children.  The problem is that sometimes we downplay our mesirus nefesh.  Maybe we get upset with ourselves when we don’t live up to our hopes, yet we don’t credit ourselves for all the times that we do.  We don’t even notice when we do a good job, but we notice when we fall short of what we expect.  Mesirus Nefesh doesn’t mean doing a perfect job or finishing the job completely.  It means staying dedicated, staying devoted.

Moses kept checking with the artisans: “Are you making it the right size, the right way?”  He stayed with it from beginning to end. He didn’t hand it over to Betzalel and walk away to something else. 

We do that too.  Day after day we try to be present, patient, calm, consistent, and that counts for a lot.  The question of whether we attain our goals all the time is not relevant when it comes to mesirus nefesh. What matters is that we keep coming back and trying again.  It is the dedication mothers show by working on themselves and their parenting day after day that translates as mesirus nefesh. And that counts.

A Mother Gives Life

March 4th, 2020 Posted by Practical Parenting 2 comments

I would like to share a story with you from a friend (with her permission), a mother in Jerusalem. I have added translations for Hebrew terms and some other clarifying information in brackets. 

On the other side of my wall, there is a shiva [week of mourning] taking place for my 84-year-old neighbor, Yosef, [Josef] who passed away last week.

When we moved into our home 4 years ago, Yosef’s wife of almost 60 years was already very ill, and within a few months she had passed away. She died from a foot infection, a common and often fatal complication of diabetes.

Yosef grieved terribly after his wife died. But he was still sharp as a tack. Whenever I’d run into him I would ask which of his four awe-inspiringly dedicated children he would be spending (or, depending on the day of the week, had spent) Shabbat with. And whenever he told me that he was going to his daughter,  I would say, “In Maaleh Adumim?” And Yosef, who had spent most of his life teaching grammar, would correct me: “Maaleh EDumim! EDumim, not ADumim!” [Think – you say to-may-to, I say to-mah-to, but where only one is correct. It’s a grammatical rather than an accent thing.]

Within a year after his wife died, Yosef’s condition had visibly declined. He stopped correcting my Hebrew grammar, but not because my Hebrew was suddenly grammatically correct. One day, on my way out to run errands, I saw Yosef waiting by the sidewalk. His son was coming to pick him up, he told me. But when I got back home an hour later, Yosef was still waiting there. It turned out Yosef had gotten the day wrong.

Two years ago, on the way out to the light rail, I thought I heard a soft voice. I looked around and saw Yosef sitting on the ground by his house. Yosef told me that he had been on his way to the corner store, but had fallen and hadn’t been able to get up. He had been calling out for help for a long time, he said, but nobody had heard him. Yosef’s voice, which for decades had commanded a class of 35 Israeli high-school students, had become so weak that it was nearly inaudible.

People who knew Yosef when his wife was healthy told me how things had once been. What a lovely, lively person she had been, always ready to lend a helping hand when a neighbor or family member was in need. But now, Yosef’s wife was gone. And, in a way, Yosef was too.

Around a year and a half ago, a caretaker moved in to take care of Yosef. Yosef could no longer walk or remember much about his life.

Last week, Yosef and his children marked his late wife’s 4th yahrzeit [anniversary of death], and two days later Yosef passed away as well. From a diabetic foot infection, just like his wife had.

Before I left for my trip last week [the author – and mother of a large family – went to visit one of her daughters in India], I made a detailed schedule so that everything and everyone would be taken care of. And, more or less (or maybe less or more) things functioned as usual while I was away.

But the day after I came home, and took [my son] to gan [kindergarten] for the first time, his teacher told me, “Good you are back! [He] just wasn’t the same when you were away!”

When a mother is in the home, I was reminded, she doesn’t just provide food, clean clothing, and reminders about tomorrow’s swimming class and zippering up coats. A mother, more than anything or anybody else, has the ability to transform a 4-walled structure from a house into a home. She doesn’t just nurture her family, the shiva [mourning] next door has reminded me, she gives life.

Holiness with a Side of Cheerios?

September 3rd, 2019 Posted by Practical Parenting, Your Mother's Guidance 2 comments

A ‘Your Mother’s Guidance’ post by Rebecca Masinter

Leviticus 19 opens with the words: “And God spoke to Moses saying.  Speak to the entire assembly of the children of Israel and say to them, ‘You shall be holy, for I, HaShem, your God, am holy.’”

Let’s not get into what exactly we are supposed to do to be holy.  Today, I’d like to contemplate that this commandment was given with all of us standing together; men, women, children.  Often, when we think of holy people, we imagine someone living alone on a mountaintop with hours to meditate and learn and grow.  Or maybe we’re  more realistic, but we still think of a holy person as a person who has hours of solitude to learn and pray while sitting in his or her quiet book-lined study.

The Alshich, a transmitter of ancient Jewish wisdom, writes that the Torah is not asking us to isolate or live alone and separate from each other so we can work on being holy and fully self-developed people. Rather, he says, that we specifically should  be amongst other human beings, in the assembly or congregation as the verses above teach.  In order to achieve holiness we have to be with each other.

I find this very relevant in my life as a mother.  Firstly, it is tempting to look back and perhaps think how much more holy I was before I had children.  I prayed much more, I never lost my patience, I learned Torah more, I was more active in charity organizations… But that is incorrect.  Becoming holy happens amongst other people and I am much more deeply entrenched with other people surrounded by my husband and children than I was alone. 

God wants me to be holy as I live closely together with my family. 

And yes, that means that I won’t have as much time to devote to prayer, to learning, to charity organizations.  And yes, it even means I won’t have as much time to devote to my personal growth and development, but that’s the point.  Holiness doesn’t really come from isolation.  Holiness is something I can develop and attain as I work on myself amongst my family and amongst the other people in my life.  Developing good character traits is much easier before you live with others!  But true good character traits come when we live with others and still work on becoming better, more sensitive, caring, and giving people.

By being mothers, having little time for ourselves, we may incorrectly think we’re not attaining holiness.  In reality, the opposite is true.  By working on self-development even as we’re distracted and tired, by giving, by stretching ourselves to greater heights of patience, self-control, and love, we’re attaining holiness the way we’re meant to, not in isolation but among the entire assembly of men, women and children.

Still Mothering: An Update

October 16th, 2018 Posted by Practical Parenting 6 comments

Almost six years ago, I wrote:

My baby came home. O.k., as a third-year medical student, he isn’t technically a baby. He isn’t even technically my baby as three younger sisters arrived after him. And he only came home for four days. But any mother reading this knows what I’m feeling.

There seems to be so little I can do for my children now that they are grown. It filled my heart to be able to cook his favorite meal, prepare his bed with clean sheets and pick him up at the airport. Forgotten is how tiring it was to prepare nutritious meals every night, to do constant laundry (though from about the age of nine my children were responsible for their own clothing) and to be the on-call chauffeur. Also forgotten (almost) is the exhaustion of sleepless nights when he was an infant, the disgust at his joyful eating of slugs in the back yard as a toddler and even my fright and annoyance when as a teenager he almost drove my car off a cliff.

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Too Much Choice?

March 30th, 2017 Posted by Susan's Musings 34 comments

A favorite children’s book in our house was, Who Put the Pepper in the Pot? It describes how, as a pot of soup simmered on the stove, each passing family member added a pinch of pepper. Not surprisingly, by the time dinner was served, the soup was inedible.

A pinch of pepper adds zest to food; too much can ruin it. We can say the same about life choices. It’s wonderful to have choices in life; it is part of being alive.  However, it does seem that each year brings more and more options to young people. Most of these are choices which they have neither the experience nor the maturity to understand.

For many years now, among these choices are how much emphasis to place on a career or profession, whether to get married, and whether to have children (and whether to link the two latter activities). Universities, of course, have their own biases, which tend to minimize marriage and family or suggest that those will be available at any time of one’s choosing.

This week marks my mother’s seventeenth yahrzeit, the Jewish word for the anniversary of a death. During my childhood years, my mother, like most of my friends’ mothers, was “just a mom.” She was always there when I got home from school, she made a supper with a protein, carb and vegetable every night and made sure I had what I needed for school. In pre-computer days, this included a drawer full of magazine articles collected through the years, with pictures from around the world and biographies of interesting people. Since we didn’t have a car it also included taking me on regular bus trips to the library until I was old enough to go independently.

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Can you give too much?

March 15th, 2017 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 12 comments

Question:

First I would like to say thank you for what you do.

My question is how much is too much when a Christian does good things for others? My mom does so much for people she knows and I am happy about that. But sometimes I feel like she overdoes it. 

I know the Bible say we should help, share and be there for others. How much is too much? 

M.

Answer: 

Dear M.,

Thank you for your thank you. We shortened your submission because it was actually three separate questions and we didn’t have room to answer all three. We  also can’t answer your question specifically for Christians, since that isn’t our sphere of knowledge. What we can do however, is share guidelines from ancient Jewish wisdom.

You don’t say why you think your mother overdoes her acts of kindness nor do you reveal your age. Are you a teenager at home who misses your mother because she is out of the house caring for others instead of sharing time with you? (Of course, adults can desire more time with their mothers as well.) Are you worried about an aging mother damaging her health because she takes care of others while ignoring her own physical needs? Are you concerned that your mother is depleting her bank account and will not be able to cover her rent or insurance payments or are you seeing your inheritance being given away and worried about that? Each of these is a different circumstance. Your concerns may be none of the above.  Without knowing, we’ll do our best to respond with general principles.

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Did I Accelerate My Mother’s Death?

December 21st, 2016 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 6 comments

Question:

My Mom passed away suddenly in April.  She had been having intestinal issues for a couple of months & I finally figured out it was from a prescription she was taking.  I had the doctor change it, but less than a week later, she died.  

I blame myself for not discovering sooner the medicine was causing it, and have blamed myself ever since, believing I let her down & am heartbroken.  She was my biggest inspiration.  As you can imagine, I miss her terribly.

 My husband says it is not my fault, and it was her time to go, but I feel I would still have her if I had figured it out sooner.  Do you think we each have a certain time we are appointed to die?

Becky

Answer: 

Dear Becky,

We are truly sorry for your great loss.  What a lovely tribute you give to your mother when you write, “She was my biggest inspiration.”

Blaming yourself is a natural reaction, but we agree with your husband that it is not a correct or productive one. Your letter makes clear (we edited for space; you provided more details) that you and your husband devotedly took care of your mother. If you could see into the future or if you were omniscient, you would have known that her medication was causing a problem; but those powers are not given to us. Her death may be completely unrelated to her treatment, as well. There is no reason to feel bad for being a human being. You did the best you could with the realities you saw.

We do believe that God appoints a time for each of us, however we also believe that human actions can accelerate or delay that time. Otherwise, there would be no reason to punish a murderer or to provide medical care or to pray for someone who is ill. Yet, we mustn’t make the mistake of thinking that we are in charge.

Your loss is still fresh and your emotions are raw. Try not to divert yourself from the pain by focusing on self-flagellation.  You are still in the first year of mourning so rather than repeatedly reliving the medication issue in your mind, focus on all the good times you shared, all the gratitude you feel, and the wonderful example she set.

By sharing your mother’s story you are reminding us all to pay close attention to medicine interactions and of the need to monitor doctors. By sharing memories of her, you can encourage women to recognize their importance as mothers. The pain will never completely go away though it will lessen. The guilt should be abandoned right away.

Sending virtual hugs,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

Update: From Bibs to Boardrooms

December 8th, 2016 Posted by Susan's Musings 11 comments

My husband and I love hearing comments on all our posts, be they Thought Tools, Ask the Rabbi, or my Musings. This week’s Ask the Rabbi question focused on whether retirement meant something different to women and men. One response came from Claire, who started her comment with these words:

Thank you for validating stay at home mothers, especially homeschooling ones. I passed the CPA exam 8 years ago and was just getting ready to return to work (part-time) while my children were in school. I learned more about the Common Core and decided against it. I actually think the way things were being “taught” was part of the reason why my son was confused. I knew he was capable of much more so I decided, once again, to focus on my family first. I began homeschooling him and have been very thankful for that decision ever since. I would say the only difficult “thing” for me is that, at times, I feel uncertain of my future once my children grow…

Claire’s concern resonated with me as I’m sure it did with others. It also reminded me of a very early Musing I wrote almost ten years ago. I thought that some of you might not have all my Musings memorized (just kidding!) and that this piece might deserve reposting. Enjoy.

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Preschool angst

August 31st, 2006 Posted by Susan's Musings 5 comments

Let me get this straight. According to this morning’s Wall Street Journal, America’s preschoolers’ emotional health is being threatened by the high turnover of the staff at their schools. In other words, mothers who aren’t willing to sacrifice their own time and ambitions in order to raise their own children are dismayed that employees who are paid an average of $10 an hour won’t make endless sacrifices and totally commit to those same children.

Having decided as a society that it is o.k. for parents to walk out of full time participation in a child’s life through the medium of divorce, having decided as a society that giving birth to a child should in no way pressure a mother to stay home with that child, we are now aghast that low paid babysitters (which is what they are despite our calling them educators in order to assuage our guilt) feel no commitment to their charges even if their leaving leaves a hole in the child’s heart.

The article urges parents to try and spend more time with the child when a beloved teacher leaves so that the child will feel secure. That is of course, if you’re lucky enough to have a teacher stay around long enough to be beloved. Had parents spent more time with the child in the first place they wouldn’t have needed to pretend that a three year old was better off in “school” than in the home. Children are incredibly adaptable. All sorts of people can and do waltz in and out of their lives– grandparents, aunts and uncles, neighbors, babysitters, – as long as their parents are an unmovable constant and present nucleus. Pretending that quality time beats quantity time or that spending a week’s vacation together can replace the hours of loving attention a child needs is a myth. Making believe that the immense amount of knowledge a two year old can absorb is best transmitted in a formal setting by a staff member is a fable. Transferring the core relationship of motherhood to a preschool employee and then feeling betrayed when that person walks away from the job, might suggest that the entire enterprise was founded on a misguided notion. Anyone fooling themselves into believing that a preschool that advertises a “loving environment” can equal the love that should be found in the home should appreciate the dose of reality supplied by the marketplace.

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