Mother’s Day: Giving Honor Where it’s Due

Dancing with my mom at our wedding in 2009.

Dancing with my mom at our wedding in 2009.

Today we recognizes moms …

Mother’s Day is obviously a day set aside to recognize and honor those who gave birth to us, nourished us, guided us, loved us, wiped our noses, and rubbed our backs when we were sick … it is “Yom HaEm”– the day we remember and honor our moms.

I realize some of you may not have a good relationship with your mothers, or may no longer have your mothers with you anymore (alayhen ha-shalom), but biblically, and ideally, the role of a mother is a vital and cherished role.

Judaism affords tremendous respect for the role of mothers and honoring one’s parents. For example, the Talmud teaches:

When Rabbi Yosef heard his mother enter the room he would say, “I must stand up, for the glory of God enters [with her] (Kiddushin 31a).

In another passage it states:

Rabbi Tarfon used to help his mother get in and out of bed by bending down and allowing her to use his back as a step ladder. R. Tarfon came and bragged about the honor he showed his mother at the Beit Midrash – the house of study. They said to him: ‘You have not yet reached half of the honor [that one should show his parents]’” (Kiddushin 31a)

(Nowadays, most people prefer to tell their mothers to get OFF their backs)

Not only does our tradition teach us about the honor we’re supposed to afford our mothers, but it also gives us a glimpse into the many roles a mother must play in the care of her family. I am not sure if anyone has ever noticed – but the women of the bible were hardly pushovers, or silent, dainty wallflowers – and many fundamentalists might be a little shocked at the roles women actually played in the Biblical text. The best example of this is the Woman of Valor – described in Proverbs 31, which we recite every Friday night at our Shabbat tables.

The Proverbs 31 women aptly describes the many roles mothers must perform on a daily basis – mother, wife, caretaker, investor, the one responsible for the household finances … this is a regular balebuste!

Again, according to the Talmud:

Rabbi Chelbo said:  ‘Always a man should be careful [regarding] the honor of his wife, because blessing is found in his house only because of his wife.’ (Bava Metzia 59a)

In the Bible, the imagery of mothers as nurturing providers whose sacrificial love for their children is so great is often applied to HaShem.

In Deuteronomy 32:18, for example, God chastises Israel, saying: “You have neglected the Rock who begot you, And forgot the God who gave birth to you.” This feminine imagery is even used in some of the names attributed to G0d, or concepts used in describing God, for example – El Shaddai, Shechinah, etc.

Yeshua also applies this motherly imagery to himself when beckoning to the Jewish people, calling out, “Jerusalem, Jerusale … how I have longed to gather you, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings …”

This motherly imagery is not meant to say anything about the gender of God, but rather about the character of God. That it is God who is the One who nourishes us, sustains us, comforts us, gives life to us, and loves us. And if we are supposed to be followers of HaShem, then this language should speak volumes about how we should also conduct our lives … as those who nurture, love, and comfort others. We must be those who give and speak life.

Zoo Carousel - June '13

Monique with our son.

Becoming a parent has taught me a lot about how difficult it is to be a parent, and how much honor our mothers really deserve. Not only has becoming a father given me a greater appreciation for my own mother, but it has given me a new appreciation for my wife … and what it took for her to become a mother … and how great of a mother she is to our son.

Mother’s Day is really about appreciating all the work and sacrifices the mothers in our lives make, and have made, on our behalf.

Therefore, do something special today for your mother, or for the mother of your children. Give her a call and send her flowers or a card. If your mother is no longer with us (may she rest in peace), then take a moment today to recite kaddish in her memory. You might even want to visit one of her favorite spots to recite kaddish there. If her gravesite is local, you might even want to drop by for a visit.

Lastly, consider the lessons your mother taught you. Was your mom an example of love? If so, how might you extend that love toward others? Was she an Eishet Chayil, a Woman of Valor? Then what lessons did she teach you to make you into a better YOU? Furthermore, how has your mother taught you to be self-sacrificial? There are so many lessons our mothers have taught us that we need to put into practice.

WHEN YOU CALL YOUR MOTHER TODAY (if you are able), tell her something specific that you appreciate about her, or a specific lesson you learned from her. Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today! The Torah tells us to honor our fathers and mothers … and it all starts with picking up the phone.

Happy Mother’s Day to all the wonderful moms out there … we appreciate all you do!

About Rabbi Joshua

I'm a Rabbi, writer, thinker, mountain biker, father and husband ... not necessarily in that order. According to my wife, however, I'm just a big nerd. I have degrees in dead languages and ancient stuff. I have studied in various Jewish institutions, including an Orthodox yeshiva in Europe. I get in trouble for making friends with perfect strangers, and for standing on chairs to sing during Shabbos dinner. In addition to being the Senior Rabbi of Simchat Yisrael Messianic Synagogue in West Haven, CT, I write regularly for several publications and speak widely in congregations and conferences. My wife is a Southern-fried Jewish Beltway bandit and a smokin' hot human rights attorney... and please don’t take offense if I dump Tabasco sauce on your cooking.
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