Women & Judaism

Elul – The Effects We Have on Others

I think all of us have experienced an intuitive, visceral reaction at the mention of certain people’s names or seeing any of these same individuals in person. On the up side, some people are the bearers of a bright and positive energy. I have friends who make me smile even before they say anything amusing, and others have such generous, giving natures that I am warmed just by being in their presence. I am blessed to have people in my life whose eagerness to help me meet the obligations and deadlines in my hectic schedule is invaluable, and I am grateful for their devotion. Some people are blessed with a rare emotional intelligence that is transmitted in finely nuanced ways. Others inspire confidence in us, and we automatically feel free to confide in them and solicit their advice.

Many people have shared with me how my sister Chaya (the Tzeilemer Rebbetzin), tichyeh, conjures up the image of a “queen mother” ministering to her kingdom, while my sister Blima, tichyeh, true to her name, which means “flower,” immediately fills a room with her engaging personality. The fragrance of her person exudes a vitality and an embrace of life that is uplifting. Then, of course, there are inevitably some the mere thought of whom make us cringe, those who have either deliberately or inadvertently brought sullen, negative energy into our lives.

Esther, for example, still speaks of her mother-in-law, who is long deceased. The mere mention of her name brings a shadow of pain to her face. Although her mother-in-law no doubt had many wonderful qualities, she was mean-spirited and critical when it came to Esther. On a cognitive level, Esther knows that this negative influence on her life is gone. Viscerally, though, the damaging memories continue to have an adverse effect on her.  Abby was one of those people whose victim mentality made her feel shortchanged in life. The result was that she begrudged others the good that was theirs and therefore not hers. She brought an “ayin ra’ah,” literally a “bad eye,” a jaundiced view of life to every encounter. Needless to say, people did not relish or warmly anticipate her presence. 

The point of examining how the people in our lives affect us, especially at this time of year, is that this exercise is germane to the coming month of Elul and the Yomim Nora’im. These are times when we are urged to take inventory of our conduct, middos, goals and aspirations. Moving forward is achieved by taking a good, hard look at ourselves. I would venture to say that what our presence evokes in others is a reliable barometer of our behavior “bein adam lachaveiro,” our interpersonal relationships and spiritual well-being in general. If we find that there is a deficiency in this area, the likelihood is that our relationship with Hashem is suf fering as well.

More often than not, the inability to negotiate a positive relationship in both categories has its source in a lack of self-acceptance, a feeling of unworthiness and an inner black hole that sucks up all the light that could otherwise create positive energy. The litmus test to which we might subject ourselves is to objectively observe the reaction of the significant people in our lives to our presence. These would include husband, children, parents, friends and business associates. Does a positive energy escort us, or do we bring black clouds wherever we go? Do people seem happy to see us? Does a smile come to their lips and a sparkle to their eyes with our entrance? The good news is that self-awareness gives us the tools to alter the dynamics of our relationships. 

Since these days are a time for introspec tion and confrontation of our shortcomings, I have a personal confession to make. Our Sages counsel us to strive for balance in our interactions with our children, advising “smol dochah v’yamin mekareves,” the left hand should push away while the right hand draws close. Ostensibly, they mean that there is a simultaneous need for both discipline and love.

Typically, a mother’s role (for better and for worse) is seeing to it that her children “toe the line.” Being the primary nurturer who spends the most time with her offspring naturally translates into acting as the enforcer of the rules of proper behavior. Predictably, this is not conducive to winning a popularity contest. Fathers, who spend the bulk of their time either learning or working, enjoy the privilege of waltzing into the house and embracing their children with unconditional love, free of the judgment and criticism a mother must often voice as part of her parenting role. While it is true that there is an exception to every rule and that in some instances the roles are reversed, this is the case more often than not. For the most part, my own situation has reflected the classic role of being the “heavy” in the family.

My husband’s fortunate stance, borne largely of his preoccupation with learning, catering to and counseling others, has permitted him to be impervious to the brief and passing negative stages in our children’s lives. Of course, this has frequently left me “holding the bag.” There is no question that our children’s respect and love extend equally to both of us. If there is a difference it is subtle at best. Nonetheless, immediately upon entering the house or calling on the phone they inquire, “Where’s Tatty?” or “Where is Zaidy?” Literally and figuratively they seek the embrace of unconditional love.

Of course, they look for Mommy and Bobbi “also,” which in my more sensitive and vulnerable moments is cause for chagrin. I am an “also”! I have often jokingly commented to my children that in the next gilgul (reincarnation) I want to be the oblivious, non-confrontational, loving “Tatty.” Until then, I’ve been working on myself to adopt a more even-tempered attitude of total acceptance. If I notice a departure in their behavior that I deem inappropriate, I address it to the Master of the World. I ask Him to intervene on their behalf and give them clarity. Obviously, it is in His power to do that which I cannot. Perhaps not surprisingly it makes me feel better and lessens the heavy, prosecutorial sense of responsibility. Moreover, I no longer feel upset that my husband can enjoy the “yamin mekareves” role in a way that did not formerly seemavailable to me. I am even beginning to think that one day the presence of Mommy and her “also-ness” might even evoke the same visceral reaction in the family as that of Tatty!

Indeed, this is the season for change, for reinforcing the positive and taking steps to divest ourselves of the negative. The Ribbono Shel Olam assures us that a small move in the right direction will open up worlds of opportunities for us, as it states, “Open up for me an opening the size of the eye of a needle and I will open up for you an opening the size of a huge hall.” May Hashem bless all of us with a joyous and productive New Year.


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