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Dear Mother Staying Home on Yom Kippur,
I see you, waving a cheery goodbye at the men as they leave for shul early in the morning and then sinking down on the couch and wondering just how you’ll get through the day that stretches ahead. It’s Yom Kippur, and you’re spending it at home.
The day is an endless blur of diapers and snacks, punctuated with wails and tantrums. Time is passing, which is good, but it’s also bad, because it’s the holiest day on the calendar and it feels like any other.
If you’re lucky, and the naps line up just so and you find a quiet moment, you may be able to sit down with a machzor. You might open it and then, startled awake by calling from the crib, realize that you never even turned a page.
Or you might get through some familiar tefilos, humming the songs that inspired you as a child and moved you as a young adult. Now, the words feel flat and your mind wanders.
The clock strikes the most crucial moments of the year: Kol Nidrei. Ne’ilah. You are deep in bedtime, singing and shushing and patting just as you do on any weeknight.
It feels nothing like the Yom Kippur you’ve always known, when you went to shul, felt part of a nation, and reveled in the solemnity. Now it’s just you and babies.
Now, if you feel like crying, it’s not because of the chazzan’s heart-rending tunes.
Yours is the lost cry of a woman who doesn’t know what she’s doing or how she found herself here.
It’s the guilty admission of someone who can’t find connection… It’s resentment and annoyance that you’re the one stuck at home… It’s despair and sadness that your lifelong identity with the day has been stripped away.
Dear mother… Please know that you are exactly where you are meant to be.
Remember that for ten years, Chana traveled to the Mishkan in Shiloh three times annually to sit in shul and daven. When her prayers were finally answered, she gave up those cherished trips to stay at home with Shmuel for two years.
Chana was a prophetess – she experienced Shiloh on a different level. And she was very wealthy. She could have either brought a nanny along or left Shmuel behind with a babysitter. Maybe he would have even gained from all that holiness, too.
Instead, she stayed home to watch him and make sure his naps stayed on schedule. And this was important enough to have been included in the Torah.
On Yom Kippur, we read in detail about the avodah of the Kohen Gadol. The job of serving in the Bais Hamikdash was so coveted that a slot of working for just two weeks out of the entire year had to be assigned by raffle. And it was essentially housework. Sweeping ashes. Caring for animals. Laundering the uniforms. Polishing the silver utensils.
But don’t think that you’re relegated to domestic duties while the men accomplish the important stuff in shul. Don’t put a label on either experience and think that yours is less valid.
Yours looks different, because it is. Yours is bare bones, behind-the-scenes.
There are two kinds of relationships: external (giluy) and essence (atzmus).
External relationships are more fun. They’re prettier, glitzier, and hold more social credit. This is like sitting in the front row at your best friend’s wedding, being honored at a gala tzedakah event, or attending a beautiful shul with an inspiring service.
Essence relationships go deeper, so deep that they may not even be visible.
An essence friend misses the chuppah because she’s taking care of a sudden wedding mishap. An essence donor receives no fanfare for his anonymous contribution. An essence shul is an undecorated basement with bare walls and full hearts.
An external relationship with Hashem is sitting in the front row, enjoying the singing and the spirituality. It’s easier to quantify and to check off the boxes: tefillos, inspiration, sermon, pledges. You can feel and touch that.
What does Yom Kippur look like without the scenery, the costumes and the music? What does the party look like for the right hand of the king?
If you’re the nanny of the king, you’d better not be attending his party. You had better be knee-deep in little princes and princesses. An essence relationship with Hashem is diapering His children.
Stripped down, Yom Kippur is the mother who stays at home and doesn’t manage to read a single word. Stripped down, Yom Kippur night might be… chopping up firewood, cooking soup and feeding a widowed postpartum woman and her newborn, as the Alter Rebbe famously did one Ne’ilah night.
That’s being the BFF of Hashem. It doesn’t look pretty, but He can count on you.
Dear mother… Wherever you are is exactly where you need to be.
We all have different seasons in life. Someone has to be the little kid who runs through shul. Someone has to be the counselor chasing after them. Someone has to sit and focus on the davening. And someone has to stay at home, raising the babies who will grow to become the running children.
If you are at home, remember that all you truly have to do to fulfill the mitzvah of the day is fast. Inspiration is entirely optional. This is your season, and it might feel hard. May you find your meaning in it.
If you are able to participate in shul and focus on the holiness of the day, enjoy it. Like Chana, may your every tefilah become reality this year.
May our upcoming year be one of health, sustenance and life.
May it be filled with every joy and every blessed sorrow that comes with raising the next generation, and may we all spend Yom Kippur united in one location: the Bais Hamikdash.
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