Torah Tidbits


Tidbits of Torah: What Do Mother’s Day and Shavuot Have in Common?
Shabbat Parashat BeMidbar
May 11, 2013 – 2 Sivan 5773

What Do Mother’s Day and Shavuot Have in Common?

I was so moved by the thoughts and feelings expressed in a D’var Torah written and published by my friend and colleague, Rabbi Cheryl Peretz.   I share that D’var Torah with you this week.  I hope that it will be as meaningful to you as it was to me.  After reading Rabbi Peretz’s D’var Torah, I thought it might have been well be entitled: “What do Mother’s Day and Shavuot Have in Common?”….

Wishing you and your loved ones a Shabbat Shalom, a Happy Mother’s Day, and a Chag Sameach, a joyous and meaningful Shavuot!

To Mom, With Love (A Reprise)           by Rabbi Cheryl Peretz

Torah Reading:  Numbers 1:1 – 4:20

Haftarah Reading:  Hosea 2:1-22

Two years ago, on a week that then coincided with Parashat Emor, I wrote a piece dedicated to my mother, on the occasion of Mother’s Day. This week, as I prepare to mark the first Mother’s Day since her death, I am re-posting it in memory of my mom, Geraldine Peretz z”l, and as a blessing of healing to the many others who have also lost their mom and are anticipating this week’s celebration of Mother’s Day with the bittersweet combination of memories of love and the pain of loss.

Some years ago, I was talking with one of my brothers about the plans I had with my mother for Mother’s Day. Knowing from his tone and body language that he was about to be contrary for the sake of being contrary, I listened as he said something like ‘Now, I am not saying we shouldn’t celebrate it, but why do Jews need Mother’s day?  After all, according to the Torah, aren’t you supposed to honor your mother every day?’ Knowing my brother well, I then responded, tongue in cheek, ‘The Torah also says you should fear (or hold in awe, depending on which translation you prefer) your mother, and when is the last time you did that (referring to either fear or hold in awe)?’

Believe it or not, it is not only my brother who poses this question. Others have also said to me – Mother’s Day isn’t really a Jewish holiday.  As the people of the Torah that instructs ‘kavod et avicha v’et imecha – honor your father and mother’, we are commanded to this all the time – not just one day a year when we are told to do so by the calendar, by Hallmark cards, or even by Anna Jarvis, who in 1914, lobbied then President Woodrow Wilson to sign into law the celebration of a national mother’s day. After all, Jewish holidays, as we know, are much older than that, and haven’t been initiated through lobbying political leaders.

In fact, the Torah tells us of the creation of Moadei Adonai – God’s sacred time: “Adonai spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to the Israelite people and say to them: These are My fixed times, the fixed times of Adonai, which you shall proclaim as sacred occasions.” (Leviticus 23:1-2) And, so goes the list… Shabbat, Passover, Shavuot, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot….all prescribed days appointed for God and declared kadosh, or holy. These holidays are unique and powerful moments not just as days off from work and school, but as times set aside to focus on specific themes and ideas, and days made holy and separate – originally through sacrificial offerings, and later through home ritual and synagogue worship.

The list includes Pesach – our holiday of freedom. I bet we would all agree that freedom is a value that we should strive to appreciate every day. In fact, the Torah does command us to remember every day and daily morning prayers include several mentions of the exodus from Egypt, creating conscience attention and thought to what it means to be free. Yet, we would never suggest that we ought to do away with the sacred days of Passover on which we dedicate ourselves to reliving the original path to freedom and experiencing it anew.

And, I suppose we would all agree that forgiveness and repentance are not only to be done once a year, nor are they simply a ten days concern. As the rabbis taught us – ‘repent each day for you never know which will be your last”. Yet, we would never suggest that we do away with Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur.

Likewise with our mothers.  Rabbinic literature speaks at great length on the question ‘To what extent does one have to honor his mother/father’, concluding through a series of stories that the ways to fulfill the Torah’s obligation includes providing personal service, i.e. food, clothing, transport, attention, and so forth.  Whether as the child doing the household chore instructed by mom or as an adult caring for an aging parent, it is so easy to forget in the moment of doing, the reason we do what we do, to resist the actions, and/or take our mothers for granted.  So, we have Mother’s Day – a sacred occasion set apart to celebrate our mothers, lavish them with attention, and to consider the intimate holiness that is between a mother and her child.

The book of proverbs says al titosh Torat eemecha – Do not forsake the Torah of your mother.  No relationship is as complex as the one between a mother and child.  Mothers are the subjects of many jokes, stereotyped as domineering, overprotective, self-deprecating guilt-inducers. But, what we forget is that those same jokes viewed another way paint a picture of a woman or women who is/are enormously caring, always sacrificing, always there for children.

There is a story told of the mother of the Israeli poet, Chaim Nachman Bialik. Bialik lost his father when he was just seven years old. Left a widow with three children in extreme poverty, Bialik’s mother was described by a friend as “a poor, thin dried up little woman with a pinched face and dim eyes and all of her bespoke humility and modesty and suffering and sorrow and secret sadness, all of her-a symbol of grieving widowhood and boundless love.”

In order to support three orphans, she worked in a small shop. Only in the evening could she attend her housekeeping, cooking, cleaning and sewing. Late one night, Chaim Nachman rose from his bed and saw his mother in the kitchen. In utter exhaustion she was weeping as she kneaded the dough for the bread the next morning. As she baked by candlelight, her lips moved in prayer. “May I bring up the children to be God-fearing. May they be true to the Torah. May they never disgrace me.” As she prayed, tears rolled down her tired cheeks. She didn’t realize it, but her tears mixed with the dough. Little Chaim Nachman witnessed this heart-rending sight, and returned to bed. The next morning he ate that very bread, dampened with his mother’s tears. Part of his mother was in that bread.

A part of our mothers – birth, adopted or of our choosing – is in each of us. And whether still with us or long gone, throughout our lives we carry within us her struggles and sacrifices, her hopes and her aspirations.

So, why do we need Mother’s Day? We need Mother’s Day so that we heed the words of Proverbs, so that we not forsake the Torah of our mothers. But, more importantly, we need Mother’s Day so that we not forsake our mothers – so that we make sure that Mother’s Day extends to the Monday afterwards, and Tuesday, and to the many days following as we try to fulfill the Torah command to honor them.

So, this weekend, we say thank you to moms all over and with the words of this anonymous poet, we bless and celebrate our mothers:

Before I was myself you made me, me
With love and patience, discipline and tears, Then bit by bit stepped back to set me free,

Allowing me to sail upon my sea,
Though well within the headlands of your fears.
Before I was myself you made me, me

With dreams enough of what I was to be
And hopes that would be sculpted by the years, Then bit by bit stepped back to set me free,

Relinquishing your powers gradually
To let me shape myself among my peers.
Before I was myself you made me, me,

For love inspires learning naturally:
The mind assents to what the heart reveres.
And so it was through love you made me, me By slowly stepping back to set me free.

Thank you Mom and Hag Mother’s Day Sameach!

Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi Gilah Dror