R’ Chelbo said: A person must always be careful about his wife’s honor, because blessing is found in a person’s house only on account of his wife. (Bava Metzia 59a)
Seven years ago I experienced a minor miracle when I stumbled upon the Daf Yomi way of reading the entire Talmud (see Accidental Talmudist - Day One). When I arrived home that day, with the first book of the Talmud under my arm, I told my wife Nina about it.
She said, “You’re telling me today is the only day in seven years a person can start this thing? And because you happened to be in a bookstore this morning, you have to embark on this mammoth project?”
Being a great writer and researcher, Nina looked into it and learned I was not kidding. She thought about it, then she sat me down, and said, “In order to read the whole Talmud, you will need to subtract thousands of hours from our home and professional lives over the next seven years.” (Nina and I are a screenwriting team.)
I said, “Um, yeah, maybe it’s not such a good—”
“So, I will pick up the slack. Make sure you finish.”
At the time, our daughter was a toddler, and Nina was eight months pregnant. My doing Daf Yomi has been a huge challenge for both of us, but Nina kept up her end of the deal, and whatever reward I may receive for reading the whole Talmud, she will receive an equal portion. (see Sotah 21a)
As it is stated, And he treated Avram well on her account. (Bava Metzia 59a con’t)
It was also Nina who led us to write an Abraham Lincoln script (see Facebook.com/SavingLincoln), and Nina who has done most of the parenting while I’ve been working untold hours directing the movie. And it is Nina who keeps me grounded when I rush off on some creative or philosophical or intellectual… heck, any tangent will do for me. I’m an airy Gemini, she’s goal-oriented Sagittarius.
All of which is to say, I could not do what I do or be what I am without her. I don’t know why G-d has been so good to me, but I am profoundly grateful. In fact, I met Nina via minor miracle too.
New Year’s Eve, 1997. I was out with my buddies, getting a drink at El Coyote before attending some parties in the hills. I was waiting for a payphone (remember those?) and perched over a table where a beautiful gal was chatting with her friend. She was recently out of a relationship, reluctant to go out on New Years Eve, and only came because her friend insisted. I was smitten.
I barged in, and asked the ladies, “Are you going to a party tonight?”
“Yes,” said the friend.
“Well, you should come to the one my pals and I are going to - it’s going to be off the hook. Here’s the address.” Nina smiled.
Later, I was at the party. I’d been there for a couple of hours when I noticed Nina across the room, talking with some guy. I zoomed in, as if he wasn’t there.
“You came! I’m so glad…”
Nina and I discovered we have a million things in common, from screenwriting to Jewtino heritage.
Why was this a minor miracle? Because she didn’t come to the party on account of my invitation - she was going there anyway!
Nina is an amazing partner in every way. Sometimes we fight, because we’re passionate people who are staking everything on a creative venture. The pressure is pretty intense, and I make decisions all day: “Sal, should this shot be longer or shorter? More or less saturated? This take or that one? Music up-tempo or down? Lighting warmer or cooler? etc, etc.”
Then I get home, Nina asks a simple question like, “Thousand island or vinaigrette?” and I snap back, “Can’t you decide?”
At times like these, she’d be well within her rights to chew my head off. Recently, however, she sent me a beautiful excerpt from a book instead:
According to ancient esoteric thought, a wife is in effect the mirror of her husband - through her, he can see himself, his character traits, his strengths and weaknesses, and the like. Furthermore, the husband is like the sun and the wife is like the moon - she reflects his light. Accordingly, when she is short-tempered, he must rectify his problem with anger. When she is amiss in her responsibilities, he is most certainly faulty in fulfilling his obligations to G-d. (Garden of Emuna by Rabbi Shalom Arush)
In other words, never blame the lady of the house, because she knows best. As G-d told Abraham:
Whatever Sarah tells you, hearken to her voice. (Genesis 21:12)
Rashi says we learn from this verse that Abraham was inferior to Sarah in prophecy. What?! Abraham is the greatest prophet in history! The whole Judeo-Christian-Islamic monotheistic inheritance of the Western World springs from Abraham! According to G-d, however, Sarah knew better.
So, on this Mother’s Day, I want to pay special tribute to my partner in Torah, Talmud, parenting, life, and movies, Nina Davidovich Litvak. May we love forever.
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Salvador Litvak wrote and directed the Passover comedy and cult hit “When Do We Eat?” His current film, “Saving Lincoln”, explores Abraham Lincoln’s conflicted tenure as commander-in-chief through the eyes of his dear friend and bodyguard, Ward Hill Lamon.
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