A Woman’s Mesorah
If I craned my neck any further, I would fall out of my chair and make a complete spectacle of myself.
But, listen: a mother’s got to do what a mother’s got to do, even if it requires twisting herself into a pretzel to do it.
And if ever there were a moment for impressive acrobatics, this was it: My 4th grade daughter was starring in her class Shavuos play, and she was about to walk to center stage to sing her big musical number.
I had been given my breathless orders the night before: “Ma, please, please get to school early so you can get a good seat. I need you to film my trio because I really, really want to hear how we sound together.”
(She could just ask my son, who told me the other night that if he hears that song one more time, especially on speakerphone via a three-way conference call, he was going to sue the school for disturbing his peace).
But of course, I didn’t get to school early on the morning of the play. It was hard enough to get there simply on time, and then I had to spend five minutes squeezing my way into a parking spot in the already crowded lot. Once I made it inside the auditorium, the only seat available was behind a very tall woman with a very voluminous sheitel, so getting a clear shot with my camera was going to be tough.
Determined not to disappoint my daughter, I balanced perilously on the side of my chair, stuck out my arm, zoomed in my phone lens, and angled my wrist at the exact number of degrees required to capture the big moment.
My daughter looked both adorably shy and preternaturally confident as she took her place between her two classmates and in front of the microphone, awaiting her teacher’s cues.
At just the right moment, the three girls burst out in song, with words drawn from Megillas Rus, when Rus made the decision to leave Moav and head to Eretz Yisrael with Na’ami, her mother-in-law. “V’Rus Davka Buh,” they trilled in what was supposed to be perfect unison. “And Rus cleaved to her.”
When the song concluded, I burst into rapturous applause, but I had to stifle my laugh. Good thing my daughter was too far away to see me.
I didn’t almost laugh because the girls sounded bad – not at all. They sounded beautiful, you know, in that almost-on-key style elementary school performances are famous for.
And I didn’t almost laugh because I knew these girls had no idea what “cleaved” meant, though they sang the words with enough passion to move a statue to tears.
The reason I almost laughed was the irony of it all: In their tribute to Rus, a woman whom we seek to emulate for her selflessness and her generosity of spirit, these girls were practically elbowing each other out of the way so they could have their moment in the spotlight. One girl (I’m not revealing if it was my daughter) held the microphone so tightly, I thought it might crack in her hand.
Selflessness? Generosity of spirit? Um, not quite.
After the final curtain call, the girls clambered off the stage, and I only laughed some more when I heard what each girl had to say to her mother:
“Did I sound good?”
“Could you hear me over the other girls?”
“Did you get me on camera?”
“Can I see it now?”
Ah. True emulators of Rus.
Okay, I kid. I kid.
At this age, their self-centeredness is perfectly normal.
I’m not worried these girls will grow up to be selfish – I have much more trust in their DNA.
Because I looked around the crowded auditorium, at the women from my community who have daughters my daughter’s age, and I realized our girls are in good hands. My daughter has a room full of modern-day emulators of Rus to whom she can look for inspiration.
To my left, there’s Mrs. A, who holds down a fulltime job but somehow clears space in her schedule for weekly shidduch meetings, even though she currently has no children in the parshah. She is a veritable network machine, spending hours and hours on follow-up calls, shidduch coaching, and holding the hands of mothers and girls who are devastated by rejection – all out of the goodness of her heart. Talk about self-sacrifice.
To my right, there’s Mrs. B, whom I know from Yedei Chesed, the agency to which we both belong as parents of special-needs children. She has two children with special needs, both of whom require feeding tubes for sustenance and wheelchairs to get around, so she is busy with their care for most hours of every day.
I can’t say she never complains – I don’t follow her home, and by all accounts she’s still human – but I can say for certain that she never complains in public. She is the brightest light in every room – warm, encouraging, complimentary – and no matter what she is going through personally, her positivity still feels contagious. Talk about generosity of spirit.
Next, I see Mrs. C and Mrs. D. I don’t know either of them well, but I’m sure if I found the time to get to know them better, I would discover the unique ways in which they are selfless and loyal, whether it be in the way they encourage their husbands to go learn every night, smack-dab in the middle of bedtime, or whether it’s the way they make sure their kids have beautiful clothes for Yom Tov, instead of carving some room in the budget for a new dress for themselves.
Undoubtedly, their daughters, and hopefully mine, will learn from the examples set for them at home.
I don’t hold shidduch meetings and no one would accuse me of never complaining, but coming into Shavuos, I can set an example for my daughter in a million different ways.
I can do it by spending Shavuos morning shushing my children, enticing them away from the bedroom doors and keeping them entertained so my husband and my big boy can get some much-deserved sleep after learning all night – even when I want nothing more than some time alone with my cheesecake.
I can do it by preparing delicious meals even when I’m not in the mood or when my feet ache (I don’t know about you, but for me, milchig meals are four times the patchke – and leave me with four times more dirty pots – but there I go complaining again). The reward is showing my daughter how beautifying Yom Tov for others brings us joy.
Baruch Hashem, most of us are not called upon to leave our palaces to accompany our impoverished, grieving mothers-in-law, but we have citadels of our own where we’re called upon to emulate the matriarch we recognize every Shavuos.
We can be the role models for those little girls still elbowing each other for room in the spotlight. The mesorah we were given on Har Sinai has not only been passed on through men’s Torah learning. The mesorah has been passed on through the generations of women as well – who perhaps live their day-to-day farther from the spotlight, but with contributions that shine just as bright.
Chag Kasher V’Sameach!