In the epilogue of the popular series on “I don’t do anything wrong,” which garnered hundreds of positive comments, including offers for me to speak at their cultural institutions, let’s talk about what bored housewives or even husbands can undertake, to fight the evil inclination that rages inside each of us. The Rambam says it’s impossible to love two things at once. Either we concentrate on G-d, our great attitude of our Torah and its ideals, or we let our minds get cluttered with wonderful imaginations and pursue expensive and meaningless objects of desire that get us into trouble.
When Dad was working in his houseware store, Mom filled the void by being a mom. Back in those days, being a housewife was not frowned upon. Mom’s day, not just my mom, was filled with doing house chores. I, or my sisters, would go to the laundromat with Mom on a weekly basis. The laundromat was filled with moms and bored kids driving their mothers crazy. I will tell you something very funny. My mom didn’t believe it, but it’s true, I told her. I saw this with my own eyes.
One time, I was standing at the entrance to a luxurious house in Bubble Land. I was waiting for the father to come out when a man walked into the house and, seconds later, took out a bag of laundry. I couldn’t figure this out. Why is someone stealing laundry? It just doesn’t make sense! I was confused.
When the father came out, I told him, “Some guy just came in and stole your laundry.” He looked at me like I was from Mars. After a couple of seconds of silence, I said it again “Mr. X, someone just took your laundry.” He explained to me that this man comes to the house and takes our laundry to do, and then brings it back. I said, “Really??” I said, “I never saw that before.” When wives delegate home responsibilities to others, you create a vacuum of time. Soon afterwards, we start delegating other home chores, and boredom follows, and when boredom follows, the yeitzer ha’ra gets his entrance.
The Torah spells out clearly and refines the roles of the men and women, and our job is tasked with following the rules like generations and generations have done before. “It’s a different generation” is the logo of Yeitzer HaRa. Mom filled her days with cooking great dishes for her husband and children. Back in the day, it would be unthinkable for any mom to buy a store-bought roast chicken. Speaking of roast chicken, here is another amusing story, but true!
When I was a teenager, I worked in a store similar to Meal Mart. So here comes in a customer wanting to buy a roast chicken. My arrogant and egotistical boss showed me how it’s done. First, he takes the chicken and weighs it on the scale. He says to the customer, “$8.37” (I will always remember that number!). My first reaction was “so much!” “Are you joking!”
The customer, from the Lower East Side, before storming out of the store, looked at me and asked, “Is he joking?” I said, “I think so.” Well, it wasn’t a joke. I came home telling my parents, “You won’t believe this but my boss is selling roast chicken for almost $10.” Mom came the next day to observe and was shocked. “Why don’t people roast their own chickens?”
I would take my parents bi-weekly to the butcher shop in Brighton Beach where all our meats were bought. I still recall Alex, her favorite butcher, chomping on his cigar, working in detail to moms every wish on how she wants her meat cut, filet, cubed, or whatever. Most people didn’t buy the roast chicken and he went out of business six years later. He went on to work for his father in the same business in Rego Park, Queens, where customers bought roast chicken at $10 a pop. The customers never questioned the price. Rego Park is an affluent neighborhood. I stood at that store for another six years before I called it quits. The store doesn’t exist anymore.
Moms, back then, spent most of the time at home, in the markets, doing homework, or taking us to the park. Moms had no time to let their imaginations drift. They were too busy. Moms’ minds were filled with Torah ideals and the yeitzer ha’ra couldn’t gain an entrance. If I could take a swipe with the male spouse who disappears from early morning until he makes sure that all the kids are sleeping peacefully before he makes his royal entrance, they are faulted, too. Back in the day, husbands rushed home from the travails of work to be with their loving wives. They looked forward or rather accepted their roles and responsibilities to help in the house and enjoyed telling bedtime stories to their kids.
Today, the yeitzer ha’ra is having a field day with an absentee patriarch, which is why today the matriarch rules the house and establishes the rules. In the past, Dad was the chieftain of his house. I heard “Ask your father” a thousand times when I was a kid. I used to say, “Why do I have to ask Daddy all the time; you’re my mother.” Because Dad was the master. He ruled! He said more no’s than yeses and looked at the parents with children coming from that era. Respect, Values, Ethics, should I continue? Like Rabbi Joey Haber said not too long ago: “What do the children who are getting married know about responsibilities? They know nothing!”
Now if the bored housewives think that mothers in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s era led boring lives just doing house chores all day and being a slave to the husband and kids, think again. Mothers engaged in hobbies, too. I used to sit next to Mom on the couch. I watched Batman (television was not the television of the last 25 years) while Mom would crochet using two long black needles. She made sweaters and scarves for the family. Mom hated sewing, but all our clothes that we made holes in were stitched.
We played backgammon and checkers. Mom would spend time with my grandfather making sure all his needs were met. Mom would watch game shows like Let’s Make a Deal and The Price Is Right. Fifty years later, Mom still only watched games shows. She did word-find puzzles. Mom went for walks and browsed shops like Woolworth or Alexander’s. These stores are no longer around.
Let’s say now that the children are grown, married, and out of the house. What do we do now? Rabbi Avigdor Miller zt”l builds on the Rambam, which I mentioned earlier, that you can’t love two things at once. Your mind is like a valuable storage house, where you wouldn’t put any junk in it if you’re spending thousands of dollars a month on rentals. Now Rabbi Miller is talking on a much higher level, which we can’t relate to.
The Rabbi is saying that if we clutter our minds with buying expensive cars and going on luxurious vacations instead of imagining the beauty of G-d’s world and His creations, including the things that never enter our minds, like the giving of the Torah at Sinai and the unbelievable special effects it had on our people, then we fill our heads with all kinds of mishegas (imaginations) and that’s when the Torah can’t enter.
Our heads become like pipes that are cluttered with sewage and nothing goes in, which is why the Talmud says to be careful with the children of the poor because that’s where the Torah is going to come from. Poor boys are diamonds, because they don’t have the money to pursue all the false pleasures that our yeitzer ha’ra throws their way. In camp, I see this all the time – campers coming from top-notch yeshivos void of all tech gadgetry and they are brilliant learners. They are years ahead of the average learner who comes to yeshivah in fancy attire, driving nice cars, wearing expensive watches, etc.
Okay, I’m almost finished! Really? Yes! So, all the children are married and out of the house plus your “no show husband” is busy in the office, either billing his clients until 11 p.m. or playing on the Internet casino or whatever people do so much on the Internet. How do you fill the void?
Recently, I read an article by Chaya Sora Jungreis-Gertzulin. She was on target and her advice is something that we can all relate to. Every morning, we daven that these mitzvos – honoring parents, visiting sick, welcoming guests, attending funerals, prayer, study, etc. – bring us merit in this world and in the World to Come. Pick one and devote time and energy to it!
Everyday women in Williamsburg and Boro Park board school buses and go to hospitals and visit patients. They are lifesavers to the many Jewish lonely patients who look forward to the attention and care. Henny Machlis and Goldy Neuman spent their lives preparing and welcoming guests for meals. My friend, the Beyman family up in Monsey, welcomes every Shabbos scores of guests coming from various denominations. Right after Shabbos, they are planning for the next Shabbos! Jeno Hershkowitz z”l, a US Postal employee with whom I worked at FDR Station (such a sweet and quiet, unassuming figure) founded Tomchei Shabbos, which feeds thousands of families every week.
Rebbetzin Jungreis a”h and Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach zt”l invested enormous amounts of hours traveling the world, reaching out to disenfranchised Jews longing to come back. When my Dad passed on 12 years ago, Mom channeled her energies into cooking hot meals for many tenants who lived by themselves. Mom cooked all the meals from the smallest kitchen in the world. In all types of weather, Mom would seek out lonely people – tenants, neighbors, YMHA members – and feed them. Mom paid for it all and asked nothing in return.
All these people began slowly and with diligence and fortitude changing the world for the better. They never wavered from the Torah principles. Their minds didn’t have time to entertain Yeitzer HaRa’s imaginations. They were focused on the good of mankind and helping out G-d.
Children. They were the beacon of light that captured our attention for decades. Like Rabbi Zechariah Wallerstein, they never gave up on a Jew, and they used their time wisely. You don’t have to save the world. You don’t let your imagination run away. All you have to do is pick one righteous act to work at, be it feeding guests, working with Misaskim, visiting the sick, and soon you will see all the schmutz that clutters our minds disappear. What are we waiting for?