Today, the nation is celebrating Mother’s day. I grew up with the message imprinted into my mind that every day was mother’s day, and I’m sure I’m not the only one who was educated in this manner. True, while not an explicit “yuntif” as codified in Jewish Law, today is the time that the rest of the country reflects on the woman (or women) who raised them, and there’s never a bad day for that.
Today, I think of my “mothers”, the women who raised me and continue to have an impact on who I am as a person.
I think about my grandmothers. My Grandma Idee z”l was a sharp lady who made the greatest potato knishes and “kmish bread” you’ve ever tasted. My Savta, is one of the most regal women west of the Mississippi. May Hashem bless her with many healthy years.
I think about my aunts that I am blessed with, both blood-related and not, who have been there to support my family. Often times, traveling a great distance at the drop of a hat.
I think about my mother-in-law who makes sure that I am always taken care of, and treats me as she treats her own sons.
I think about my great-grandmothers who I only knew for a short period of time, yet shaped the lives of my parents and their other grandchildren.
I think about the “circle of mothers” I am blessed to have in Cleveland who looked after me, just as my own mother looked after their children. They know who they are, and our families are blessed for having been brought together.
Primarily, I think my mother z”l. I cannot, nor would like to imagine the person I would be today without having her as a guiding influence in my life. She was a master educator, an even more talented mother, and one of the most resilient people I’ve ever come in contact with. I could write thick volumes about what I’ve learned from her, both directly and indirectly, but I fear I do not have enough time, paper, ink, or space on my devices.
Rabbi Soloveitchik z”l delivered a powerful eulogy for the Rebbitzen of Talne, the mother of his son-in-law (Tradition, Spring 1978), where he delineates the role that the Jewish mother plays in the lives of her children. He defines the role of a dual mesorah, one received from the father (mussar avicha) and one received from the mother (torat imecha). The Rav explains that mussar avicha touches upon basics of torah learning: how to read a text, how to analyze and conceptualize, etc. This also covers the basics of how what to do and what not to. But as for torat imecha? Rabbi Soloveitchik explains:
“What is torat imecha? What kind of a Torah does the mother pass on? I admit that I am not able to define precisely the masoretic role of the Jewish mother. Only by circumscription I hope to be able to explain it. Permit me to draw upon my own experiences. I used to have long conversations with my mother. In fact, it was a monologue rather than a dialogue. She talked and I “happened” to overhear. What did she talk about? I must use an halakhic term in order to answer this question: she talked meinyana deyoma. I used to watch her arranging the house in honor of a holiday. I used to see her recite prayers; I used to watch her recite the sidra every Friday night and I still remember the nostalgic tune. I learned from her very much.
Most of all I learned that Judaism expresses itself not only in formal compliance with the law but also in a living experience. She taught me that there is a flavor, a scent and warmth to mÏfzvot. I learned from her the most important thing in life – to feel the presence of the Almighty and the gentle pressure of His hand resting upon my frail shoulders. Without her teachings, which quite often were transmitted to me in silence, I would have grown up a soulless being, dry and insensitive.
The laws of Shabbat, for instance, were passed on to me by my father; they are a part of mussar avicha. The Shabbat as a living entity, as a queen, was revealed to me by my mother; it is a part of torat imecha. The fathers knew much about the Shabbat; the mothers lived the Shabbat, experienced her presence, and perceived her beauty and splendor.
The fathers taught generations how to observe the Shabbat; mothers taught generations how to greet the Shabbat and how to enjoy her twenty-four hour presence.”
My father has taught me much. Among other things, he prepared me for my bar mitzvah, taught me how to don tefillin, and much of the ritual knowledge I have today stems from years of hearing him practice, both eloquently and effortlessly. The torat imecha comes in the form of a story, one that I delivered at her funeral and will repeat here.
Long ago when I was in the 4th grade, one day during birkat hamazon I happened to have been talking or misbehaving rather than reciting the brachot with the rest of my class. After my insubordination, my teacher took it upon herself to punish me by having me stay back from recess and copy down birkat hamazon verbatim. I returned home that afternoon dejected, probably less about my assignment and more about missing prime four-square or “wall ball” time outside with my peers. After doing her best Sherlock Holmes impression to uncover the reason as to why I was upset, when I told her what transpired, she was appalled. She immediately called the principal, who was a family friend. She told him that this punishment was unacceptable. If I was misbehaving, by all means was I to be punished, but not in a manner such as this. I remember her saying distinctly “We want Willie to love the torah, not to be burdened by it.”
That was that
The details of what followed are a bit fuzzy, but my mother’s message was succinct and poignant.
To the mothers out there, thank you for all that you do.
To those with a mother who is no longer with us, cherish the moments you had together.
To those who are yearning to be mothers, may the Almighty bless you with many healthy, beautiful children.