The great Rabban Gamliel had a daughter who was beautiful and fine. As she grew older, many eligible young men sought her hand in marriage. Finally, she chose a fine, scholarly young man to be her husband, and the marriage was celebrated with pomp and great happiness.
All the great rabbanim of the time came to perform the mitzvah of dancing and rejoicing with the bride and groom and each gave his sincerest blessing to the young couple.
When all had finished it was the turn of the father of the bride. Rabban Gamliel placed his hands on his daughter’s head and said, “My daughter, may it be the Will of the Almighty that you never return here again.”
The young woman was stunned at her father’s words and her heart was filled with bitterness at this apparent ill will. Nevertheless, she remained silent and nursed her feelings privately.
A Child Is Born
Time passed, and a baby was born to the young couple. Once again there was great rejoicing throughout the land.
As soon as Rabban Gamliel heard the news, he made his way to his daughter’s home.
When his daughter saw him, she cried out: “My father, I have a son. I pray that you give me your blessings.”
“I am happy to, my daughter,” said Rabban Gamliel. And once again he placed his hands over her head and said: “May the word ‘Woe’ always be heard from your mouth.”
The Daughter Weeps
When the daughter heard this, she could restrain herself no longer and burst into tears.
“What is wrong, my child?” asked Rabban Gamliel. “Why do you cry?”
“I cannot help myself,” replied the young woman. “At my wedding when I asked for a blessing you wished me ill when you said that you never wanted to see me again.
“Today, when my first child is born I once again ask you for a blessing and you curse me by saying that I should never have the satisfaction of not saying ‘Woe.’
“Why, my father, is it that whenever I seek blessing and comfort from you, you curse me and wish me nothing but ill will?’’
Rabban Gamliel Explains
When Rabban Gamliel heard his daughter’s words he quickly replied: “My daughter, you misunderstand me. Heaven forbid that I should ever wish you ill in any form! Listen carefully to my words and let me explain what I meant.
“When I said to you at the time of your marriage that I prayed that you would never return to my house again, it was a blessing that the Almighty lengthen the days of your husband and the peace and tranquility of your house so that, G-d forbid, neither death of your husband nor divorce would ever separate you and force you to return to my house.
“Furthermore, today when I came to your home in this happy hour of the birth of a son, I blessed you from the bottom of my heart when I said to you that the word ‘Woe’ should always be heard on your lips.
“Consider, my daughter. The word ‘Woe,’ which connotes a sigh, is usually uttered by a person in times of trouble and worry and tension. But my blessing to you was that your little child should grow and be well and healthy so that you may be permitted to share with him all the little problems that go with normal motherhood.
“I prayed that you might have him grow and be normal so that you might have the normal worries of a mother who sighs: ‘Woe, my child did not eat his meal; Woe, my son is late for school.”
When the daughter heard the words of her father she rejoiced and said: “Now I realize that the wisdom of my father is as the wisdom of an angel of the Lord.
“Further, you have now taught me not to be like other women who prefer to read into words curses when they could just as easily find blessings.”