I t was the worst night of my life.

My 12-year-old son, Ephraim, had gone berserk. Ephraim had always been a difficult, volatile child, but this outburst was something else entirely. All night, he was running around the house, yanking open closets and drawers and flinging their contents onto the floor or across the room. I stayed up with Ephraim the entire night, trying desperately to calm him down and mitigate the damage.

That afternoon, I had taken Ephraim to an energy healer, thinking that perhaps an alternative approach would help to relax him. Apparently, however, something in him had snapped as a result of that treatment, and now he was completely out of control. Only after sunrise, when the house was in shambles, did he finally collapse on the couch in exhaustion and fall asleep.

Ephraim was not the only source of anguish in my life at the time. My older brother Shragi was very sick, practically on his deathbed, and my younger sister Liba, with whom I was very close, had just been diagnosed with a life-threatening illness as well.

On top of all that, money was very tight for us. My husband was in kollel, and I was the main breadwinner in the family. While we did manage to cover our basic living expenses, we didn’t have a dollar to spare. If I needed to buy a pair of socks, it was a big deal. To cover the costs of making Pesach, we took a loan that took us until Succos to repay. Once, my husband borrowed $70 to buy me a pair of earrings for Yom Tov. We repaid that loan in $10 monthly installments.

I come from a family of twelve siblings, seven sisters and five brothers. We are all very close, and whenever we need support or encouragement, we turn to each other — not to friends, neighbors, or anyone outside the family. My siblings and I are all very capable, the coping type, and we manage with whatever Hashem sends us. But the morning after Ephraim’s volcanic all-nighter, I felt that I couldn’t cope anymore. Shragi. Liba. Ephraim. The financial strain. It was too much.

“Ribbono shel Olam,” I cried, “what do You want from us?”

Weak with exhaustion and overwrought from the tension of trying to contain Ephraim, I decided to turn to an adam gadol for guidance. I called a rebbetzin in our community whose husband, a world-renowned gadol, is widely sought after for brachos and eitzos, and after describing my family’s situation briefly, I asked her to ask her husband what Hashem wants us to be mesaken.

She told me she would discuss the matter with her husband and get back to me.

I had promised my daughter to take her to buy shoes that morning, so after speaking to the rebbetzin, I pulled myself together and went out to a local shoe store. As my daughter was trying on shoes, an older woman from the community named Mrs. Piltstein entered the store and sat down next to me, waiting for a salesperson. I was in no mood to schmooze, but Mrs. Piltstein decided to strike up a conversation.

“You’re Faigy Appelman’s daughter, right?” she asked. Without waiting for an answer, she plowed on. “I know your mother since she was a young girl. Your mother went through a lot of hardships growing up, and she has tremendous zechusim. But she’s being neglected. You children are not giving her enough kavod, and you need to improve your kibbud eim.”

There are times in your life when you feel that Hashem is speaking directly to you, and this was one of them. I barely knew Mrs. Piltstein. Yet here she was, barely an hour after I had sent a message to a gadol asking what we should be mesaken, telling me clearly what my siblings and I needed to improve. (Excerpted from Mishpacha, Issue 696)