Between preparing the Kiddush, serving meals, and tending to the kids, is there a way to make Shavuos a meaningful Yom Tov for us moms?
By Liba Kahan
For the men, it’s a given. Go to shul, sit there all night, and immerse yourself in the words of Torah our nation has just accepted. Now that seems like a sound plan for finding meaning in this exalted day. But what about us women? I, for one, spend majority of Yom Tov in the kitchen, fluttering about between the milchig and fleishig sides, first slicing the cheesecake and then, once the elaborate kiddush is over, heading over to the fleishig side to slice the meat. How does that give us this high, this elevated feeling of spirituality you’d expect every Jew to feel on the day we accept Hashem’s brand new gift? Here are three tried-and-true tips on how we Jewish women can find the me in meaning in the short breaks we have from our physical duties and even while we’re doing them.
No Such Thing as Mundane
The root of the word Torah is hora’ah, instruction, but we women have no obligation to learn Torah formally. Instead, the Ramban explains, Torah is a way of life for us. Especially when we’re busy, we don’t realize how entangled our every move has the potential to be inherently bound to the Torah. In her heartwarming book about Rebbetzin Henny Machlis, Sarah Yocheved Rigler tells of how the Rebbetzin lived these words. At one point in her life, she had four children (including twins!) in diapers. At the changing table, she hung up a sign to remind herself that every diaper change she was doing was helping her raise ovdei Hashem. “Henny loved cooking for Shabbos,” writes Sarah Yocheved. “For her it was a spiritual exercise. Prayers were the most essential ingredient of every dish.” While she cooked, Henny would pray that the food have the taste of Gan Eden and that it would nourish her loved ones and countless guests so they could carry on with their avodas Hashem. For us Jewish women, there’s no such thing as mundane.
Setting the table? That’s preparation to serve those who’ve been learning, and to bring a simchas Yom Tov into everyone’s hearts. Sitting and shmoozing with family? The words we say, the topics we choose to discuss, and the way we say them are all a reflection of our commitment to Torah. We don’t have to sit in the beis midrash to follow the dictates of Torah. We have that chance wherever we are, all day long. So as you’re going about your day, whether you’re pining to be in shul or not, simply take a moment to ask yourself to what level your deeds and thoughts match up to the dictates of this wonderful gift we received not only thousands of years ago at Har Sinai, but on this very day as well.
Your Personal Song
“For me,” says my friend Esty, “it’s all about connecting through Tehillim.” Shavuos is the yahrzeit of Dovid Hamelech, rendering it an especially auspicious time for reciting his words of prayer, gratitude, and praise of Hashem. Instead of simply chanting the words, how about investing in a transliterated version that will truly speak to your heart? Many people are into finishing the entire sefer, and that’s beautiful, but if you find more meaning in concentrating on each verse separately, remember that the quality over quantity argument can never be undermined. And when it’s time to close the Tehillim and head for the kitchen, the power of Dovid’s heartfelt words to Hashem and about His glory will inspire you all day long.
In Her Footsteps
Although the men are the main players on the formal Torah learning scene, there’s so much about Shavuos that revolves around women. Of course, there would be no dairy delicacies without us, but don’t forget that the heroines of the day are none other than two seemingly simple women, Rus and Naomi. As you go about your tasks on this day, simply think about Rus’s sacrifices and realize how much she gave up to acquire what we’re blessed with—a Jewish family, a marriage, and, of course, being part of the Jewish nation. For further inspiration, spend some time reading the actual Megilla along with a commentary in the language that speaks to your heart. When the love of Torah and mitzvos that Rus demonstrated seeps into your bones, you’ll find meaning even in the cheesecake, which you prepared with love for your family to enjoy in honor of the Yom Tov.
After all, even if everyone’s raving about your three-layered delights or caramelized roast, there’s nothing like the satisfaction that comes along with feeling truly in touch with your spiritual being and your personal connection to the Torah.
Liba Kahan is the pen name for a kollel wife and mother of three who lives in Jerusalem. As a writer and therapist, she has spent much time pondering, learning about, and experimenting with important topics such as motherhood, spiritual growth in today’s world, and relationships. She looks forward to sharing her findings with you on Between Carpools.