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The Perfect Errand

May 9, 2009 | by Emuna Braverman

Making sure your spouse feels loved and appreciated is a lot more important than getting the right brand of detergent.

Do you discover five extra bags of potato chips when you send your husband to the grocery store? Does he bring home a whole case of tuna because it was on sale and the more expensive toilet paper because it's softer? And who put beer, peanuts and chocolate on the list?

Our first reaction is all too often frustration. Is he part of some vast male conspiracy dedicated to sabotaging shopping efforts?

Or is it possible, just possible, that he tried his best? That he thought he was doing you a favor. That he was really trying to help out. That he was hurt that you responded with criticism instead of appreciation.

When Noah sent the dove out to look for dry land, the dove came back empty-handed. Afraid that due to this failure of accomplishment she would not be allowed back in the ark, the verse says the dove returned to the ark as opposed to into the ark. The dove kept her distance. But Noah reached out, took her in his hand and brought her back inside. Noah recognized the effort, not the accomplishment.

The Almighty rewards our efforts, not our accomplishments, and teaches us how we should treat others.

Wasn't it thoughtful of your husband to shop for you? Didn't he take time out of his busy schedule at your request? Isn't it an expression of love and caring?

Reward it with disgruntled attacks and not only will you ensure he never enters another grocery store again (is that really the goal?), but you will damage your marriage on a much deeper level. Your spouse will feel unappreciated and unloved. Wouldn't it be preferable to just use a different brand of detergent? To swallow the cost of the case of soda and to applaud his generosity?

The same thing happens with teenagers. I find that errands involving using the car are the ones they're most excited to do. And grocery shopping hasn't yet lost its charm. But they always seem to buy the wrong brands. Do I criticize them? Sometimes. Do I suffer in martyred silence? Sometimes. Do I appreciate their kindness and their desire to help? Rarely. Do I tell them? Almost never.

Under such circumstances how long will their desire last?

I've noticed that most math teachers these days give credit for the process as well as the correct answer. If a student understands the steps and the formula but makes a careless mistake, all is not lost.

If our children or spouse try to help and it's not done perfectly, shouldn't they also get the credit for the process?

The Talmud teaches that if you make an effort to do a mitzvah and you are prevented by circumstances beyond your control from completing it, you get the credit for the mitzvah.

If you go to visit a sick person in his hospital bed and find him sound asleep, you get the credit for the mitzvah. If a family member does an errand for us and he too is prevented by circumstances beyond his control (i.e. he can't read our minds) from its perfect fulfillment, doesn't he deserve the same credit?

And who says it wasn't perfect fulfillment? Perhaps his desire to help and give to us is about as perfect as it gets.


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