The Mother is the High Priest of the Home
When the Jewish woman recognizes the significance of all her actions within her home, she is able to perceive how the Jewish home can be considered a mini-Temple. Mundane household chores take on a new dimension
The quality of a person’s life is determined by the attitude the individual chooses to hold about his life. Some will say, "Well, I don’t have a positive attitude toward life because I wasn’t born with that kind of disposition.” It’s true that some people may have to work harder than others to attain a positive attitude, but it is still attainable if enough intellectual energy is directed toward that aim. That’s what so many of us don’t realize. Happiness is the result of a cognitive process. It involves developing the mental flexibility and creativity to see things from different, and essentially more enlightened, perspectives. The more we exercise these intellectual abilities, the easier it will be to be happy with life. This is done by belief and trust in G-d and with the knowledge that all His deeds are for our good.
Changing diapers, scrubbing washing dishes — these can easily be considered “dirty work.” But with just a little mental exertion added on to the physical exertion, the underlying joyful purpose of these chores — which is their spiritual dimension — can become clear, and the work actually become uplifting. A mother is showing kindness, which is one of the pillars of the world, when she changes her child’s diaper. She can think, “May I merit to raise a child for G-d, a Torah scholar or the wife of a Torah scholar.” Then she gets the reward for supporting Torah at the very same time!”
The Talmud relates a story about Rabbi Akiva, who once went on a journey. He took with him a donkey to carry his luggage, a rooster to wake him in the morning, and a candle by which to learn Torah.
He arrived at a certain village at the end of the day looking for a place to sleep for the night. But not one of the villagers would allow him to sleep at his home. Having no other option, he camped in a nearby field for the night.
It was not long before a lion came and devoured his donkey, a cat ate his rooster, and the wind blew out his candle.
The next morning Rabbi Akiva got to see how all these troubles had really been for his good, when he visited the village again and saw that robbers had attacked the villagers and taken them as prisoners. In fact, the robbers had passed through the field where he had been sleeping, but there was no donkey’s braying to give him away; neither was there a rooster crowing nor light for them to find him.
All G-d does is for the best.
A positive attitude, sprinkled with a sense of humor, can greatly assist in bridging troubled waters. A deep understanding that gam zu letovah — yes, even this problem is actually for the best — can immensely ease the strain of a struggle. Hardships and troubles, in any area, can be overcome and sometimes even transformed into blessings when a positive view is reached.
A couple who try hard to confront the many challenges of marriage from a positive perspective will discover that their experiences can actually present an opportunity for mutual growth and understanding. People who go through such challenges and difficulties together usually become closer to one another.
Even if you find fault in your spouse, you can often use this fault in a positive way. After Yaakov Avinu severely criticized Shimon and Levi for their actions in Shechem, he said, "I will divide them in Yaakov and scatter them in Israel.” Rashi explains that teachers of children come from the tribe of Shimon; that is why they will be dispersed. This is surprising: if Yaakov was angry with Shimon for what he did, how could he entrust him with the education of the children of Israel? Indeed, Yaakov was upset with Shimon and Levi for not consulting with him, however Yaakov saw in Shimon’s act selfsacrifice and zeal as well, and so he directed these traits towards education, channeling them into a positive direction.
Rabbi Yosef Chaim Zonnenfeld was a leading figure in the old yishuv in Jerusalem. His advice and assistance were prized by all. His admirers supported him financially, and Rabbi Yosef Chaim, in turn, distributed much of these donations to the needy.
One year, as erev Pesach crept closer, the expected donations had still not materialized. When the money finally did come, the Rabbi’s good wife realized that it was too late to both distribute the charity among the members of the community and do her own preparations and shopping for the holiday. She consulted her husband, who instructed her to distribute the money.
”Some people,” he explained, "need to have the yom tov necessities in order to celebrate a joyful holiday. As for us, our joy comes from within. We will have a happy holiday regardless.” He continued, “You will surely be let into Gan Eden for this action, but it is doubtful if I too will merit this. Please say that you want them to let me in too, as you won’t enjoy it there without me.”
If we can concentrate on the joy that we can give to our other halves, our anxiety and disappointment over problems arising from external factors will not be able to disturb our marital relationships. It isn’t easy but it is within our reach.
From her first appearance at the beginning of Bereishis, we see that woman was imbued with two seemingly contradictory traits. While the Torah refers to the first man by only one name, Adam, it calls the first woman both Chava and ishah. The name Chava was given to emphasize how she was “the mother of all life” (Bereishis 3:20). Her paramount function was to give life, to nurture, and to make the home. Yet woman was also called ishah, the root of the word indicating woman’s ability to develop her ishiyus, her own unique personality and talents, aside from the demands made on her in her universal role as mother. These two roles do not contradict each other. Indeed, by being a wife and mother she can develop her personality and her talents even more effectively.
The ability to successfully fuse together "motherhood" and "personality" results from the binah yeseirah, the extra dimension of understanding with which women are endowed. We can comprehend subtle differences between people and know how best to deal with them. This additional measure of insight which bestows upon every woman is given to her primarily so that she can fulfill her role as wife and mother while simultaneously developing a stable and joyous personality. The one depends on the other: through fulfilling her role as wife and mother she can develop a subtle and joyous personality, which in turn shines on her surroundings, uplifting and guiding her family.
What is the ideal fusion of these two roles? "kol kevudah bas melech penimah" — The glory of a princess is inward” (Tehillim 45:14). Beyond referring to the womanly virtue of modesty, this verse is meant to demonstrate a fundamental Torah ideal. In Torah Judaism, the woman is not a seeker of the public eye. Her fine qualities and talents are directed inward, to home and family. In contrast, the man is the one whose role is directed outward — to act in society at large.
But rather than viewing the woman’s position as demeaning, the Torah exalts the role of mother and homemaker. The home is everything in Judaism. She who nurtures and runs the home is really in a position of the utmost importance and responsibility. A woman’s ability to internalize this truth and recognize the importance of what she does results in the highest form of personality development. Furthermore, if the mother is Jewish her children will be Jewish but if the father is Jewish and the mother a non-Jew the child will be a non—Jew, because the woman is the essence of the home.
When the Jewish woman recognizes the significance of all her actions within her home, she is able to perceive how the Jewish home can be considered a mini-Temple. Washing dishes, scrubbing floors or mending clothes all acquire a new dimension. When the Jewish woman knows she is coordinating a service of G-d within the realm of her own home, like the High Priest in the Beis HaMikdash, the Temple, her joy is radiant, and the nature of her home is transformed. It becomes a great deal more than a physical building.
Every man views his home as a sanctuary allowing him to relax from the constant pressure society places on him. Daily, he must confront criticism, fulfill the demanding expectations made of him, and keep pace with the competition. His home — with its essence being his wife — should be, by contrast, a place of welcome and acceptance. Creating such a home is the G-d-given task of the woman.
Adapted from "Two Halves Of A Whole" by Rabbi Yirmiyohu & Tehilla Abramov. Available at www.jewishfamily.org