Several years ago when I was studying Scripture at the Athenaeum with Fr. Tim Schehr, one of the assignments was to look at the book of Tobit through the eyes of his wife. I had a great time with it and thought that I’d share it here. It’s longer than I realized, so I’ll spread it out to correspond to the lectionary readings this week.
As I stood by Tobit’s grave, suddenly I realized that nearly our whole life has centered on graves. My husband’s commitment to burying his dead kinsmen became an all-consuming passion. I understood the importance of his activity from a religious perspective. It was a mitzvah. But I wonder if he realized the toll it took on our daily life. When he was reported to the king, he had to flee for his life, leaving me alone with our son. And while he was gone, the authorities came and confiscated all his goods. To hear him tell the story, it all sounds so virtuous., so upright, so courageous. Men only see the adventure involved, and the principles. Do they ever give a thought for the women and children left at home? Sometimes I almost understood why our neighbors mocked him for his actions. And yet, he was my husband. We were exiles, strangers here. Our neighbors didn’t understand our faith and they didn’t understand Tobit.
After he was blinded, I had to take in weaving work. His nephew was good to us, but we had to make some attempt to help ourselves. I was a good weaver and I liked doing the work, even if Tobit tended to dismiss it as “the work that women do.” The owners I worked for were good to me, often giving me gifts of food in addition to my wages. I usually prepared it without saying anything to Tobit. He didn’t mind accepting help from his nephew, but I was afraid he would object to charity from the non-Jews in Nineveh. So many of our countrymen had assimilated, been absorbed by the Babylonian culture. Tobit was determined we would hold fast to our faith, to the Law, to Adonai.
The day they gave me the goat, I wasn’t sure what to do with it, so I brought it home with me. Later I would take it to be slaughtered in accord with our Law. Tobit heard the goat bleat when we came in and had a fit. Where he got the idea that the goat was stolen, I don’t know. I was tired and I had been pleased with the gift. He insisted we give it back, and finally I lost my patience with his high ideals. “Where are your charitable deeds now? Where are your virtuous acts?” Did he think he was the only one who could perform acts of charity? It was so hard for him to accept help from others. And he made me feel as though I had betrayed him and our faith in accepting this gift. But he didn’t hear what I was saying. He was driven by some single-minded approach to life.
Next thing I knew he had launched into a prayer for death so that he would no longer have to endure insults. What was he thinking? They hadn’t been insulting him with this gift. Nor had I been insulting him when I told him his true character was showing. Well, I may have over-reacted just a bit. But it was the same story again and again. His concern for his own virture and reputation had blinded him to the day to day reality. He didn’t care about me, he didn’t care about our son. We were the props to his proper life. I began to think that all his good deeds were merely a way to make himself look good in his own eyes. How often had I heard him boast, “I, Tobit, have walked all the days of my life on the paths of truth and righteousness.” No wonder he took it so hard when other people failed to admire his virtue!
(to be continued…..)
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