Mrs. Yehudis Homnick, Beis Moshiach
One of the two biblical mitzvos of Pesach is v’higadeta l’vincha, recounting the story of the Exodus to the next generation. Things are done seder night specifically to get the children involved. Although the sicha which this article references was said in Tishrei, the lesson about chinuch applies at all times and is especially pertinent on the Yom Tov of Pesach when our focus is on chinuch.
* Reb. Feige Twerski says she remembers a rosh yeshiva at a Torah Umesorah convention, observing that the quality of children raised in our generation falls far short compared to those of prior generations. He attributed this, for the most part, to the fact that children these days aren’t being raised much of the time by their mothers, but by babysitters. Our families are sustained by “leftovers” – energy left over from other pursuits. Husbands and children are not top priority.
* In a recent article in one of the frum magazines, a woman describes arriving at her babysitter’s house. She could hear her baby screaming from five houses away. The babysitter, who looked like she was about to cry, handed her a dirty infant. The woman did not blame the babysitter. She generously asked, “How could she give him proper attention while holding an eight-week-old baby in one arm and a newborn in the other? How could she cope with another four children crawling around, begging to be cared for? She’s dedicated and loving, but she is only human.”
* The baby was up most of the night. So was she. Is it colic? An earache? She is about to teach her class as she worries about child-care arrangements. Will the babysitter be calling to complain about her bringing a sick child who won’t calm down?Will she have to take off from work in order to be with her baby?
* A shlucha wrote an article describing her exhausted state after having a baby, how she went for therapy and was given medication. She believed she had postpartum depression and anxiety which “happened” to her and can happen to anyone, and she urged readers to seek help. And yet, she described how after the birth of her seventh child she enjoyed the first few weeks with her new baby, but then felt she had to get back to life which included: “carpools, Hebrew school, Yom Tov guests, programs and more.” Not surprisingly, she began to have panic attacks and was feeling worse and worse.
There was a Reform rabbi by the name of Herbert Weiner who wrote about his encounters with the Rebbe. There is a particular dialogue that he had which has stayed with me1. He commented to the Rebbe that the Chassidim that he saw had a “a sort of open and naive look in their eyes that a sympathetic observer might call t’mimus (purity) but that might less kindly be interpreted as emptiness or simple-mindedness, the absence of inner struggle.”
The Rebbe said that what was missing was a “kera.” A what? The Rebbe said this means a “split,” which comes from living in two worlds.
It seems to me that women today are attempting to live in two or more worlds. Each of the examples cited above are illustrations of women struggling with contradictions, tension, compartmentalizing, i.e. kera. It mostly comes down to the dichotomy between their home life and other activities. Women are not experiencing harmony in their daily activities. Rather, each thing a woman says “yes” to, means she is saying “no” to something else that is important to her. Wherever she is, she feels she should be somewhere else.2
Being A Single-Minded Mother
By way of contrast, I knew a young woman with four little children who kept them home. No daycare, playgroup or preschool. She was her own children’s mother and teacher and program director. This was in Brooklyn and she did it because she wanted to. She was calm and single-minded, not pulled in different directions.
I imagine that the ones who were thrilled when schools and most workplaces closed due to corona were the babies and toddlers. They got to be home with mommy and weren’t whisked out of their homes early in the morning and handed over to a person hired to watch them along with many others.
The “Chana Model” of Mothering
What does the Rebbe say about mothers and childcare? The following is a sicha that is often quoted but that I don’t see implemented. Here are some excerpts3:
“As told in the Medrash Yalkut Shemoni, when Elkanah would go to Shiloh for the mitzva of aliyah l’regel, he would take along his entire extended family, and every year they would take a different route. Why?
People would ask him, “Where are you all going? Where are you taking so many people?”
He would explain, “I am taking my entire household to be oleh regel to Shiloh.”
Imagine how much was accomplished by Elkanah and his household, including Chana!
After longing and praying for a child for many years, Chana gave birth to a son. When it came time for aliyah l’regel, Elkanah assumed that Chana would come along, as always. But Chana refused to go, explaining, “I have a child and I have to wait until he is weaned, until I have raised him … until then I will remain at home with him.”
Chana was a prophetess. She not only saw G-dliness in Shiloh as all Jews did, but she saw as a prophetess sees.
Elkanah was a wealthy man. He could have hired servants and nurses so that Chana could have traveled easily with the child and the trip would not have harmed him.
But it is understandable that the care and attention that one can give a child in one’s own home does not compare to that which one can give on a journey, even with all the servants and comforts money can buy.
Alternatively, if she didn’t want to take him along, surely Chana could have hired a babysitter for the few weeks she would be gone. In Shiloh she would have filled herself with G-dliness and prophecy, and ultimately her child would have benefited from it as well …
She showed strength and mesiras nefesh by not going up to Shiloh for the first two years of his life in order to ensure that Shmuel would receive the fullest chinuch possible, and on a journey, one cannot be absolutely sure that one can provide as well as at home …
Going up to Shiloh does not compare with what a woman can accomplish by staying home and making sure the home is built on the foundations of Torah and mitzvos in general… and the chinuch of her children in particular.”
That’s all well and good, some might be thinking, but my income is what’s paying the bills. Or, I teach, and the Rebbe values that immensely. In fact, it has been said that after this sicha, the Rebbe’s office was inundated with questions by mothers who taught who asked whether they should resign their positions. The answer was no.
So what was accomplished with this sicha if life went on as before?
The following is my speculation. We know, from various stories about all sorts of things, that often the Rebbe opted not to impose his will. He wanted people to take the initiative and if they asked him what to do he might not answer at all as he waited for the individual to decide. I wonder whether the Rebbe’s response to the teachers would have been different if the women who taught hadn’t asked the Rebbe, “Do you mean I should resign my teaching job?” and instead, they told the Rebbe that they were leaving their job so they could emulate Chana and focus exclusively on their children. Or, what if they figured out a way to ensure that even while teaching or working, their young children were always taken care of by a parent.
At least One Parent With the Children
Another article4 comes to mind that made an impression on me, this one about a woman whose mother was an orphan and could not understand women who left their children to go out to work. Having absorbed this message from her mother, she resolved that her working would not interfere with her family.
She babysat for six years and was able to care for her own children at the same time. However, she started to feel she was enabling something that went against her values by allowing mothers to leave their young children to be cared for by someone else all day.5 She stopped babysitting and pursued other employment while sharing the care of her children with her husband. This wasn’t an easy arrangement for either one of them; it was rather difficult, in fact, but they were committed to having one of them available to watch their children. As long as she had a baby or toddler at home, she never worked in the morning. She worked when her husband could be with the children or the children were asleep.
There were exceptions but overall, their policy was: when a child was home, a parent was home. The author did not think every couple could manage this, yet, she believes that most of the siyata dishmaya she and her husband had was because of their commitment to their values.
I have a friend who did the same thing; either she or her husband cared for their children when the children were young. It’s a decision, a commitment. “The way a person wishes to go, he is led,” and “Nothing stands in the way of ratzon-will.”
1. See https://www.chabad.org/therebbe/article_cdo/aid/524749/jewish/Alone-with-Little-Moses.htm for Herbert Weiner’s article
2. As far as I know, in the seventies, in the United States, frum women did not leave their babies in daycare centers, i.e. in group care in some outside location. It was more prevalent for women to have a babysitter in their home. When Jews left Russia in droves and lived near frum areas in Brooklyn, it was common to see Russian-Jewish babysitters, often Yiddish-speaking, taking care of the one baby in their charge. Perhaps, nowadays, onsite babysitting at schools or other places of work, is the alternative.
Grandmothers are sometimes available. Mishpacha’s Family First magazine had a feature article on babysitting grandmothers. https://mishpacha.com/constant-connection/
3. With thanks to Rabbi Motty Lipskier and the N’shei Chabad Newsletter for the translation of the sicha. Vov Tishrei 5734 (September 1973); Sichos Kodesh 5734
4. Mishpacha, January 15, 2014
5. There are mothers who erroneously think their babies are bored and need playmates. R’ Zushe of Anipol said one of the things we learn from babies is that they are always busy. A Mishpacha magazine columnist noted that mothers these days are playing a bizarre game of “Hot Potato” in which each mother passes her baby on to the next person. Each one pays a babysitter to care for her child as she goes to teach other people’s children.
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