(I’m from a somewhat traditional secular home and became Orthodox later, so Gitty and I come from extremely different backgrounds.)
I was telling her how much I admired my son’s ganenet, Mindel, a warm and quiet woman whom Gitty had known her whole life.
At a pause in the conversation, Gitty very quietly asked, “Tell me, do you think she’s better than you?”
I did, actually. But the question caught me off-guard, so I just remained silent.
“Well?" said Gitty. "Do you think that she’s better than you?”
I still didn’t answer. Was Gitty insulting me or complimenting me? Anyway, I thought about Mindel’s warm and reassuring approach toward other mothers and her gentle caring way with the children, and I wanted to answer, Yes, I think she’s better than me.
“Tell me,” said Gitty. “Do you think she’s wiser than you? Smarter?”
“Uhhh…” I faltered. The questions were only getting weirder. Anyway, how does one compare intelligence? There’s different kinds, with emotional intelligence being the most important and exactly what Mindel possessed an abundance of.
“She’s not,” Gitty said.
She gave a refined giggle. “You’re smarter than her.”
Did she mean my college education (that I had never finished)? Who cares about that?
“No, Mindel’s really wonderful,” I blustered. “She’s such a nice person and so great with the kids…”
“Yes,” said Gitty. “Mindel is wonderful. I've known her a long time. She’s great. But she was brought up to be that way. She didn’t have to build herself up with her own ten fingers—like you.”
I sat in stunned silence. Why was Gitty saying this? She hardly knew me.
After a moment of contemplation, Gitty continued,
“Tell me, if your mother fries an egg a certain way and you fry it the same way—does that mean anything? If you always see how your mother folds towels, and you fold them the same way, does that mean you’re a towel-folding genius? No. Because you’re just copying what you always saw at home. Do you understand?”
I nodded. “Yes.”
“Do you? Do you really understand? Because it’s like this: There are a lot of successful people out there. But they usually have a secret to their success. They have money, or a really helpful husband, or family support, or they were raised to be a certain way. For example, I have a cousin with 18 kids. And things look great. And things are great! The kids are turning out well. People always look at her with admiration and go, ‘Ooh-ah-wow!’”
“Yeah,” I said. "Wow!"
"Her husband runs an entire school system, which brings in a lot of money, allowing her to cut corners with easier and more expensive ready-made food, plus cleaning help three times a week. Being very chinuch- and child-oriented, her husband was also always very involved with the kids in a positive way. In fact, he used to come home and spend 2 hours every evening giving the kids supper and getting them bathed and into bed while she either rested or tidied up. What's more, her innate nature is to stay home and deal with the kids. She honestly doesn’t feel the need to go out and do anything else. So you see? She has tremendous resources, both from within her and from the environment surrounding her. So regarding people like her, we say, ‘Thank God—baruch Hashem.’ We say, ‘Good for her--kol hakavod.’ But to become breathless with admiration and gasp, ‘Ooh-ah-wow’?”
Gitty shook her head. “No. She is just doing what she was brought up to do and what she feels naturally inclined to do. And she does it well. Baruch Hashem.”
Then Gitty’s gaze grew intense. “Yes, a woman struggling with, for example, three kids and barely managing will look at a woman managing beautifully with 18 kids, and say, ‘Ooh-ah-wow.’ But maybe the woman with three kids has three really hard kids, and her husband doesn’t help, and she has no money, and she doesn’t have family support...”
Gitty cocked her head to one side. “So who’s more precious in Hashem’s eyes? Who do you think? I’m telling you that the regular woman struggling with the three kids is more precious to Hashem.”
I mulled that over.
Gitty nodded and declared, “The people who are successful and built themselves from scratch--they’re rare. They deserve the ‘Ooh-ah-wow' reaction, and not my cousin.”
She was the first girl born after five boys, and more boys and girls followed:
“In my mother’s home, there was balagan [mess]. Food was in abundance—simple food, but healthy food. Not junk. Every day, there was a huge pot of chicken wings or chicken necks or meat with potatoes or whatever—and balagan. In my house, there was noise, there was mess, there was drum-banging, there was gravel being dragged in, and there was dirt. And believe me, that’s the best way to raise emotionally healthy children.”
Gitty gave a sheepish smile. “But I’m not on my mother’s level. My house is always clean because I get embarrassed if my neighbors stop by and it’s not presentable. But it’s not right to be like me. My mother was right.”
She added, “My brothers also knew how to bake, cook, and sew. And that’s right.”
It’s easy to get caught up in comparing yourself (or others) to others, but in reality, the wide variation of different people’s resources and skills and opportunities make comparisons a meaningless exercise.
Gitty herself seemed like just this typical young chassidiste raised in the Old-World atmosphere of Geula.
But she was a special person herself and wise beyond her years.
And I'm far from being the only person on whom Gitty pours forth her wisdom.
Using Gitty’s method of viewing other people taught me to admire people I otherwise wouldn’t have looked up to. I learned to appreciate people unappreciated by others and to see them as Hashem likely sees them.
The Gemara says that This World is an upside-down world.
And that’s the Truth.