Master of the Universe, I am filled with remorse and compunction. My head is bowed in shame, my hands tremble, and my heart overflows with trepidation as I approach you with my abject confession of guilt. As I consider the nature of my heinous offense, self-loathing surges throughout my being, my pitiful human vessel barely able to contain the turbulent roiling of my besmirched soul. I engage in endless rounds of self-flagellation and castigate myself mercilessly in a desperate attempt to uproot the evil within me, but surcease eludes me. How could I have caused my sweet, good and innocent son such needless suffering? Do not smite him, O Lord; smite me instead, because it is I who has sinned, not he. Why should he suffer the consequences of my own hand? Dear G-d, I beseech you…. please. Please, please forgive my unpardonable crime of using plastic tablecloths on Shabbos instead of the more righteous way…sending my fancy tablecloths to the cleaners each week for a mere $50.00 so I will be deemed elegant by the powers that be.
I did not know, dear Lord, that–with what I hoped was thrift and economy as prescribed and praised in the Eishet Chayil paean– I would be torpedoing my son’s chances of a good shidduch. My son is a gem, Hashem, a brilliant full-time learner who has somehow managed to squeeze in two Masters Degrees at night and volunteer work with Chai Lifeline and Tomchei Shabbos, but these accomplishments, it appears, are minor when compared to my glaring lack of elegance. How can I even bear to go on living, O’ dear Lord, when I am besieged daily by the painful knowledge that I’ve ruined my son’s shidduch possibilities because my priorities as a mother were wrong. How could I have been so naive, so clueless? I truly believed that what mattered most was laboring hard to inculcate within my son an inspiring array of great middos, wonderful values and ideals, and sincere frumkeit; helping to develop and nurture within him curiosity about the world, a calm temperament and good-natured manner, exceptional intelligence and a charming personality. How could I have emphasized the tofel to such an extent and degree? What was wrong with me? Why didn’t my friends, relatives and neighbors caution me as they watched my missteps, intervene to impede my destructive, ways, steer me towards a different…and better direction? Why didn’t they disabuse me of my ill-conceived perspectives and lecture me on the realities of life…and shidduchim. Why didn’t they just tell me straight out that in our world surface trumps substance, and that what really counts in life is the surface of your Shabbos table. Could they not have taken me aside and explained that ultimately plastic kills, and that what’s really consequential in life is whether the mother scrapes or stacks?
How could I have failed to glean the genuine essence of life, O Lord? I thought I was following the path of the pious in teaching my son to be kind, courteous and loving to everyone he met; to stand up for the elderly and pregnant women on the bus, to carry the groceries of overburdened neighbors when he met them on the street, to offer rides to strangers pummeled by the rain. I thought his learning, his frumkeit, his refinement, his tenacity and hard work would stand him in good stead, make him an excellent shidduch prospect. I imagined that in the eyes of the world he would be admired, viewed as a gem and great catch. How can I atone for my sin, Master of the Universe? Unwittingly, I have tarnished my son’s value because of my own errant ways. I promise you I was unaware that I was violating the most cardinal rule in the shidduch world: “Under all circumstances, thou shalt always be elegant.”
I confess: I thought sending a fancy tablecloth to the cleaners every single week was akin to being a profligate, recklessly extravagant and unnecessary. I never realized that an almost imperceptible overlay of thin plastic could have such far-reaching and dire consequences. I was able to host the masses of unexpected guests my husband typically brought home from shul with a certain degree of sangfroid, because I didn’t have to fuss over worries that the tablecloth would get stained or the lavish china would chip (sin #2, after a while, I began to retire the china in lieu of fancy paper plates). With material concerns absent, I was able to field some pretty chaotic scenes with unusual calm and peace. Instead of worrying about the state of my house, I was able to focus on the state of my guests instead. Hashem, sincerely, I thought that was a good thing, truly I did. Wasn’t it more important to be attentive to my guests’ emotional needs than to have to peer anxiously each time they raised a glass to their lips? How could I have ever dreamed that my son would be punished for my sins of omission, and be rendered less estimable, because his mother doesn’t like washing dishes?Nechama Baron