Monday, May 12, 2014
It's Not Too Late- A Letter to a Chassidic Mother
I didn't want to discuss my feelings about Mother's Day yesterday. Talking of how my my mom died on that day, just didn't seem right. I felt as I'd be adding a sad note to a day, that for many people has a lot of meaning and joy. So, I was silent. I “liked” a whole bunch of posts and pictures, and enjoyed my friend's happiness, even as I felt a twinge of jealousy. I also read several articles and a post by my friend Malky, which got me thinking. While Frimet Goldberger, a former Satmar chossid wrote of a partial reconciliation with her mother, Malky, who comes from the same community wrote of the poor relationship with her mother which has never healed. Finally, I read Ruth Margalit's moving article, about being “unmothered” on Mother's Day. Moved by the ideas shared by these three insightful women, I share the following letter, written to a fictitious mother whose child has chosen a different course for her own life. (Although it is addressed to a mother, it expresses an idea that just as easily could apply to a father as well).
Dear Mrs. Schwartz,
I hope you'll forgive me, a total stranger, for writing to you. Although we come from very different worlds, I believe that my thoughts might be helpful to you.
I remember the first time I came home from yeshiva having learned about what the Pesach seder was supposed to be. I eagerly awaited the night of the seder, when my family would join in a long discussion and analysis (forgive me, I was a bit of a Litvak) about the Exodus from Egypt. I prepared various divrei Torah and topics of discussion which would involve my whole family. I'm sure you can imagine my disappointment when, after my second devar Torah, my father A”H, who never received a yeshiva education, made it clear that he was hungry, and not in the mood for any more long discussions. This was not a one time event. Each year, including in all the years after I married and had children of my own, the seder was heavy on food, but light on discussion, at least as far as sippur yetziyas Mitzraim. After my father passed away, I had the opportunity to conduct sedarim of my own. They had everything that I had ever wanted, discussion, analysis, singing and meaning. Well, everything except for my father. Despite the fact that I greatly enjoy my sedarim, I would give anything for one more rushed seder with my father.
I have only an outsider's understanding of your community, but I believe that in many ways, people are people. Chazal say that a father is never jealous of his son. This is generally understood to be a positive statement, but I think there is something a little dark hiding behind these words. At least in some cases, the reason a parent is not jealous of her child is because parents sometimes live vicariously through their children. Both their children's successes, as well as their children's failures, are seen by the parent as their own. We all invest so much in our children; time, money and hope, and we want the best for them. Often, the best we want, is what's best for us, assuming that what we want must be right for our children. It is indeed a comforting feeling to see one's children live a life similar to our own. What of the child who takes a different path? How can we not feel a twinge of disappointment when our son or daughter picks a different path?
HaShem has given us all bechira chofshis, free-will. Inherent in that gift, is the opportunity to live in the way he asks of us, or to reject it. Even then, even when it is objectively what He, as the creator knows is best for us, he still loves us. Af al pi sh'chat'u, banai heim, regardless of our choices, we remain God's children. How much more so should we, as mere humans, make this same choice? Is this not another instance where we are commanded to follow in God's ways?
In no way do I make light of your pain. I'm sure that it must be hard to see so many of your neighbors have children who all live according to the ways of your community. Perhaps you wonder whether some of your friends blame you for how your children turned out. I ask of you, for your child's sake, for your grandchildren's sake, and for your own sake as well, to not hurt them or yourself. As much as we don't like to think about it, none of us live forever. There will come a time when it is too late for hugs, apologies, acceptance and all that comes with being a mother and grandmother. Take advantage of the opportunity for reconciliation. You have so much to gain, and nothing to lose.