Friday, February 12, 2010

The reflections of a Rebbetzin turned Regular

A funny thing happened on the way to holyhood. I became a regular person. This is not to say that regular people are not holy or that holy people are not regular. It’s just that my definition of holiness and my application of the term has shifted quite a bit. I left behind a very holy life – at least what I thought was a holy life – for a rather mundane daily routine. The life of Rebbetzin, by virtue of being married to a communities’ spiritual leader lives a life, by choice or not, that centers around shul, Torah, spirituality, and everything else that comes with the package. As someone once said to my husband, the Rabbi is paid to be a religious super Jew. I would add: and his wife is unpaid to do the same. Everything a Rebbetzin does and anywhere she goes is somehow connected to her husband’s position. No matter how friendly she may be with her congregants she is always different and other. The expectations are high. It lends itself to a very holy lifestyle. Teach a lot of Torah, reach out to those in need, have many guests for Shabbat, inspire others. Prepare brides for their weddings, comfort the bereaved, celebrate births and cook food for the new moms. Don’t cut anyone off in traffic; you never know who it could be. Make sure to get to every simcha, your presence makes a difference. Lead both by example and with inspirational words. Be a role model and model your role well -- as teacher, advisor, and giver. You get the point. Its holy. And all of the sudden, life has a very different rhythm. I’m no longer the leader of the pack, I’m one of them. No one is watching my moves, calculating how much I entertain, or expecting me to do…well, anything at all. I take care of my family and try to be a good person. That’s pretty much it. I talk to my friends about cooking and crafts, about our kids, our husbands and vacations we’d like to take. I take the time to exercise. I go to Torah classes to hear other people teach. I take an art class and dance lessons. I am a guest on Shabbat! Amidst all of this fun, I lost my identity. And then all the ‘shoulds’ started to surface. I should make more time for Torah study. I should start to teach. I should enroll in a women’s learning program. I should apply for positions in seminaries. I should head a committee – what committee? -- who knows, someone must need me to head their committee. But then I realized that the only thing I should do is be holy. What is holiness really? It’s not teaching about Chessed, it’s doing acts of kindness when no one is looking and no one cares. It’s easy to be holy and good and giving when everyone expects you to be (not to mention, your parnassa more or less depends on it). It’s another to do a favor for a friend in need or even a stranger, just because. To keep conversations positive and constructive and ever so gracefully steer them away from Lashon Hara. To give someone a ride. To make time for Torah study even when there is no class to teach. I’ve come to see that having a normal life and making it holy is perhaps even greater than having a holy life that you try to make normal. What does Gd want from us? “Only that you do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with Gd. (Micha 6:8)” Parshat Mishpatim which we will read this Shabbat stands in stark contrast to last week when we read about the revelation of Gd at Sinai. While last week was all about the holiest, most mystical experience that any group of people has ever experienced, this week is all about the nitty gritty laws of everyday living. The Torah is teaching us a powerful lesson – the very same lesson that I have stumbled upon myself –that the real test of holiness is not in the most inspirational moments of our lives, but in the smallest of everyday details that over time create something far greater and longer lasting than the greatest sermon or shiur ever could.