Special Note: As I indicated in a past column, I was planning to conclude the discussion on daughters and mothers-in-law, but as it turned out, I received an avalanche of mail, which I felt should not be ignored. Some of these letters expressed so much anger, bitterness and downright hatred that I could not publish them, and even those that I did publish, I had to tone down and re-phrase to temper the animosity that they conveyed. As I mentioned in the past, Baruch Hashem, these types of situations are not the norm (at least, I would like to think that they are not). I would like to believe that the great majority of our families have shalom bayis, and that our generations live and communicate harmoniously in accordance with the teachings of our Torah.
I realize that many people attribute this type of negative, obstreperous behavior to the tenor of our times. We are living in Ikvesa d’Moshicha, a period, our sages tell us, in which chutzpah will abound – the young will rise against their elders, and children will relate to their parents and in-laws with insolence. But to me, that is not quite acceptable. I do not consider that to be a legitimate excuse.
We are a nation that, from the moment of our birth, from the very genesis of our history, were given a mandate to be different, to march to the tune of a different drummer. Indeed, that was the first call of Hashem to our patriarch Abraham, who founded our faith: “Lech Lecha – Go for yourself!” Be different and live by My values, My teachings! Discover your true essence; fulfill your mission, be My representative, My witness, and establish an abode for Me here on Planet Earth so that I may dwell among My children.” So, while in our society it may be in vogue and politically acceptable to be chutzapadik to parents and in-laws, for we Jews, I repeat and emphasize, such behavior is unacceptable, and worse, such an attitude places the very life of our nation at risk.
In the “Shema” we are told to love Hashem “b’chol l’vovcha – with all your heart.” The word “l’vovcha” – heart” is written in the plural – “hearts.” Now we all know that each person has just one heart, so what is the meaning of that expression?
We learn that in every heart there are two conflicting pulls – yetzer tov and – yetzer ha’ra, the good inclination and evil inclination, and the Jew is mandated to harness the evil inclination, as well as his good inclination, into the service of G-d…. yes, to love Hashem even with our evil inclination.
But how, you might wonder, can we accomplish that?
Everything that Hashem created is good. As a matter of fact, the yetzer ha’ra is termed “very good,” provided, of course, that we know how to make it work for us. Chutzpah, as we said, is one of the tragic behavioral patterns of our society, so it is for us to seize that chutzpah and transform it into an asset. Let’s have the chutzpah to say “No!” to prevalent cultural mores. And even if others, G-d forbid, open vile mouths against their parents or in-laws, we should have the chutzpah, the courage, to zip our mouths, swallow our anger, and tenaciously cling to our commandments. Let us bear in mind that nowhere in the Torah does it state that honoring parents and grandparents is only applicable if they accommodate our needs and grant us our wishes.
The Fifth Commandment, in no uncertain terms, demands that we honor our parents and in-laws period. And even if unfortunately, they do not lead a Torah way of life, nevertheless, we do not have license to be chutzapadik to them. Our sages have given us a whole set of rules as to how to deal with such conflicts without offending or being insolent.
Undoubtedly, it is wonderful when bubbies and zeides become involved with raising their grandchildren – babysitting, teaching them, telling them stories, taking them on trips, and a host of other things.
I myself was privileged to have had such parents. “Mama,” a”h, my mother, was a great rebbetzin, but was called “Mama” not only by her adoring grandchildren, but by everyone…. she was also a loving mama to multitudes. Mama visited with us regularly, always bringing joy and blessing with her presence, and to this very day, my children cherish those memories. As the years passed and she became a great-grandmother, she was there for her great-grandchildren as well.
My father, HaRav HaGaon Avraham HaLevi Jungreis, zt’l, was a great Rebbe, but he too was known to everyone as “Zeide,” for such was the love that exuded from his beautiful neshamah, not only for his family, but also for the larger family of Am Yisrael. My parents established a yeshiva in Canarsie, Brooklyn, and every morning, Mama stood at the entrance to the yeshiva greeting each child with a cookie and every day, Zeide visited them.
Our Hineni organization had its beginnings in my father’s shul. No matter how ill or feeble my father may have been, he came to every class just to give a brachah to all the Yiddishe kinderlach, and every person whom I had the privilege of bringing back to Torah became the grandchild of Zeide and Mama.
My husband, HaRav Meshulem HaLevi Jungreis, zt’l, was the most loving father and grandfather. We could not afford to buy expensive presents for our grandchildren or take them on vacations, but my husband would take them to feed the ducks. He would take them into our back- yard and explain to them the wonders of Hashem’s Creation, and of course, he was always there to teach and tell them stories.
When, during a routine check-up, he learned that he had a malignant tumor, his immediate reaction was to go to his grandchildren and teach them Torah. I could go on and on with a thousand and one stories, but what is significant is that my children learned their lesson well, and today, they do the same for their children and grandchildren.
But, and here is the big But, this way of life is not typical of every family. Mama and Zeide were one of a kind, and they left their imprint on all of us. But this does not mean that grandparents that do not have the patience or the temperament to baby-sit or be assistant mothers and fathers are not equally committed to their children and grandchildren. It’s different conditioning, different upbringing, and different culture. And if there is a grandparent, not capable or inclined to get involved, s/he should never be labeled selfish or mean, or G-d forbid, become the object of hate.
Our first letter writer complained that she has four small children and never has the opportunity to go out with her husband. Her mother does not help her or make herself available to baby-sit.
Well, I have news for you, my dear friend…. my mother and father did not have parents to help them raise their children. Alas, their parents all perished in the flames of Auschwitz, but they raised beautiful children and mind you, as they did so, they also had to struggle just to put bread on the table and pay the rent, and I can assure you that my mother did not have any household help either.
As for going out with their husbands – that possibility never occurred to them. They were just grateful to have children to raise. Nothing was too much for them, and I must add that my husband and I never considered the idea of going out to dinner either. We simply could not afford this luxury, but never felt that our marriage suffered as a result.
Having said all this, I recognize that what I have written applies to past generations, that today, things are different; people have different needs and expectations, but that still doesn’t give license to anyone, be it a daughter or daughter-in-law, son or son-in-law to make demands upon his/her parents or be chutzapadik. Yes, you can respectfully ask if it is possible – if it is convenient – but to make demands and then express hatred if you are rebuffed and threaten to deny your parents the privilege of having a relationship with their grandchildren is antithetic to our Torah way of life. The chinuch that children absorb from such parental examples can scar them for life.
Our generation has become an “entitlement” generation in which young people believe that their parents “owe them,” and indeed, that is reflective of our culture, which advocates rights rather than responsibilities, entitlement rather than indebtedness. American culture is based on the work ethic… “I struggled, I made it on my own – now it’s your turn. I cannot be held responsible for supporting your family or raising your children. I did mine, now it’s your turn!”
I am speaking of course, in generalities. There are always exceptions to every rule. Just the same, there is an old Yiddish saying, “As the non-Jewish world goes, so goes the Jewish world, and unfortunately, part of the virus of our environment has infected us.
Nevertheless, let us bear in mind that grandparents that are proponents of this contemporary value system are, nevertheless, committed to their children and love them. They are not mean; they just have a different way of looking at things.
In any event, remember all your life that we are Jews and we survived the centuries, not because we conformed to the culture or mores of the times, but precisely because we had the chutzpah to reject that which was in vogue and cling tenaciously to our Torah way of life. In this period of Ikvesa d’Moshicha, it is more critical than ever to once again harness our traditional chutzpah, which is rooted in courage and say “No! We are Jews and we shall live by the traditions of our fathers.”
May Hashem help you and your family to find harmonious shalom bayis. If I can be of further help, come and see me.