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Show – Don’t Tell

Yitti Berkovic

Over the last decade, my family has been the subject of some good-natured ribbing. My husband and kids are saddled with a mother who writes about them all the time – without the protective cover of a pseudonym – and because they never read my articles in print, they get recaps of what I write about them whenever they bump into Brooklyn friends and relatives in the know.

It was easier when my kids were too little to understand, too oblivious for me to have to think twice about what I should and should not write about them. But now they’re old enough to get it, and it sometimes feels like I’m walking a tightrope as I try to figure out what I can share and what I should keep close to the vest.

They are entitled to their privacy, even if I have a deadline… I guess.

But despite my careful discretion, Tehilla still gets teased when I write about her only-girl shenanigans, and Tzvi rolls his eyes (good-naturedly?) when readers bring up his struggles with getting along with his only sister. Ezriel, who is six, is the only one whose face lights up when he hears he’s been featured in an article – he even makes pitches for what I should write about him next. “Tell them I just read my first chapter book, Ma!” (Look for that thrilling article next month).

Then there’s my long-suffering husband. 

Yossi understands that the occasional joshing he receives is par for the course for marrying a writer with an imperfect filter, and he shrugs it off like the thick-skinned veteran he is. But I can’t help but think about how I’d feel if the tables were turned.

What if, for one week, I offered the reins to my husband?

What if he took control of my laptop, and he reported on the flaws and foibles he sees in me?

Let’s just say he’d have a wealth of material to draw from.

I don’t know if I’m thick-skinned enough to have my husband turn the spotlight in my direction (good thing he loathes creative writing almost as much as I hate morning alarm clocks). But, if given the opportunity, he could write about a million-and-one things I do that drive him crazy, like how often I rewash the towels because I’m too tired at night to put them in the dryer, how I can sleep like a rock even when a baby is screaming, and how, no matter how early I go to sleep, I still can’t get out of bed in the morning.

Or, knowing this is a Shavuos-themed article, he could home in on one of my other bad habits: how I always seem to need his help the minute he opens a sefer to learn.

Ouch. 

Now that’s an article that would hurt.

It’s a sore spot – more for me than for him. He chalks it up to typical wife behavior, but I know it’s an area where I can be a lot better.

I value his learning, I am proud of his learning, and I encourage his learning. 

So why does it happen?

Why, when he opens a sefer or heads to the door to meet a chavrusa, does it draw me like a magnet, like a moth to a flame, like a kid who hears the snack drawer opening? 

Why, when he is about to immerse himself in a sugya do I suddenly think of all the things I need him to do?

Here’s what it sounds like when he makes his way over to the sefarim shrank:

“Yoss, I don’t want to disturb your learning, but I have a quick question…”

“Before you sit down, would you mind helping me get Yehuda to bed?”

“Any chance you can do Tzvi’s night seder carpool and finish your learning when you get back?”

Maybe it’s the same strange urge my kids have when they see me opening my laptop to try to churn out an article. It’s that alarm bell that goes off in our heads, telling us the person we rely on most might be unavailable for a bit, and we aren’t sure we’ll be able to manage without them. 

Speaking of writing, if you ever take a creative writing class, the teacher will instruct you, “Show – don’t tell.”

Instead of telling your readers that that your character is angry, show them by describing how his face turns red, his throat tightens up, his voice rises, his fist slams on the table. When you show, you don’t have to tell.

Maybe there’s room to incorporate that writing lesson into my own life.

My sons and my daughter are watching me. They imbibe the lessons I share implicitly even more than the ones I say out loud.

I know that from my own life experiences. Though my teachers in school and seminary extolled the value of Torah learning, it was my parents who showed me that Torah learning is the bedrock of a Jewish home. My mother is the one who shouldered bedtime because my father had a nightly chavrusa. My mother was the one who cleared the dinner table, who did the night seder carpools, who headed to simchos alone because she did not want to disrupt my father’s learning schedule. 

She bent over backwards not to disturb my father while he was learning – so I’m not sure why my apple has fallen so far from her tree. 

On Shavuos, we celebrate the gift of the Torah we were given millennia ago, a gift we reaccept every year because we understand that it’s a gift that must be reacquired: with action and with soul, naaseh v’nishma

If I want my kids to believe that I value Torah learning above all else – their father’s Torah learning and their Torah learning – they have to see it to believe it.

I know. It’s easy for me to write about, but a lot harder for me to do. (When I hear the story of how Rochel sent Rabbi Akiva back to yeshivah to learn for twelve more years, I can’t help but wonder, “Didn’t she need his help around the house?”).

But, as a woman, I play a much bigger role in this Yom Tov than just whipping up cheesecake or ordering floral arrangements: I need to embrace my role in supporting Torah-learning in my home, with a mesiras nefesh that is uniquely mine.

 

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