By Rabbi Moshe Meir Weiss
As I get ready once again to accept power of attorney to sell people chometz,, let me share with you the following memory. Several years ago when “facilitating the sale of chometz”, I had a remarkable discussion with one of my mispallelim. While we were talking, I discovered that this would be his fourth opportunity to say Birchas HaChamah. In 1925, he was twelve years old – and now as he gets ready to bless the sun the fourth time, he is in his 95th year – may he live to greet the Moshiach.
As we were talking, I asked him if he remembers what the Great Depression was like. He answered in the affirmative and related to me that life in Brownsville, Brooklyn, in the late 1920s and 1930s was very difficult indeed. He remembered how his father was a carpenter and would not have regular work. Rather, he would take his heavy toolbox on his shoulder early each morning and trek to a worksite where he would stand in line together with many other hopeful carpenters, hoping to have a chance to be chosen for a day’s work. The foreman would select a few fortunate individuals and everyone else was sent home in disappointment.
This man said that he remembered, as a young man, the shining wisdom of his mother. Afraid that his father might fall into a depression when he came home dispirited for not being selected to work, she would set out a nice table and offer reviving food to lift his spirits. He recalled that she would buy a box of rotten apples (for this was all that they could afford!) and cut away the bad parts and then wondrously manufacture apple strudel, apple cake, candied apples, and a host of other delicacies. I told him that this wisdom of his virtuous mother, zichrona levracha, is taught to us in the Meam Loez on Parshas Ki Tzaittzay. There, the Meam Loez informs us that the true sign of an Eishes Chayil, a Woman of Valor, is how she behaves when her husband is out of work.
This story got me thinking about our present situation a little less than a century later. As we are reeling from an economic meltdown and suffering through a deep recession, many, many homes are today also facing such challenges. While most of us do not have to buy rotten apples, the problems are of a different nature. The worries about bank foreclosures on homes and cars, utilities being shut down, medical coverage being lost, and tuition not being met, causes the heads of households sleepless nights, stomach agitation, and all different types of stress related ailments. It is here that I would like especially my women readership to absorb the sage words of the Meam Loez: that, in these times of tension, their status of Eishes Chayil is truly put to the test.
As I am writing this, I know that the almost instant reaction, especially of the American reader, is, “Wait, just one minute! Why are you putting this on the women? The men should equally be there for all of the stress that the women have because of today’s economy!” So, let me explain. As we remember the Pesach experience, the Medrash teaches, “She’b’zuchus noshim tzidkonios she’b’oso hador, nigalu – In the merit of the righteous women of that generation, we were saved.” Besides the several extraordinary women that this refers to, such as Yocheved, Miriam, Tziporah, Bisya, and Elisheva, it is also a sweeping statement of praise about the millions of Jewish women in Egypt who, with great courage, encouraged their husbands to continue building Jewish families. The Medrash tells us that the men became broken and crushed and weren’t interested in having more children. They argued, Should we bring children into such a world to be crushed in the walls of Pitom and Ramses or to be faced with a horrible existence of tortuous slavery? The women, however, with wise optimism, rejuvenated their husbands under the apple tress (which we commemorate at the Seder with the eating of charoses) and infused them with new hope to continue to build Klal Yisroel. It was their valor that allowed for the increased Jewish population that Chazal teach us, enabled the years of servitude to end more quickly.
You might argue that the women in Mitzrayim had it easier than the men and that was why they were able to cope better. But, in reality, it is just the opposite. The Medrash tells us that part of Paroh’s diabolical treatment of the Jews was that he gave the men women’s work to do, and men’s work to the women. So, the women were actually doing the hard labor formerly associated with men. Yet, it didn’t break their spirits. To the contrary, they persevered and took the initiative to rekindle the hope and spirit of their families.
This is a very important point that needs to be emphasized as we experience Pesach this year. The women have to take the initiative in bolstering their husband’s confidence in seeking ways to be a calming influence in the home, a source of comfort after the harsh realities of a tough and oftentimes cruel workplace. Our history teaches us, time and time again, good women throughout the ages, have the strength to do this. While we do not have to buy rotten apples, women do have to figure out ways to cut down on household expenses, minimize use of credit cards, and set the tone for this behavior for the entire family.
In the merit of all the wonderful women out there, may we all be blessed with long life, good health, and everything wonderful.
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