Ami Living readers had the merit of meeting Mrs. Tammy Karmel in these pages, when we first featured her in an interview about her life with the debilitating disease of ALS. Thanks to the exposure she received from the article, Breaking Free, Tammy’s words of inspiration through her video lectures have become a source of chizuk and encouragement to thousands of women around the world. I feel especially blessed to live in close proximity to Tammy, which gives me an opportunity to spend time in her awe-inspiring presence. Through my conversations with this venerable woman, I’ve culled countless lessons for life, especially marriage, some of which I share in this article.
Last week, the indefatigable Tammy broke a record: for the first time since she lost her power of speech, she shared a facilitated message in a public venue. Her dear friend, Rebetzin Surele Morgenstern, arranged the event that drew hundreds of women to a hall in Yerushalayim in her honor. When the MC of the event, Chayelle Regal, announced that Tammy would be entering the hall shortly, we broke out in song, “S’eu she’arim rosheichem…” As we sang and clapped, the excitement palpable in the air, Tammy was wheeled into the auditorium, her respirator in tow, flanked by her two beautiful daughters and a selfless friend, Esty Miller, who stand at her side around the clock. Most of the women in the audience were still under the spell of Tammy’s powerful lectures that she had shared passionately until her voice gave out, and they were desperate to hear more from this venerable woman who’s more angel than human. Incredibly, from Tammy’s outer appearance it would be hard to discern her state of incapacitation. Looking ever so glowing in her wig and makeup, she smiled softly at the crowd.
Once Tammy was led to the front of the room, she got to work on her computer. A hushed silence fell over the room as we watched Tammy’s message, word by word, pop up on the oversized screen. Tick, tick, went the computer, as it tracked her eyeball movements on the letters she chose, and words of chizuk and emunah appeared before our eyes. As Tammy typed, we grasped in awe how much energy she had to exert in order to share a brief yet laden message. Every word is gold. What a profound lesson.
After Tammy finished typing each message, her assistant activated a voice feature that allowed us to hear the moving words of chizuk spoken in Tammy’s very own voice, thanks to a voice-banking process she underwent when she still had the capacity to speak. When her sweet voice filled the room, we felt enveloped in her warmth and passion, despite its automated rhythm and lack of her trademark inflections. (The message appeared as one long string of words, but for clarity’s sake, I inserted punctuation marks.)
“You probably wonder how I’m happy amidst great suffering,” she painstakingly wrote. If a wrong letter was mistakenly selected, she used the backspace key to correct it, as we waited with bated breath for the next word to appear. “I will share with you. Firstly, being aware that Hashem does only good only only good— seeing and feeling that emunah gives us a small part of that pleasure. Secondly, when we thank Him for all that He does including the challenges, which are the material to grow. To complain is counterproductive. We all remember what happened to the meraglim. We still suffer for their sins until today. Let’s be sensible.”
“There is one point that I tried and tested that I feel compelled to share with you. I always knew intellectually that we activate what happens in Shamayim. It sounded nice, but how would I know how? Who has the time to look out and reflect? Well, if there is someone who has the time to think, I guess I have been doing some thinking.” Even before the next words appeared on the screen, I already knew that Tammy’s message would be one of faith. The thoughts in her sharp mind are always positive, always full of faith.
“What could I share with you? There is a mirror system with Hashem. When I thank for all the chassadim, Hashem simply gives me such unnatural kindness. When I let the voice of the yetzer hora make me feel sorry for myself, the voice of ‘It’s too hard,’ for someone so expressive to be rendered mute is a whopping challenge but that’s not a reason to let the yetzer hara cause me trouble and have miserable malachim around me making everything difficult and unpleasant and of course cause tzar to Hashem.
“Sometimes we may cry. Hashem understands us. Sometimes, I cry when I feel frustration from not being understood. That is a chance for tefilla.” And then, to conclude her last message, Tammy selects a key that generates not one letter, but the two words she lives by: “No complaints.”
“Thank you so much for your kindness be gebentcht with bracha and nachas.”
As throngs of women, many of them with moist eyes, formed a line behind this venerable women to let her know how she’s changed their lives, several women took for the mikes and started a moving kumzitz with the song, “Eishes Chayil…” Who if not Tammy personifies that role?
Malchus: Who is the King in Your Home?
If there’s a woman in the world who knows how to crown her husband as the king of her home, it’s Mrs. Tammy Karmel. Even in her debilitated state, she continues to fill her exemplary role as an eishes chayil and to guide other women toward finding joy in this place. How does she do it? What thoughts go through her brilliant mind as she sits in that same chair, paralyzed and mute? Thankfully, Tammy is able to communicate through a high-tech computerized eye-tracking system that allows her to painstakingly choose letter by letter to express the deep thoughts that simmer in her mind all day long. For someone like Tammy, who “expressive” is her middle name, this is no small challenge. But, like all the other nisyonos she embraces with wholehearted joy, Tammy is accepting her circumstances with grace. When I look into her sparkling eyes, I can feel it in my soul.
In better days, Tammy spoke passionately about the concept of malchus, a primary Shavuos theme, in regards to our avodas Hashem and shalom bayis. “Malchus is giving over kingship to Hashem, to coronate him as king of your home and life,” she said. “When things are difficult for me, I think about who’s the boss here.” In her incapacitated state, nothing isn’t difficult for her. Whether it’s wanting to soothe her young daughter or letting someone know that she wants to change the position of her head, Tammy knows what frustrating means. Still, what’s her take on these challenges? “Any upsetting feeling comes from one place: the ego. It means the crown is on your head. When you place it where it should be, on Hashem, you’re immediately overtaken by a feeling of total calm because you realize that a Power much greater than yourself is orchestrating every detail in your life.”
Often, in marriage, a woman faces circumstances that are in essence opportunities for her to demonstrate whom they see as king. Your husband may want a certain chinuch for the children that you don’t appreciate. He would rather stay home on Shabbos when you want to have a Shabbos out. He appreciates a structure in the house, or even certain foods, that you don’t go for. Whatever it may be, a woman who places the crown on Hashem’s head will automatically also see her husband as king. She will understand that her ego is what gets in the way of her filling the role of a true eishes chayil. Of course, Tammy remembers to point out, open communication is always important—a woman should not suffer in silence, but after she did her hishtadlus, and while the situation is actually happening, she should think, “Ribono shel Olam, the crown is on Your head.”
Tammy also addresses the question we women ask: Where do we women play a role in accepting the Torah? We know that Hashem instructed Moshe to share the Torah with the women first, as the verser “Ko somar l’Bais Yaakov” implies. The Tana d’vei Eliyahu’s explanation for this gesture offers us great insight into our role as the woman in the home. How do women get their husbands to be more spiritual? It’s not necessarily the man who sits and learns all day and night who’s more holy than any other. The Torah was given kdei la’asos, to be applied in our daily lives. If it makes a person come closer to Hashem, it achieved its purpose. That’s the goal of the Torah for every man, woman, and child. Tells us the Tana d’vei Eliyahu that you have to do one thing: love your husband, respect him and accept him. When you do so, all your love for Torah will be transmitted to him. That’s the way to do it.
If you truly love the life of Torah, all you need to do is love him, respect him, and accept him—which is actually not so simple. I have a very spiritual relative whom Hashem paired up with a man who loves the physical world. Let me tell you, they have a beautiful house of Torah. This woman showed her kids what’s important. The big fancy car parked outside doesn’t excite them. I learned about the mitzvah of Rosh Chodesh from her. She sets a magnificent table and talks about the excitement of the day. If a woman wants spirituality and her husband isn’t that way, that’s her Torah. That’s what Hashem gave you. Real Torah is wanting what the Eibishter wants from you. You need to love what you have. That’s my Torah— to want my condition, and it’s your Torah—to want your husband. Korach’s eidah wanted a spiritual level that wasn’t for them and they were thus consumed by a fire from Hashem. Want what Hashem gives you, dear women, and make the best of it.
Even if your husband isn’t as connected to the Torah as you’d like him to be, or even if he is, your role in the home’s Yiddishkeit is profound. Your children pick up on your values. They sense how you feel about Hashem and the Torah even without you saying it. How do you speak about a nice house? The vacation you went on? What gives you starry eyes? If a wife shows her husband how much she values his learning, even half an hour, he’ll feel it. Cut him a slice of cheese cake and say, “You’re my chosson Torah.” The kids could know it’s only for Tatty because he’s learning Torah. The more you show your husband and children that you truly value Torah, that you’re ready to sacrifice for it, the love will seep into their bones.
To Tammy, playing the role as the eizer k’negdo is not at all a subservient task. Since her marriage, she stood at her husband’s side, tending to the needs of the family so he could learn Torah. Her even greater strength lies in the fact that she crowned him the king of the home, consulting with him before she took any move in chinuch or otherwise. As the consummate eishes chayil, she takes pride in her place as the cheerleader for her husband because she understands the significance of her work. She often shared an insightful explanation on the words “Vatan Miriam.” The passuk tells us that after krias yam suf, Miriam spoke to the women, stating, “And Miriam answered.” The obvious question is: What was the women’s question? We don’t find it in the preceding verses. The answer is that Miriam was very intuitive. She understood that the women had an issue. They knew that the men will get schar for their Torah learning, and they probably wondered, ‘What will be with us?’ So she answered their niggling question with the words, “Sus verochvo rama bayam, Hashem drowned the horses and their riders in the sea,” implying a profound message to the womenfolk. The horses deserved to drown because they led the Egyptians to war against the Jews. They were the vehicles through which the Egyptians were able to commit evil deeds. We know that midah tovah merubah mimidas piraniyos, Hakadosh Baruch Hu rewards for good deeds many times more than he punishes for evil ones. If so, can you imagine what schar we’ll get for wanting Torah, for being the vehicles through which our husbands and sons can immerse in their holy work?
Gadol hama’aseh yoser min ha’oseh, our Sages tell us. The one who makes something happened is greater than the one who actually does it. Even if your husband is smoking on a bench in kollel, you’ll get the schar. You sent him off innocently and even packed him sandwiches so you’ll be the one to be really rich! There’s no sidelines here. We’re even greater than they are because we allow it to happen.
Hashem knew that once a woman’s heart is full of Torah and mitzvos, she’ll make sure to give it over to the rest of the family. We’re the ones to imbue the home with the values that are important to us. Rabbi Elazar ben Aruch was deemed the talmid of Rabbi Yochanab ben Zakkai who weighed down the others in his greatness and wisdom. However, interestingly enough we find no mention of him at all in the Gemara. Where was he when all the tana’im were hard at work in yeshiva? Rabbi Elazar’s wife wanted to live in a resort—that’s where he was. All other talmidim of Rabbi Yochanan lived in an unsophisticated city, but she fancied the country air. Perhaps she even said to him, “You’ll have such clarity there! It’ll be so good for you!” But in her merit, he lost all his Torah.
So much depends on the woman. Is your heart bursting with love for Hashem? A life of Torah doesn’t only mean pages of Gemara. It means living Torah. If you truly feel connected to Hashem and it emanates from everything you do, your husband and children will feel it too.
Megillas Rus is about several people who did normal things and yet a whole megilla is written about them. This comes to show you that every one of your deeds creates Torah. If you have the right intentions when you do even the most mundane tasks, you’re creating Torah. When you purse your lips when you know you’re right, when you prepare a meal your husband likes when you’d rather lounge on the couch, when you place the crown on Hashem’s head, you’re creating your megilla.
Dear sisters, put the judgement away and let your expectations fly out the window. Want your husband for who he is and you will have a house of Torah—your Torah. Your Torah is not only crying into your tehillim and taking challah. It’s about creating a home for Hashem— a pleasant place for the shechina to rest.
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