At times, something as simple as a glance around the kitchen table is enough to fill a person with inspiration, the deepest hakoras hatov, and a sense of awe and respect.
In so many frum homes, the kitchen table is akin to a mizbeiach, and most of us just take it for granted.
Let me explain.
As the school year winds down, it is time to step back and contemplate the roles of the greatest heroes of the Jewish home, the Yiddishe mothers.
Every night, in bustling frum homes, the kitchen table, more often than not, becomes the nerve center. That is where snacks and supper are eaten, but it is much more than that. It is usually the place where the Yiddishe mother is somehow multi-tasking and providing one hundred and one different things for every member of her family, as she tries to do the seemingly impossible task of providing for everyone’s needs – physical, emotional, practical – while simultaneously feeling guilty because she can’t possibly do the impossible.
As the school year draws to a close, let us, for one second, try to focus on the task that mothers (and even some fathers) have been performing throughout the year.
The Home: A Safe Haven
Children come home from school. Some have had a hard day, others have had an easier day. Who do they greet first? Their mother. In today’s world, the mother has very possibly been out of the house, working for some part of the day to help support the family, yet she must be fully engaged when that child comes home, and only a mother knows what each child needs. Every child needs a big smile and a warm greeting, but some children need more than that. They need a sympathetic, empathetic ear, an ear that hears not only what the child is saying, but what he or she is not saying. Rav Matisyahu Salomon once said, “The home must be an ir miklot, a city of refuge, for every child, where he or she can be welcomed into a warm cocoon without the pressure of school and all it entails.”
A home must be a warm, happy, non-judgmental place where children can feel loved, cared for and comfortable.
Who is charged with creating the atmosphere of that ir miklot? In general, the Yiddishe mother. No matter how difficult her own day has been, she rallies or at least tries to rally to be there physically and emotionally for each child, with each child’s varied emotional needs.
This is in addition to making supper and trying to maintain the home with a modicum of organization.
And then, after the children are welcomed, shmoozed with and fed, the real fun – homework – starts.
The mothers begin to peer into school bags seeking homework sheets – limudei kodesh, limudei chol – and boys and girls begin to spread out around the kitchen table. The mother must keep track of each one, at times encouraging, cajoling and urging the children.
Often, we are talking about children of multiple ages. There are boys and girls, pre-school, elementary school, middle school and high school ages. All of them have homework, and virtually all of them need their mother’s help. Even when fathers do some of the homework, quite frequently it is still the mothers who have to be on top of things to make sure that they get done.
Many times, they have to figuratively “return to school” to figure out the work that their children need to do in order to help them complete the work.
Especially in a large, multi-aged family, the sheer amount of work and the range of requisite skills are mindboggling, but in tens of thousands of families in our communities, this heroic job is being performed by valiant and superhuman Yiddishe mothers.
With all the theoretical appreciation that we have, we really do not recognize the magnitude of the job that they do and the absolute impossibility of doing it perfectly.
The Ultimate Juggling Acts…of Guilt?
This child is emotionally needy. That child is extremely active and cannot be pinned down for a few seconds, let alone twenty minutes. A third child needs complete silence and undivided attention to maintain focus. “How do I provide for each one’s needs without sacrificing the needs of the others, as well as my husband, and my parents?”
Women in our communities are doing juggling acts that would put to shame the greatest magicians and most talented people in the world. Yet, so many of them are feeling guilty that they are not doing a good enough job.
Too many of them are focused more on what they are not getting perfect than on the amazing, heroic job that they are doing.
Perhaps, as the school year winds down, we should take a second to contemplate what frum mothers the world over are doing and have done for Klal Yisroel.
They are the backbone. They, more than anyone else, are responsible for the success of the family. I know that we bandy around the term “akeres habayis” as a nice slogan. All the girls are taught in Bais Yaakov that their ultimate goal is to be an akeres habayis, yet somehow, in today’s world, the term seems to have lost its luster.
In truth, however, a tiny glance into virtually every Yiddishe home shows that “kishmah kein hu.”
The mothers are the absolute backbone. They often (usually) gladly and with a sense of responsibility accept upon themselves the dual jobs of their own klolah of b’etzev teildi bonim, the tzaar of raising children, as well as having a role in the man’s klolah of ‘b’zei’as apecha tochal lechem,” earning parnossah.
In order to properly care for her children, a mother must also be a teacher, a psychologist, a lawyer, and a doctor, drawing on every talent and latent strength to advocate for her children while meeting their physical and emotional needs.
All this is besides the regular housekeeping tasks and being a devoted wife, mother, daughter and sister.
In an academic sense, we recognize the colossal task that they fulfill, but on a practical level, I think that frum mothers are the most heroic and often under-recognized paragons of Klal Yisroel in existence.
The Ultimate Day and the Ultimate Answer
I have this feeling that on that exalted day when Moshiach comes and all of our questions will finally be answered, someone will ask him, “What was one of the ultimate instrumental factors in bringing you?”
Moshiach might very well open the door to a Yiddishe home, and no, he won’t look to see if it is spotless, if one can eat off the floor, or if the color scheme is perfect. He will point to the kitchen and he will highlight the kitchen table, that holy mizbei’ach, where children are fed, where their mother listens to them and tries to address their emotional needs, where she does homework and keeps track of a million and one things that every mother has to keep track of.
He will look at these heroines, these amazing, reliable and responsible ovdei Hashem who somehow keep track of it all, and say, “It was them. It was what they do every day around that kitchen table, unsung, underappreciated and indispensable. That is why I came. That is why I am here. They are the main reason…”
B’zechus noshim tzidkoniyos nigalu. B’zechus noshim tzidkoniyos asidim lehigo’el (Yalkut M’eam Loez, Parshas Shoftim).