As Pesach is just days away, marking one year since Montana went into COVID lockdown, I’ve put pen to paper to share my feelings with my beloved Chavie, who is the true bedrock of our home:
I’m writing this just as we finished “turning over” the kitchen for Pesach cooking, as we get into the mode of you prepping our home for the public Seders and meals and I’m in between visits to Jews around the valley with matzah and yom tov love. Despite the exhaustion, I needed to take a moment amid all the craziness and hullabaloo to say thank you. I am doing this publicly because in our society we grieve in public, kvetch in public, rant in public, and so it only makes sense to share gratitude in public, too.
I’ve often wondered why we are told that it was “in the merit of the righteous women that our ancestors were redeemed from Egypt.” I get it—they were devoted to their families with heart and soul, but it wasn’t like their husbands were vacationing in Sharm El Sheikh! They were enslaved, suffering day in and day out from the Egyptians taskmasters, and so the mothers had no choice but to step up and care for their families. Why do they deserve so much credit for a most basic responsibility? Do they deserve accolades for caring for their own children?
Yet, as we delve deeper into the story, and as I lived through the COVID pandemic with you, my own “righteous woman,” I now understand this concept so much better. You see, the Jewish women in Egypt didn’t just care for their families while kvetching about their lot. They didn’t just reluctantly step up to the plate and ensure that the babies survived as they defied Pharaoh’s ruthless decree. They didn’t just bring food and drinks to their husbands who were out working with sweat, blood, and toil. They did a lot more, and they did it with class, love, and enthusiasm.
These devoted wives beautified themselves so that their husbands would be overly attracted to them. They even visited their husbands during the workday with mirrors so that they could see themselves with their husbands in the same frame and keep their passion for each other alive. They were there for their fellow women who were struggling, and created a clandestine team of Jewesses, led by Yocheved and her daughter, Miriam, who ensured that all the Jewish women giving birth were pampered and cared for until they were fully back to themselves after childbirth. They set aside musical instruments, because despite their hardships, they never lost hope in the future redemption and wanted to be ready to celebrate properly, with song and dance, when the miracle of Exodus came about.
These women were warriors through and through. They didn’t veer off the G-dly path despite their challenges, despite seeing so many Jewish children murdered, and despite not being 100% sure when the change, the light, they dreamed of would become reality.
Chav, I know you don’t like my mushy writing, but this is exactly what I’ve seen in you over the past year. You didn’t just care for our children reluctantly. You didn’t bemoan the experience of our kids being home 24/7 and kvetch about it all day. You didn’t shut down, despair, or even lose your bearings; you stepped up every day to be there for our family, for their spiritual, emotional, and mental well-being. I know I’m speaking for so many other husbands who were also blown away by the devotion, sacrifice, and sensitivity that their spouses exhibited during these trying times.
I’m in awe.
You found innovative ways to keep our kiddos busy and their minds intrigued. We did family hikes and road trips together, and you re-invented their playroom, the community playroom, so that they and their friends could have a most educational, productive, and fun experience during their play time. You read thousands of books to them, baked and cooked with them in the kitchen (though you don’t like a messy kitchen), you prepared beautiful Shabbos dinners and lunches even when we weren’t hosting our myriads of guests, and you made each of them feel loved and special even on days when all they did was make you, us, feel exhausted and half-dead.
I sat and watched you (and still do) spend hundreds of hours each month on the phone with teachers, principals, counselors, therapists, doctors, holistic healers, friends, mentors, and anyone who could possibly be able to guide and help, as you endeavor to figure out what to do next to help each of our children and their never-ending needs. You did this all when we were emotionally drained as our Chabad in-house activities came to an abrupt halt and the world seemed to be falling apart, causing all of us, the masked-up souls of 2020–2021, aggravation, hopelessness, and uncertainty.
I looked back at Egypt and realized that my Chavie, and so many of her fellow Jewish women the world over, are truly the righteous ones, making us worthy of redemption. I think it’s straightforward: when you live in a redeemed state of mind, state of being, you are able to bring all of us closer, helping an “enslaved nation” realize that miracles aren’t only possible but probable. When you live with the feminine faith, deeply embedded recognition that Hashem is in charge, then believing He could rock redemption is not a farfetched idea—it’s actually a realistic option.
So now, erev Pesach, one year after Big Sky Country entered this pandemic era, I want to salute you, my dear Chavie, for showing me, showing our children, showing our beloved Montana community, what perseverance looks like and how to wake up each morning and be there for each child that Hashem has gifted you with love that is palpable, as you see redemption in yourself, each of them, and all of Klal Yisrael.
Eleanor Roosevelt said, “A woman is like a tea bag; you can’t tell how strong she is until you put her in hot water,” and she was right. This year, when we reached our collective boiling point, I realized how blessed I am to have you as my partner, and how much Jewish women do for the survival and growth of Jewry.
L’chaim, dear Chav! We are deserving of redemption thanks to you!
Rabbi Chaim Bruk is co-CEO of Chabad Lubavitch of Montana and spiritual leader of The Shul of Bozeman. For comments or to partner in our holy work, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or visit JewishMontana.com/Donate.