The Clotheslines

Grade Level: 
9, 10, 11, 12
Act of Kindness
Clotheslines (The)
Generosity of Spirit
Solving Problems
Jewish Tales: When a woman’s neighbor maliciously cuts down the clotheslines suspending her clean laundry, the woman restrains herself from anger or from gossiping about the incident. She washes the laundry a second time and hangs it up elsewhere, and the neighbor comes in the evening and asks forgiveness.

Tell me a story...

This tale is about a woman who lived in the Old City of Jerusalem about a century ago. Washing clothes for a family then was a chore of almost unimaginable difficulty. So after six hours of backbreaking labor, this pious housewife hung her laundry out to dry in the sun, on two clotheslines that were stretched between poles and went the whole length of the courtyard.

That afternoon, one of the women neighbors came into the common courtyard on her way home. For some reason, she saw the two clotheslines with all the laundry hanging from them as hindering her as she walked to her house, as if there was not room enough for her to pass by unobstructed.

Instead of being understanding and stooping for a moment to get through, and keeping her good relations with her neighbor, her yetzer—her evil inclination—incited her, and she burst into a fit of anger and revenge. She ran into her house, grabbed a pair of scissors, rushed back out into the courtyard, and cut the two cords. The laundry, which was now clean and bright after all the first woman's work, fell with a thud into the dirt of the unpaved courtyard.

The woman whose laundry it was heard the sound, rushed out to see what had happened, and was stunned. At that moment, she stood before a test of fire. According to ordinary human nature, she should have started screaming and cursing at her neighbor and her ugly deed. This pious woman's evil inclination was about to explode like a raging fire. But in a sudden blessed moment, she drew strength from the wellspring of her pure faith. After a few tremulous moments, she overcame this painful test, bit her lip, and justified heaven's judgment, saying to herself, "I must deserve this. May it be an atonement for me!'

She quietly picked up the fallen laundry, washed off the dirt, tied the cut clotheslines back together, and took the laundry to the large public courtyard some distance away, where she once again hung it up. In the evening, she brought the dry laundry home, in a good mood; but the incident was not yet finished.

When her husband came home after praying the evening service, she did not tell him what had happened to her in the courtyard! This second test—not to slander or gossip—was perhaps even greater than the first, because the Rabbis teach, "If you are troubled, talk it out to someone." How much greater still was her test because she could even expect similar incidents in the future from this bad neighbor. But she controlled herself a second time and said nothing to her husband.

No one would ever have known of this whole matter had not the woman who had acted out of control come to her neighbor's house that night, ashamed of her mean behavior, and asked forgiveness for the ugly incident. The pious woman forgave her wholeheartedly, and during their ensuing conversation, it came out that she had redone the laundry elsewhere and had not even mentioned the incident to her husband. The other woman was surprised to hear this; moved by her neighbor's patience, she exclaimed, "May God help me learn to control myself—as you did—in my moments of testing!”


“The Clotheslines.” Buxbaum, Yitzhak. Jewish Tales of Holy Women. San Fransisco, California: Jossey-Bass, A Wiley Company, ©2002. pp. 78-81.
This material is used by permission of John Wiley & Sons, Inc.