It was a typical Thursday afternoon at my local kosher market here in L.A. Jews of all stripes wandered the aisles grabbing meat, rice, and vegetables for Shabbos. As I picked out the “perfect” package of chicken breasts – not too big and not too small – I noticed a mother and daughter who stood out from the rest of the customers. Both stood tall and tan, with sunbleached hair. The mother wore a t-shirt and capri pants; the daughter, jeans and a tank top, her rosy shoulders sticking out for everyone to see. I’m ashamed to admit that I felt a little superior in my “frummy”clothes: long skirt, knee-high socks, and button-down shirt.
However, as I bumped into them again picking through the broccoli crowns on display, I couldn’t help but notice the very special relationship this mother and daughter seemed to have. While most of the teenagers in the market sighed dramatically to announce their boredom, sent texts on their phones, or – at best – zoomed around collecting items on their parents’ shopping lists, this young woman chatted amiably with her mother as if there was nothing she’d rather be doing.
At one point, her mother noticed an item missing from her cart. “Yikes! I need it for that new recipe.” “Don’t worry, Mom!” her daughter said. “I’ll get it for you.” It did not matter that the special ingredient was at the other end of the store.
They pulled their cart into the line ahead of me just as I reached the check-out aisle. As the line progressed at a snail’s pace, I watched this mother and daughter smiling and schmoozing and started to wonder what the mother had done in order to establish this remarkable bond they appeared to have. When my kids grew into teenagers, I wanted similar relationships with them.
At last, the pair’s turn came to check out, and they unloaded groceries onto the conveyor belt in sync.
“Put Grandma’s groceries on first,” the mother said as she arranged the food.
She’s probably going to pay for the groceries on separate tabs.
But that wasn’t the case at all, because the next thing I knew, the mother turned to her daughter and explained, “We always take care of what Grandma needs first.”
I felt embarrassed about my previous, hasty judgment as I grabbed a divider and started to load my own groceries onto the conveyor belt. When I’d first seen this woman, I’d judged her as “less frum” than me, based merely on our respective modes of dress. If anything, this mother was a lot more frum than me, at least regarding the mitzvah of kibbud eim – honoring one’s mother.
In Pirkei Avos, Rabbi Yehoshua ben Parachya tells us to judge people favorably, and in a separate mishnah, Hillel urges us not to judge a person until we stood in their place. Clearly, I’d failed to do either.
I learned two lessons that day as I waited to check out: I should never judge a person based on her appearance, and if I want to cultivate a lasting, respectful relationship with my kids, I’d better develop a more respectful relationship with my own mother.