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  • Writer's pictureMiriam Green

Balancing the Scales


I stole a shirt from my mom’s drawer. Or maybe I borrowed it permanently. Does the nuance in the confession ameliorate my guilt?

It happened so innocently. As we were getting ready to leave the house, Daddy noticed that Mom was wearing two skirts.

“How did that happen?” Mom wondered.

“They must have been stuck together,” I suggested, trying to spin it positively.

“Yesterday you had on two shirts,” Daddy said, chuckling. “Maybe you’re balancing the scales today.”

Mom laughed too. She started taking off the skirt, but it was tight around her waist. We couldn’t figure out how she’d put it on. Mom doesn’t realize how much weight she’s gained. Whereas she used to eat small portions and refuse most cakes, these days she eats with abandon, sometimes forgetting she’s had a full meal only to eat again.

We pulled the skirt up over her head, revealing the black-and-white skirt she had also been wearing, and went into the bedroom to put it away.

Mom immediately opened her drawer rather than her closet, and became distracted. “What’s this,” she asked, holding up a white and green top. “Is this a bathing suit?”

“No,” I said, eyeing it with interest. “It’s the same kind of material, but you wear this over another shirt, like a jumper.”

“Oh,” she replied.

I can’t say I remember Mom ever wearing this shirt. I noticed how elegantly the neck fell in folds from a small weight sewn into the extra material.

“Here, I’ll take it,” I said. Then I closed the drawer, hung the skirt in the closet, and gathered Mom to go out. Along the way, I slipped that shirt into my knapsack.

Like taking candy from a baby. She has no awareness of my stealth and there’s no chance that she’ll remember it.

Last winter, we culled a lot of clothes from Mom’s overstuffed wardrobe that she never wore. Our goal was to make room in the closet for the clothes she did wear, leaving as wide a choice as possible for her to pick from. We had to do it in secret, because each item I took from the closet she’d grab back and say, “don’t take that, I wear it all the time.” It was useless to argue with her. Some of the clothes hadn’t been worn in decades.

There’s a scene in the movie Sideways where Paul Giamatti’s character steals money from his mom’s purse while she’s sleeping. I didn’t like the movie, and I definitely didn’t like that scene. I don’t condone theft and certainly not from the elderly.

Judaism regards stealing in secret as a more heinous crime than stealing openly. If you openly steal something, you show a disregard for the opinion of others and of God. If you steal secretly, you are acting hypocritically, because you understand the consequences of your actions; you are afraid of the opinion of others and do not care about what God thinks.

I do feel guilty. I took advantage of Mom’s simple nature for my own benefit, even if I know it didn’t hurt her.

On the other hand, every time I wear that shirt, I will think of Mom. I will feel her close to me as if she’s giving me one of her special hugs. To me, that balances the scales.

When I got home, I made one of my favorite comfort dishes, trying to give to my family to further assuage my guilt.

Beef and Lentil Stew

This stew is ideal for a cold rainy night. You can make it in the afternoon and let it simmer for several hours. It’s wholesome and filling. If you have different vegetables like pumpkin or cabbage or even cauliflower, add these too. The mount of water you add is proportional to the amount of vegetables you add. If you like thick soup, add less water. If you prefer it a little thinner, add more water. Sometimes I use barley or rice instead of burghul. Or I make it separately and add it to my bowl before I pour in the soup.

2 Tbsp canola oil

1 onion chopped

2-3 garlic cloves minced

½ cup orange lentils

½ cup green lentils

3 carrots chopped

1 large squash cubed

2-3 stalks celery (with leaves) chopped

1 lb beef cubes

6 cups water

1 tsp parsley (or as much fresh parsley as you like!)

1 tsp basil

2 whole bay leaves

Salt and pepper to taste

½ cup burghul (wheat groats) (optional)


In a large pot, heat oil on medium-high heat and sauté onions and garlic until onions start to brown. Add beef cubes. Cook for 10 minutes or until beef is browned on all sides. Add water, lentils, vegetables, and spices. Bring to a boil then lower heat to simmer. Simmer about 20 minutes. Add burghul and simmer another 20 minutes.

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