It was one of those days: I was outnumbered by my kids by three to one. Not that the ratio ever changes; it is just that some days it is more noticeable than others. While everything that could have gone wrong did, I began wishing that I could clone myself. With the help of friends, playdates, and my husband, I managed to get through the morning, albeit by the skin of my teeth.
Still, I felt burnt out.
Later that day, I had a doctor’s appointment. An acquaintance of mine happened to be in the waiting room. We began a casual conversation, and she shared that she is the youngest of eight.
“Wow!” Then, as I contemplated how I’d fared with just my three that morning, I asked, “How did your mom do it?”
She answered, “I ask her that same question all the time.”
The questions started to race through my mind and fly right out of my mouth. “Did she have a lot of help? A full-time housekeeper?”
“Nope, never,” she responded.
I wondered if their house was always disorderly and chaotic. Yet before I could ask, she said, “And the house was always immaculate.”
Slowly, I started to feel incompetent, as she continued with her mother’s list of accomplishments and capabilities: a full time job; delicious, healthy dinners every night…
“Oh, and I never once saw her complain. Ever. She is my role model.”
“Mine too…” I sighed in awe. “Wait, I just do not understand: how did she do it all?”
“I am not sure,” my friend said. Then she leaned forward and added, “but, do you want to hear something even crazier about her? Like, fall-off-your-chair shocking?”
I braced myself.
“My mother is deaf.” As I digested this, my friend added, “My father is deaf as well.” She proceeded to tell me that none of the eight children are deaf or even hearing impaired. Her parents became deaf circumstantially – at the ages of 8 and 15. In their cases, it was not a genetic disorder, at all.
I sat in total awe of this family. This conversation was a gift and meant for my ears that day. I had spent the morning grieving my “challenges,” and Hashem showed me how lucky I truly am.
Before she headed into her appointment, my acquaintance mentioned that whenever she feels overwhelmed, she just thinks about her mom. “Whenever I have a bad day or feel I cannot continue because things are too tough, I just conjure up this image of my mother in my mind, and that serves as a built in confidence booster; if she could do it, then certainly I can.”
I wondered if her mother had a different perspective. I am sure she lost her cool from time to time. After all, doesn’t everyone?
But then I reconsidered: did it really matter? Her daughter’s vision of her is one of strength, capability, and resilience. Is that not exactly what we want to pass to our children? There is no such thing as perfect parenting. It is just about putting one foot in front of the other while maintaining composure to the best of our ability.
My friend’s conjuring of her mother’s image reminded me of the story in the Torah regarding Yosef. Yosef lived in Egypt and was working as a servant to Potiphar. Yosef was extremely eye-catching, and it seemed to all the people around him that everything he touched turned to gold. Potiphar’s wife was attracted to Yosef and again and again tried to seduce him.
At one point, she caught Yosef off-guard, and he found himself wavering. At that point, he conjured up the image of his father: an image of a man who was in control, who remain composed, and who always did what was right. A true tzaddik. This image gave him the strength to pass his test.
In one form or another we all have “Yosef moments,” when we are tested. In these times, we may vacillate between doing right and wrong. We have times when we feel overwhelmed or challenged. Having an image in our minds of a role model can help us overcome this battle.
Truthfully, we have in front of us a two-fold task. We must first find a role model that we can emulate and visualize them in our mind. However, the second step is to pass this legacy onward. We must strive in turn to become that role model to someone else: a student, a child, a grandchild.
In this way they will have strength to draw upon in dark times. This is our legacy.
Yosef managed to accomplish the second part of this task, as well. He is the only figure in the Torah for whom we add the word “tzaddik” (righteous) to his name. He is called “Yosef Hatzaddik” as a result of his passing his test. Through this, he created an image for us to emulate as well as an image to pass on. This was his legacy, and one we can try to mimic.
May we all have strength in dark days to draw upon this strategy of visualizing the righteous people in our lives; and may we pass that on to the next generation.