This coming Sunday is Mother’s Day. Have you heard the one about how many Jewish mothers it takes to change a light bulb? “That’s O.K.,” the Jewish mother says, “I’ll sit in the dark.” This is our modern-day stereotype of the Jewish mother — self-sacrificing, a bit of a martyr and a little manipulative. And, your therapist might add, responsible for all your problems. Though martyrdom and manipulation are not traits that we might want to emulate, what about self-sacrifice and selflessness — two qualities that have been getting a lot of bad press over the last couple of decades?
Most of us would not be where we are today had it not been for our mothers’ selflessness: waking up at all hours of the night, nursing us back to health when we were sick, putting their own needs and desires on hold in order to help fulfill ours. True, dear old mom might remind us of these things a little more often than we’d like to hear, but are mothers deserving our recognition, and more, for their self-sacrifice?
In fact, they deserve limitless appreciation and recognition! According to Jewish tradition, our debt of acknowledgment toward our parents can never be repaid. The commandment to show honor toward another is mentioned in the Torah concerning our parents and God. The reason for the commandment to “Honor your father and your mother” is the fact that our parents were partners with God in giving life to us, though Mom probably had more sleepless nights from us than either of the other two partners.
Where would the Jewish people be without the self-sacrifice of countless Jewish women throughout the ages? Jewish tradition teaches that it was because of the self-sacrifice and righteousness of the women that the entire Jewish people were redeemed from Egypt! When Pharaoh enslaved the Jewish people, the men refused to have more children. “Why should we bring children into the world to be slaves and suffer like us?” they asked.
The Jewish women, however, though shouldering the same burden of slavery and suffering as their husbands, purposely sought out ways to endear themselves to their spouses. They were responsible for the birth of a new generation, a generation fit to be redeemed. The women reasoned, “True, our children will suffer hardships like us, but, soon God will fulfill God’s promise to them and deliver them out of the land of Egypt.”
In every generation, whenever all seemed hopeless, it was the righteous, self-sacrificing Jewish mothers who inspired their families and communities to have faith and look toward better times. We shouldn’t just set aside one day a year to honor mothers. We should remember them every day — it’s a mitzvah!
In this week’s double portion, as we close the Book of Leviticus, Behar-Bechukotai (Leviticus 25:1-27:34), we read of blessings and curses. May each of us merit the blessings of love and goodness as we gather to honor the people who provided motherly love for each and everyone of us.