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The Song of Kabbalas HaTorah: A Shavuos Diary

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Shavuos 2003

My first yom tov married! Nesanel and I decided to stay home so he could learn in yeshivah at night. I made my first roast ever – followed the cookbook instructions to the letter, because Mommy’s were too vague. Also cabbage kugel, health salad, creamy baked fish, and chocolate cheesecake. Somehow I benched licht with the siren, but don’t ask what the kitchen looked like. I must have used every single mixing bowl and spoon I own, both milchig and fleishig.  Nesanel couldn’t get over my improvised sweet-potato appetizer (I didn’t have time for the mushroom turnovers I was planning). When we finished eating Nesanel sat back in one of the ugly chairs that comes with this furnished apartment and taught me a song. It’s one they sing in yeshivah Shavuos night. “Kad Yasvin Yisrael.” The words basically mean that when Hashem sees klal Yisrael learning Torah He calls to the Heavenly army and says, “Look at My beloved children.” The melody is so haunting, and I get the chills just humming it as I clean up after Havdalah.  It’s crazy how all my seminary dreams have come true. I’m living in Eretz Yisrael, married to a real ben Torah, and my working and cooking (even without the mushroom turnovers) means I’ve got a share in Nesanel’s learning. It feels surreal, yet so right.

Shavuos 2005

The baby’s finally asleep so I can start tackling the yom tov mess: dishes piled high in the sink and the kitchen floor could do with a mop, too.  I’m exhausted, but yom tov was a dream. I went back to work after maternity leave three weeks ago, and having two days off to be with the world’s most delicious baby is a bonus. Nesanel’s been doing the laundry to help me adjust, but it’s hard to keep up with everything.  Worse than the treadmill is leaving Mimi each day. She doesn’t cry when I drop her off at the babysitter—but I do… Everyone tells me she’ll be fine. I know that intellectually, but emotionally it’s another story! This year, Mimi sat on my lap when Nesanel sang Kad Yasvin. I closed my eyes and swayed to the nigun, wishing for her the same nachas I have.  But even as I absorbed the song, I couldn’t help worrying. It’s just that… Nesanel’s been a bit depressed lately. At first I thought it might be something to do with Mimi—I’ve heard of new fathers having a hard time. But he says it’s nothing to do with the baby, and it really started a few months before he was born. He still heads off to yeshivah each day, but he doesn’t seem as excited about shiur as he did when we were first married. He’s even dropped his afternoon chavrusa so he can “take it easy.” I guess he’s tired with Mimi up at nights—we both are—and it must be agony trying to crack open the Gemara’s arguments when you’re a zombie. Still, I hope it’s just a passing phase.

Shavuos 2006

Big, fat, and pregnant, that’s me. Most of those cute little maternity outfits I bought last year don’t fit anymore, so it was a little tough over yom tov—I always feel yucky when I don’t have anything decent to wear. Nesanel forced himself to learn all night, and he told me that it wore him out and he doesn’t know if he can do it again.  As for me, I’m tired all the time and busy, busy, busy. We’ve moved out of our fourth-floor walkup into this beautiful apartment. The best thing about is that there’s an elevator – just in time, too, because Mimi’s not walking yet and I don’t know how I’d manage shlepping two babies up all those stairs. I’m unpacking frantically so we’ll be all settled in before I give birth. I tried to make the place look decent for yom tov, but there were still a few boxes I covered with a (borrowed) tablecloth.  When I have a minute to catch my breath, I try to reassure myself that everything will be fine once the baby’s born. Living the dream isn’t as easy as I thought it would be. All I do is tend to everyone else’s needs. My own are relegated someplace far away.  Nesanel’s been trying to relax this winter, on his doctor’s advice. The rosh yeshivah’s not pleased, but there’s not much we can do about that. Nesanel says that whatever he does learn is thanks to me. I’m so careful not to push him, just to give him his space and lots and lots of encouragement. And of course, chocolate-chip cookies. Those seem to have a magical effect. On his waistline, if nothing else.

Shavuos 2007

Dreams, ha. We finished the seudah and neither Nesanel nor I moved. There were no guests this year, and the only chatter was Mimi talking to her favorite doll. We looked at each other, and he knew I was willing him to go learn and I knew that he wasn’t going to but that still I hoped.  Our conversations echo in my head all day. The day Nesanel told me he was done with it all. “I can’t learn anymore,” he said. “You know I can’t.”  And I had to agree. Try as I might, there’s no moving the mountain that is Nesanel.  Now he’s decided he’s moving to America, going to college, getting a degree…Forget about Kad Yasvin. Forget about eishes chayil encouraging her husband’s learning.  What should I say, I wondered. I sat, desperately searching my seminary memories for what you’re supposed to do in this situation, but I can’t find anything.   The rosh yeshivah’s silence is louder than words. When I call my old teachers for chizzuk, their encouragement sound hollow.  The whole working thing wouldn’t be so bad if Nesanel still looked – and acted – the part, but even that he says is too much for him. I’m embarrassed to tell people what he does all day and what time he gets dressed in the morning. Internet filter? What’s that?  Sometimes I wonder if this is my husband or some kind of stranger.  At least there are the kiddies, who keep me on my toes, between bottles, toy exchanges, and spilled pretzels. And work, my escape hatch from reality.

Shavuos 2008

Is the sun really shining out there? Hard to tell, because in here, it’s all dark. My family’s far away, my friends are across the ocean. Most of the women I connect to in this town are part of the kollel, and I’m not. I’m working from home so I never get out, and Nesanel’s preoccupied all week with work and school. He doesn’t get home till an hour before licht benching most Fridays, and when he’s home he’s always at the computer.  Shabbos he sleeps all day. We barely talk to each other anymore. Every time I look at him my eyes fill with tears, and he knows it.  We complained about our air conditioning to the apartment management before yom tov, and the maintenance man came to fix it yesterday morning. I didn’t know if I was allowed to let him in on yom tov or not. Then I took the girls to visit a potential friend, another ex-kollel wife who also moved here last summer like we did. Her husband’s going for a degree, but of course he was shteiging away all night. Remember Kad Yasvin? My husband, on the other hand… I pretended he was sleeping too, but the lies are wearing thin.  I’m trying to be brave, but this is the pits.

Shavuos 2009

It’s all over. My marriage, I mean. I never thought Nesanel would do it…I never thought I’d give him the ultimatum. But I couldn’t live with a stranger anymore, without the slightest bit of Torah in my home, and he said nothing was ever going to change for him.  I got my get faster than I ever could have imagined possible.  A coworker invited me for yom tov this year. I didn’t have the energy to make other plans, so escape seemed the best option. They’re more modern, and Mimi and Shani were the only little kids there, but at least there was salmon and lasagna and cheesecake and some talk of kabbalas haTorah.  I’m living near my family, but my life is upside down. I’m trying to figure out who and what I am, now that I’m no longer an eishes chayil or even a wife. I cry myself to sleep every night. The kids are getting used to their day care and making friends, but I feel so disconnected from reality, it’s scary.

Shavuos 2010

I didn’t go away for Shavuos this year – I even baked a Har Sinai cake with the kids and bought a bouquet of flowers – but I can’t think about Kad Yasvin without shaking. We ate out for the seudos and I pretended it was just a regular Shabbos, even though the songs were different.  Life as a single mom isn’t what I had in mind back in seminary days, but I guess Someone else is writing the script for me. My kids are sweet, adorable munchkins.  They’re doing well in preschool and day care, even without a tatty in the house, and I’ve got a support group of other divorcees to help me through the rough times. My face doesn’t burn as much when I meet old friends, and I try not to think of myself as a failure, even though isn’t that what a get means in this society?

Shavuos 2012

This Shavuos, my emotions are more under control, but my questions aren’t. I made cheesecake with the girls, and even pored over a blintz recipe, but that’s not what it’s about. My Shavuos was always powered by the conviction that I have a cheilek in Torah.  Well, if I don’t have a husband who’s learning, do I, too, have a portion in kabbalas HaTorah? What is my place in this society? Do I have a portion in kabbalas haTorah if I’m not there in shul Shavuos night with all the men? One of my friends told me about an older single woman who sponsors a Friday afternoon kollel, but I can’t afford that. What do all the hashkafah sefarim have to say about me?  I have a ton of support from friends and neighbors and I love my job, but I still find yom tov so hard. I miss the seudos I used to share with Nesanel, back in the early days when married life was fresh and exciting. I miss that feeling of rightness, of living the dream.

Erev Shavuos 2013

Between work and kids and the occasional simchah or shiur or (usually bum) date, my days are full. I have more than enough Shabbos invites, and I don’t cry myself to sleep anymore. I no longer notice the blinking neon sign over my head announcing this woman is divorced.  I bought an extra-large bunch of flowers this Shavuos, and I’m making arrangements to send the girls to a neighbor so I can attend a women’s shiur on Kabbalas HaTorah tomorrow morning. It feels right, even though I know most of my friends, busy with their kids, won’t be there.  In a weird way, I feel like I’ve reverted to my seminary days. Sans the excitement and idealism, of course, but with a kind of freedom I didn’t have back then. Even if I’m not a kollel wife anymore, I’m doing my best to raise my kids and take care of my own ruchnius at the same time. I don’t think Hashem wants anything more…otherwise He wouldn’t have assigned me this situation to begin with.  Can you hear me sing Kad Yasvin? I hope one day I’ll have a husband who will learn Torah, but in the meantime I’ve got my own cheilek to cultivate, as one of Hashem’s “bani chavivai, beloved children.”

Originally published in Mishpacha magazine, May 13, 2013; reprinted from www.HealingfromtheBreak.com.

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