10 Shvat 5781 / Saturday, January 23, 2021 | Torah Reading: Bo
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Sometimes, it Must Be “No”    

Sometimes, it Must Be “No”

Our families should come first. Only when they are taken care of 100%, should we start to invest any remaining time and energy into helping others...


I’m currently going through Womens’ Wisdom again, and one of the things that’s repeated in the book time and time again is that children are a mirror of their parents. If your child is an angelic, popular, wonderful little darling, then you can sit back and try not to feel too smug.
But if, like most of us, you can see that wonderful as your child is, they have some way to go in about a thousand different ways, then you suddenly understand that it’s not really them that has a way to go: it’s you.
Last week, I was having a running battle with my girls. Repeatedly, I told them: a) not to feed the stray cats coming in to our garden; b) not to give them milk; and c) not to try and pick them up and stroke them.
All last week, my kids ignored me, despite the fact that I was getting increasingly agitated that one cat in particular was really starting to feel (almost) at home. Israeli cats are not like ‘normal’ cats. They are a light year more clever and calculating, and a small human child is simply no match for them. I knew that sooner or later, that cat was going to make a break for it into our house – and then, I’d go absolutely ballistic.
I am many things, but ‘animal lover’ is not one of them.
But try as I might, nag as I might, threaten as I might, I simply couldn’t get my kids to take me (and the cat ‘threat’) seriously.
I knew they were a mirror of me, but I really didn’t have a clue what behaviour I was meant to be fixing to sort out the cat fan club.
Until last Friday morning: Last Friday morning, I suddenly decided that I had to take my husband to Kever Dan, to show him the finished covering that we’d sewn for Dan’s Tomb, and do some hitbodedut.
In the old days when I worked, I never managed to cook for Shabbat before Friday afternoon. Old habits die hard, and even though I could (in theory) cook for Shabbat a good six days in advance, somehow, I just can’t.
It’s not as last minute as it used to be, but I definitely won’t be winning any prizes for the most organised Shabbat-eve person.
But I’d shopped; I’d got a couple of things done already, and barring any unforeseen circumstances, I’d have plenty of time to get everything else sorted out.
We got to Kever Dan, had a nice pray for an hour, and just as I was about to leave, a woman with a baby and a toddler came over to me and asked me if I had a car.
Kever Dan is NOT Kever Rachel. There are very few people that visit, and the visitors are sporadic, at best.
I asked the woman where she needed to go, and she told me ‘Bet Shemesh’ – which is around 10 mins drive from Kever Dan. I did a quick mental calculation – Bet Shemesh is the opposite direction from where I live – but figured, hey, an extra 20 minutes in the car, no problem.
Except, when we got to Bet Shemesh, it turned out she really wanted to go to ‘Ramat Bat Shemesh’ – which was another 10 minute drive away from where we needed to go, just to get to the outskirts. I started to have a enormous fight with my evil inclination, to keep hold of my ‘good’ feeling, and not lose the mitzvah that I was really starting to see was not such a good idea.
But I failed miserably. When we reached Ramat Bet Shemesh, I had an enormous attack of the ‘shabbos stressies’; that feeling that time is limited, I have 17 guests coming, and all I’ve made is one chicken…
I started whispering to my husband about letting our passenger out at the nearest bus stop, but he is my better half in every sense of the word. “We’ve come this far,” he whispered back, “we may as well take her home.”
I looked over my shoulder at the woman with her baby, and her two year old who had conked out on the back seat, and I knew my husband was right. I pasted my fake smile on my face, and I tried very hard not to be resentful that she’d asked for a lift; that she’d told me the ‘wrong’ place; that she clearly wanted a lift all the way home to her house; and that I was starting to be late for Shabbat as a result. I kept trying to remind myself that it was all a small test from Hashem – one which I knew I’d stuffed up.
We got home much later than planned, and I started frantically scurrying around the kitchen, trying to cook Shabbat. The kids came home from school, and I yelled at them when they asked for something to eat. I was S-T-R-E-S-S-E-D. I was busy doing mitzvahs – for every other person in Israel – and clearly, feeding my own children would have to just wait.
Did you forget about the cat?
I didn’t.
Suddenly, it spotted its chance and jumped in through the kitchen window – straight into the middle of the almost ready first course.
I went ballistic. Shabbos stressies combined with stray-cat-in-my-kitchen-itis = an awful lot of yelling. My whole family ducked for cover, ran upstairs, and didn’t come down for half an hour, until I’d calmed down and worked something else out about the food.
As I lit my Friday night candles, I took a few minutes to do some extra hitbodedut. I apologised to Hashem for losing my temper with the kids and for resenting my erstwhile hitchhiker, and that’s when He let me into how it was all connected.
When I got asked for the lift at Kever Dan, I should have said ‘no’. I should have understood that Hashem would send her someone else, and not listened to my ego, which was telling me that ‘I’ was the only one who could help this woman.
‘I’ had other things to do – like making Shabbat for my family and guests, and ensuring that things were ticking over properly in my home. There’s a rule that if you are already busy with one mitzvah, you are exempt from doing another.
I should have realised what my priority was – my home and family – and not tried to act like some super-duper holy person.
My kids really were my mirror. All week, their evil inclination was telling them that it was a mitzvah to look after the stray cats; that without all the milk and food they were shtupping down them, the cats would starve to death. Clearly, Hashem would send these cats whatever sustenance they needed, without my girls getting involved.
What they thought was a ‘mitzvah’ was really no mitzvah – as they saw when the cat ruined half of Shabbat lunch.
Ditto for me: helping the woman when I had so many other things going on was no mitzvah. But I wanted to feel like ‘I’m’ special; ‘I’m’ doing something special – and in the process, I forgot that if Hashem wanted this woman to get home, He would arrange a lift for her two minutes after I left with a person who actually lived where she needed to go.
In Womens’ Wisdom, Rav Arush makes it clear that our families should come first. Only when they are taken care of 100%, should we start to put any remaining time and energy into helping others.
So next time I get asked to take someone home on erev Shabbat, Bezrat Hashem, I’m going to think very carefully before I say ‘yes’.

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  2 Talkbacks for this article    See all talkbacks  
  very insightful and helpful article (only subject)
Hadassah6/13/2011 12:28:29 PM
  feeding cats
Rosa2/6/2011 4:30:08 PM

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