Rebecca Masinter

Parshas B'shalach - The Taste of Motherhood

When I was a student in high school, Rabbi Meyer Schwab, our principal, would frequently share divrei Torah from his father, Rav Shimon Schwab.  Often Rabbi Schwab would retell  stories from his father’s visit to the Chafetz Chaim in Radin.  One idea the Chofetz Chaim shared during that visit is particularly relevant to us in our role as Jewish mothers.  The Chafetz Chaim asked the young Rav Schwab, “We know that mahn, the food the Jews ate in the wilderness, tasted like whatever you imagined.  If you were thinking about hamburgers, the mahn tasted like hamburgers.  If you were thinking of pizza, it tasted like pizza.  But what happened if you weren’t thinking at all when you were eating?  What did the mahn taste like if you weren’t thinking of a flavor?”  The Chafetz Chaim answered with a significant insight. If a person didn’t think of a food when he ate the mahn, the mahn had no flavor.  If a person was mindful and focused when eating the mahn, it had the most delicious flavors and was a great delicacy.  But if a person ate mindlessly, without thinking, mahn was bland and flavorless.  The Chafetz Chaim continued, we know the mahn is a metaphor for the whole Torah as the passuk in B’shalach says Hashem gave the mahn as a test to see if we’ll follow the Torah or not.  There were specific laws concerning the mahn, how much to gather, when to gather, when not to gather, but how is the mahn a test regarding the whole Torah?  Because in a certain way, the mahn is a parable for the Torah, illustrated by this idea. If a person is focused and mindful when learning Torah or doing mitzvos, it is inspiring, meaningful, and has the most delicious flavor, but if one doesn’t, and just davens by rote or learns by rote, the flavor is lost.  This is why we daven every day, “V’ha’arev na”, let the words of Torah be sweet to us and our children.  Torah can be the greatest delicacy, but we have to be present and mindful to taste it.

Why do I find this thought so relevant and inspiring?  Because the same principle applies to Jewish women and mothers.  We have two choices in how we go about our days.  We can run around from errand to errand, wash the dishes, put up laundry, make phone calls, drive to appointments, and feel worn down and uninspired.  Our activities can be flavorless.  Or we can choose to think, be aware, and mindful and then we enjoy the delicious flavor and meaning in our days.  Each phone call, errand, and appointment is as meaningful as we make it.  Behind the action is our motivation.  We go grocery shopping as an act of love for our families and guests, to buy foods that are healthy and delicious, that will give ourselves and our families energy to do wonderful things, food that will make them feel loved and cared for, food that we’ll eat together with conversation and connection, food that will feed guests and make them feel loved and welcomed.  There is nothing meaningless about a trip to the grocery store!  And it is the same for each thing we do all day.  If we are aware of the flavor and meaning in our daily activities, then we will enjoy them, and taste the most delicious flavors, and if not, they can be bland or boring.

This is also an empowering message to teach our children.  There are tasks in life that can seem meaningless or boring, but usually, if we invest a little thought into them we can find the meaning and deeper reasons why we’re doing them, and that awareness yields us so much more joy.

So much of our life is like the mahn, delicious if we pause to mindfully savor the taste, and bland if we don't.