248-968-8072.This was my phone number. For years. It was the number that I learned when I was old enough to learn about phone numbers. It was the number I gave out to my friends to call me. It was the number I called when I was in camp and seminary, and I needed to hear my parents’ voices. It was the number I called after I got married just to say hello, to ask for a recipe or to shmuess. It was the number I continued to call after my mother became a widow, and it was the number I called to see how she was doing when she was sick.
After my mother died there was no reason to call that number anymore. There would be no family members of mine answering the phone. So you might think me a little nuts, but I called it anyway. Sometimes it was because I needed to talk to my mother so badly that I simply had to call, even though logically I knew it made no sense; even though it went straight to the operator, who informed me, “This number is not in service,” I talked anyway. “Hi, Ma. So I really needed to talk to you and tell you what happened today….” And that annoying operator talked straight through my conversations.
Sometimes I had to call to see if that number had been appropriated to someone else. Because that number belongs to my family. And woe to anyone who might claim that number as their own. I will call that person and harass them. I will tell them that this is really my number. I will explain to them that this number belongs to me and my family, and I will beg them to ask the phone company for a new number. Okay, honestly, I wouldn’t do any of that stuff. What would I really do? I would probably call my sisters, and we would be sad together.
As time goes on, I do call less and less. So it was rather surprising when the other day I had that urge to call my mother. I went to the phone and started dialing. 248-96 and my finger almost pressed the 7 not the 8! That would be the number to my aunt, to whom I speak frequently. I couldn’t believe it. Is her number becoming more familiar to me then my own old number? I always dialed it by rote. I didn’t really think about it. Has “my rote” changed? The thought was sharply painful for me.
Then my brain kicked in. I thought, “What is rote?” Rote is doing something over and over again without even thinking about it. It is okay if the number I dialed by rote had changed. It isn’t a significant action that must be done with thought. I had to re-orient myself for a minute to put things in the proper perspective.
On the other hand, there are many things that must be done with thought that can so easily become rote. Davening, saying berachos, the way I talk, following clothing trends…. But dialing a phone number can become habit or not. It’s not important.
While driving the other day, the song והערב נא began playing. Every time I hear it touches something in me. As a mother of boys, I have my hopes.
I want my children to grow up to be those perfect adults. Adept at handling all of life’s challenges. Proficient in halachah. Capable in whichever area they work. The kindest husbands and the perfect fathers. Of course, I hope that regardless of the path they take, they become talmidei chachamim, ehrliche Yidden, true ovdei Hashem and big yerei Shamayim. In a word, I want them to be perfect.
With yeshivah and school now starting, my dreams have been reawakened. What will this year bring? Will this year’s rebbi be a good match for my child? Will it go smoothly or will there be many challenges? Each child is so different. But will this be the year that each one will reach that level of absolute perfection?
Do I live in La-La Land?
I know that there is no such thing as a perfect person. Even in my own children, perfection doesn’t exist. But how I hope that amongst the imperfections there will be ehrlichkeit, yiras Shamayim and ahavas Yisrael. Is there something that I can do to help make it happen? And can the answer please be an easy one?
The truth is, I don’t live in La-La Land. I know that there is no easy answer. The answer is about me, and it is truly a hard one. It is to teach by example. Live the way I want my children to be. Am I a good example? Is my life like dialing a deeply ingrained phone number? Do my days follow one another without much thought? Do I do everything out of habit, without any hislahavus?
We pass so much of who we are on to our children.
So I got thinking: “What have I learned from my parents and grandparents, and am I passing it down to my children?”
Some of the lessons that I learned from my father, and his father, are about staying on the straight and narrow path in all areas of halachah. I learned about honesty and integrity at all costs. I saw the importance of having a set time for learning and keeping to it, no matter what. I learned about having a close connection a rav or a rebbe.
And from my mother and her mother, I learned about tznius, vatranus and concern for others. I learned about the middah of giving and loving your family. And my mother showed us what chesed is. Quietly helping out others. I saw her working on her faith when facing crisis and remaining upbeat during challenging times.
There is a tapestry woven full of messages and morals for me. I have so many ways to make sure that I go through my day while being aware of what I am doing and making the day count.
Incorporating these lessons into my life on a daily basis will trickle down to my children. I know that this is what will help my children grow up to be, if not perfect people, true yirei Shamayim.
A while back, my daughter’s school had a roundtable discussion with the mothers. There was a panel of teachers, and each teacher had a turn to answer a submitted question. The answers sparked a lot of back and forth between the mothers and the teachers.
I looked around, and I saw realness. I heard sincerity. I felt earnestness. Regardless of our differences we all want the same thing. To raise our children to be ehrliche, ovdei Hashem. And oftentimes we feel confused about how to reach this goal.
Thinking about this, the word mesorah came to mind. We each have our own mesorah from our parents and grandparents that we want to hand down to our children. I have my own personal mesorah, just as each mother sitting in that room has hers.
It might be from a Bubby, Babbi, Oma or Grandma. But all of us mothers are connected by the desire to pass down our personal mesorahs. We might come to a roundtable event, call a teacher or seek out the advice of a rav to guide us. But we mothers have the power. Through actions more than words we can help our children be the best they can possibly be. That night as I looked around I realized our capabilities and our desires to continue to pass down what we have from our ancestors.
Which brings me to my own grandmother.
Recently my grandmother was niftar. Following her petirah, I was flooded with childhood memories. I remember going to her house for yamim tovim and spending time with all the cousins. I can picture her peeling apples on chol hamoed Pesach, giving my mother a list for the grocery store and putting on her tasteful jewelry on a yom-tov morning.
I can feel the excitement when we knew my grandparents were coming, loaded up with gifts for a two-week visit. I can see them sitting at our table eating supper and them taking their daily walks. I can picture my grandmother making her Hungarian gefilte fish in my mother’s kitchen and baking her heavenly kokosh cake.
My grandmother was very quiet. She kept to herself, always a little bit on the sidelines. Perhaps her quiet nature and unobtrusive way of getting things done speaks louder than any words.
After her petirah I turned to my aunts and uncle and asked them to tell me more about my Babbi. She was eighteen years old, the youngest of ten children, when the Nazis stormed her village and deported her to Auschwitz. She lost her father, stepmother, six siblings, six sisters- and brothers-in-law and many nieces and nephews. While two of her remaining siblings went to live in Eretz Yisrael, she decided to follow her older sister to America. And so this quiet woman came to a new country, leaving behind what was once familiar and had been shattered.
She came to this strange country after growing up in a small shtetl on a farm. Her father was a tremendous talmid chacham and a Belzer chassid who ardently followed the Rebbe and spent the Yomim Nora’im with him.
My grandfather, on the other hand, was from Czechoslovakia. He grew up in a more cultured, bustling city. He was an Oberlander, with very different minhagim from the Chassidim.
Before the war a shidduch with a Hungarian farm girl would have been laughable.
But he also came to America after losing his whole family in the war. He had harrowing experiences and was ready to rebuild. I don’t know who their shadchan was, but together they were ready to start rebuilding.
Coming as they were from two totally different backgrounds, one would have thought they would disagree over minhagim, each wanting to continue what they had learned from their own parents. But my grandmother was 100% mevater. As far as anyone knows (aside from not eating gebrokts), she never once said, “But my father, a tremendous talmid chacham, did it this way.” She knew that to have shalom she would need to accept her new husband’s ways. And she did.
I think it is safe to say that vatranus was what defined her. She was happy to give anything to anyone. She just needed to know that those around her were content. Even as she lay on her deathbed, she worried about each person who came in. Are they hungry? Do they have a place to sleep? She couldn’t relax until she knew that her guests were well taken care of.
The lessons we learned from her are precious. She taught us how to find our inner strength and to carry on despite the struggles we might have. She taught us how to live in the moment and appreciate what we have. She taught us to quietly get things done, to make sure everyone feels good and not to make problems where none exist. She taught us about being machsihiv Torah. She would never stop or disturb my grandfather from learning. Whatever was going on could always wait until Zayde was finished.
As I mentioned, Babbi stayed on the sidelines. We knew where we could find her, but she didn’t need to be noticed. I always wanted to know more about her. What was her life like growing up in the shtetl? What were her war experiences? How did she come to America? What was it like to get married with the only family in attendance at her wedding her older sister? But she wasn’t a talker. It was hard to get her to share. And besides, there was always next time to ask.
There is no next time anymore. Babbi left this world and with her went all her memories and all her experiences. But my dignified Babbi gave over so much to us. Not with words but through actions.
It’s her actions that left indelible impressions on her progeny.
I saw this from my mother, her daughter. My mother experienced so much suffering. But she was always ready to continue onward. She never let herself get sucked into self-pity. She never let her suffering stop her from being there for others, and she appreciated the positive moments amidst the suffering.
All this is part of my mesorah, and I want to pass it down. The mother sitting next to me that night might have learned other things from her parents and grandparents. But we all have similar goals: to pass down to our children what our ancestors held dear.