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Feb 21 2014

Not to be Cliche, But Raising a Child Really Does “Take a Village”

By at 10:35 am

day-care

This post is part of our Torah commentary series. This Shabbat we read Parashat Vayahkel. To read a summary of the portion and learn more, click here.

I was recently hanging out with a mama friend who’s been staying home with her toddler. She’s starting to look for day care, to her own surprise. As she put it: “Before I had kids, I thought, why even have kids if you’re going to give them to someone else to raise them? And now I’m like, oh yeah–he needs to do his thing and I need to do my thing and then we’re both happy to see each other in the afternoon.”

I didn’t think I expected myself to be a full-time mom. Although my mom stayed home to raise me and my two sisters, we were taught we could do anything boys could do. Which by implication means we could grow up to be a parent and still continue our careers, right? Just like our dad. Read the rest of this entry →

Feb 14 2014

What My Daughter’s Favorite Stuffed Animal Has to Do with the Golden Calf

By at 9:41 am

Torah Momentary: Was the Golden Calf the Israelite's version of a lovey?

This post is part of our Torah MOMentary series, where we interpret the weekly Torah portion through the perspective of a mother. This Shabbat we read Parashat Ki Tissa. To read a summary of the portion and learn more, click here.

As parents (and humans), we spend a lot of time waiting. Waiting to grow up. Waiting to meet the right partner. Waiting to move in together, get married, or partner up in a long term way. We wait to get pregnant. Then we wait for our baby to be born. Once our baby is born, we wait for him or her to grow up. We don’t want to rush it, but in some ways, we do. We’re waiting for him to smile, laugh, eat solid foods, sit up, sleep through the night, point, clap, wean herself, talk, walk, run, use the potty, listen to reason, win a Nobel, have kids of her own. But like Tom Petty knows, the waiting is the hardest part. And yet, we have to do it.

Our kids have a hard time waiting, too. Mine are not yet 3, and they cannot wait for anything. Sometimes, it’s a matter of waiting just a few seconds, as long as it takes for me to finish chewing before I answer their question about icicles, or the letter “M” and how it really does look a lot like a “W.” Sometimes, they cannot wait the two minutes it takes for me to find a missing puzzle piece that is lodged beneath the couch, or the 10 minutes it takes for chicken nuggets to cook in the toaster. They certainly can’t wait five days until our weekend trip or the two months it’ll take before their birthday arrives. For them, waiting is beyond hard. It’s impossible. It often reduces them to tears. (Me too.)

Apparently, the Israelites didn’t like waiting, either. In her commentary on this week’s Torah portion Ki Tissa, Rabbi Dianne Cohler-Esses writes, “Waiting is difficult. When a child waits…for a parent to come home, the time can feel excruciatingly long.” Cohler-Esses points out that when the Jews waited for Moses to come back down from his tete-a-tete with God on Mount Sinai, they grew impatient, just like a child might. Their leader—their parent, in a sense—had disappeared. “They are anxious that Moses will never return to them, frightened that they will have no leader to lead them to the Promised Land,” Cohler-Esses explains. “They are so scared that they build themselves an idol—a Golden Calf to accompany them through the desert.” Read the rest of this entry →

Feb 7 2014

The Self-Conscious Mom & Her Very Observant Kids

By at 9:55 am

hole-in-sock

This post is part of our Torah commentary series through the perspective of a mother. This Shabbat we read Parashat Tetzaveh. To read a summary of the portion and learn more, click here.

I’d like to say that I’m the kind of woman who’s never given much thought to clothing and what I wear. I’d like to say that I’ve always just sort of thrown something on, and effortlessly, look pulled together all the time, or don’t, but either way, no matter. I’d like to remember my child-self as one who didn’t think tights were scratchy, who didn’t notice if her undershirt was tucked in, who didn’t have an obsessive penchant for the colors purple and orange, who didn’t mind wearing headbands, two-piece bathing suits, or ankle socks.

I’d like to say that I was and still am highly unselfconscious.

Except I am totally self-conscious, and have always been a bit of a nut when it comes to clothes. I’m not talking in a clotheshorse kind of way, where I’m off spending money on labels and status pieces. No, I’m talking about the much more existential and far less useful ways in which I obsess about how I look. I’ve never worn a bikini, I don’t really enjoy being photographed, and often notice myself fidgeting–with my clothing, my hair, whatever. While my neuroses are (mostly) in check, a healthy dose of anxiety runs through my bloodstream at all times, just to keep me on my toes. And often, this delightful kind of crazy rears its ugly head as I try and dress myself on any given day. Read the rest of this entry →

Jan 31 2014

Torah MOMentary: What is the Point of All These Rules?

By at 9:41 am

girl watching tv

This post is part of our Torah commentary series through the perspective of a new mom. This Shabbat we read Parashat Terumah. To read a summary of the portion and learn more, click here.

After binging on Internet reading last Wednesday (thanks in no small part to the polar vortex that kept me and my kids inside far longer than is healthy or recommended), I spiraled down the rabbit hole and beseeched my Facebook friends to tell me if I was letting my kids watch too much TV.

Thirty-six comments later, and I had been reassured that basically, I was within the “acceptable” zone. After the fourth or fifth Curious George episode, I shut the TV off and took the kids to the basement to do some puzzles. I brought my phone. After a half hour of being semi-attentive to them, I realized I wasn’t being even remotely mindful, and spent a few ill-advised minutes panicking about their emotional well-being.

The next morning my husband suggested that we start drizzling the girls’ pancakes (and everything they eat, really) with flax oil. Later that afternoon, my mother intimated that perhaps it’s time to get serious about the potty training. Then I got a call from school that one of my twins had bitten the other one (because we are forever in and out of the biting stage, a Groundhog’s Day of biting, if you will). Sometime around exasperation-o’clock, I read this Forbes.com article about the “crippling” (CRIPPLING!) behaviors that we, as parents, are guilty of. And then after all of that, I read this week’s Torah portion, Terumah, and wanted to cry.

There are too many rules. Read the rest of this entry →

Jan 24 2014

Torah MOMentary: Just Like Toddlers, the Israelites Needed Rules

By at 9:50 am

toddler drawing on wall

This post is part of our Torah commentary series through the perspective of a new mom. This Shabbat we read Parashat Mishpatim. To read a summary of the portion and learn more, click here.

As a former wedding-industry employee, I can say with confidence that the Revelation at Sinai would have been a very high-ticket event. It had all the elements of the perfect day: a dramatic natural setting; elaborate sound and lights; and at the center, those simple, moving ten commandments –the vows that would eternally bind the Israelites to God. This all happened in last week’s Torah portion.

Rabbis do compare the revelation to a wedding–it’s not just me–and after such a blowout celebration, you might expect a bit of a honeymoon. But instead, the Torah launches straight into a highly unromantic list of rules and laws, ranging from the mundane to the disturbing. Like what to do if someone asks you to watch their cow and the cow dies (depends what happened to the cow). What to do if a man seduces a virgin (he has to marry her). What about the punishment for violent attacks (“eye for an eye,” though as a side note, the rabbis pretty much legislate that out of existence in the Talmud). There are rules about letting slaves go free every seven years, and not taking interest on loans, and, well, I’ll stop, but the list goes on.

It seems a little weird as a wedding follow-up. On the other hand, as the parent of a toddler, this litany of rules feels disturbingly normal.  Read the rest of this entry →

Jan 17 2014

Torah MOMentary: How Moses Inspires Me to Ask For Help

By at 10:15 am

help spelled in toy blocks

This post is part of our Torah commentary series through the perspective of a new mom. This Shabbat we read Parashat Yitro. To read a summary of the portion and learn more, click here.

Asking for help does not come naturally to me. I’ve always been independent to the point of stubbornness. And that worked for me…until I became a mom. Now, ohmygosh, I need help constantly. And little by little, I’m learning how to ask for it.

I know you’re dying to know how this connects to this week’s Torah portion, and I promise it will, but first a personal litany of top five motherly vulnerabilities:

1. Diapering technique. It all started when a hospital nurse showed me how to diaper my brand new baby. I watched her expertly fasten the tiny disposable diaper, thinking, how the hell did I get through 35 years without learning this? It seemed like the most basic skill in the world, but also entirely mysterious. Even after my hospital lesson, it took me two weeks to remember which side went in the back.

2. Post-partum help. For two weeks after Sylvie’s birth, my mom stayed in our tiny apartment to help us out, sleeping on our couch and sharing our one bathroom. (Yes, she is amazing.) For the first week, I couldn’t bend over because of my c-section incision, so my mom had to help me put on my underwear. That was humbling enough. By the end of week two, I was slowly healing, but when it was time for my mom to leave, I surprised myself by losing it. I still needed her help. I probably hadn’t cried and begged her not to leave since I was 4 years old. This was not exactly how I’d expected to start off my new life as a mother. Read the rest of this entry →

Jan 10 2014

Torah MOMentary: Take it From Moses & Ask For Help Once in a While

By at 10:03 am

moses

This post is part of our Torah commentary series through the perspective of a new mom. This Shabbat we read Parashat B’shalah. To read a summary of the portion and learn more, click here.

I once went to a “New Agey” Passover retreat deep in the Israeli desert. The woman leading it was a kind of hippie Jewish priestess: long hair, flowy dresses, batik. To end the retreat, she had us all perform this birth ritual she made up based on the crossing of the Sea of Reeds, which we read about in B’shalah, this week’s Torah portion.

The Israelites’ Exodus from Egypt, she explained, was actually a birth narrative; they passed through the narrow canal made by the waters standing apart, and were transformed from Egyptian slaves to free Israelites, servants of God. And we were going to re-enact this.

So we all divided into pairs and stood in a line, made a giant tunnel by joining our hands overhead, and participants volunteered to be “birthed” one after the other by crossing the Sea of Reeds, which in this case meant being carried on their backs through the tunnel of arms overhead. Read the rest of this entry →

Jan 3 2014

Torah MOMentary: What Do We Make of the Killing of the Firstborn?

By at 9:46 am
"Lamentations over the Death of the Firstborn of Egypt" by Charles Sprague Pearce

“Lamentations over the Death of the Firstborn of Egypt” by Charles Sprague Pearce

This post is part of our Torah commentary series through the perspective of a new mom. This Shabbat we read Parashat Bo. To read a summary of the portion and learn more, click here.

This week’s Torah portion is Bo. We read about the final plagues, culminating in the slaying of the Egyptian firstborn.

I often like to interpret Torah metaphorically. I love the Hassidic tradition of reading Torah as a sort of psychological analogue for what’s happening inside us all the time. For me, this is a way of connecting to Torah as a story that’s happening continually, rather than an ancient document that may or may not have taken place.

But sometimes there is a story so literal and vivid that to metaphorize it feels like a cop-out. For example, the slaying of the firstborn.

The 10 plagues always felt kind of removed from me–sort of magical and not relatable, like a fairy tale. Now, reading as a new mom, the words “slaying of the firstborn” feel very, very real. Read the rest of this entry →

Dec 27 2013

Torah MOMentary: What Pharaoh & New Moms Have in Common

By at 10:47 am

frogs plagues

This post is part of our Torah commentary series through the perspective of a new mom. This Shabbat we read Parashat Vaera. To read a summary of the portion and learn more, click here.

This week’s portion, Vaera, contains seven of the 10 plagues that God sends Egypt to convince Pharaoh to let the Israelites go.

After each plague, Pharaoh begins to relent, but then he (or, weirdly, God) “hardens his heart” and decides he actually does need those Israelite slaves after all. And so the plagues increase, all the way into next week’s portion.

Reading about these plagues and Pharaoh’s resistance to let those Israelites go, I thought about how hard it is to change after a long time. What does it take to convince a stubborn person to loosen their grip, to be more gentle, to change their life? And why do I feel so sympathetic to Pharaoh even though he’s clearly the bad guy here? Read the rest of this entry →

Dec 20 2013

Torah MOMentary: How Some Sexy Vibes Saved the Jewish People

By at 10:09 am

bottle of wine in an orchard

This post is part of our Torah commentary series. This Shabbat we read Parashat Sh’mot. To read a summary of the portion and learn more, click here.

In the first portion in the book of Exodus, Sh’mot, there’s a new Pharaoh in charge who hates the Israelites and decides to destroy them.

Mothers are all over this story. There’s Moses’ mother, who sends him off in a basket of reeds to save him, and ends up being hired as his wet nurse. There’s Pharaoh’s daughter, who rescues baby Moses from the water and becomes his adoptive mom.

But I want to talk about the non-celebrity moms. The regular, unnamed mothers who make the whole story possible. What we can learn from them, and from Pharaoh himself.

According to a famous midrash, actually, the Israelites only survived because of the women. In this version of the story, Pharaoh’s first plan of attack is to make the men work so hard that they are too exhausted to go home and sleep with their wives. No sex, no babies, no more Israelites! Read the rest of this entry →

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