MOTHER’S DAY 5773
Honoring All Moms and Moms to Be
I went to the drug store the other day to buy a Mother’s Day card as I have done the week before for more than 50 years, and then it hit me, I no longer have a mother! Yes, I bought a card for Cheryl because she is such an amazing mother—not only to her kids, but to mine as well. This Mother’s Day tomorrow will be different. Instead of sending a card to my mother, I’ll be saying Kaddish for her.
This got me to think about the state of motherhood today. Mothers today are very different from mothers in my mom’s generation. Yes, my mom wore tight genes and heels even as a great grandmother—way ahead of her time—but, for the most part, she was a stay at home mom—at least till all her kids were in school for a while. My mom made dinner every night and Shabbos dinner every Friday night. Her whole world was centered on her kids.
In my mom’s generation, every woman took it for granted that she was going to be a mother. Not today! Today society has told young women that becoming a mother is a choice—even for those that are married. Being a mother is not what’s expected of you. For those young women who might be avoiding becoming mother, I’d like to share an anonymous piece about motherhood called, “Before I was a Mom.”
Before I was a Mom…I made and ate hot meals. I had unstained clothing. I had quiet conversations on the phone.
Before I was a Mom...I slept as late as I wanted and never worried about how late I got into bed. I brushed my hair and my teeth everyday…
Before I was a Mom...I had never been puked on, pooped on, spit on, chewed on, peed on or pinched by tiny fingers. I had complete control of my mind, my thoughts, and my body. I slept all night.
Before I was a Mom...I never held down a screaming child so that doctors could do tests or give shots. I never looked into teary eyes and cried. I never got gloriously happy over a simple grin. I never sat up late hours at night watching a baby sleep.
Before I was a Mom...I never held a sleeping baby just because I didn’t want to put it down. I never felt my heart break into a million pieces when I couldn’t stop the hurt. I never knew that something so small could affect my life so much. I never knew that I could love someone so much. I never knew I would love being a Mom.
Before I was a Mom...I didn’t know the feeling of having my heart outside my body. I didn’t know how special it could feel to feed a hungry baby. I didn’t know that bond between a mother and her child. I didn’t know that something so small could make me feel so important.
Before I was a Mom...I had never gotten up in the middle of the night every 10 minutes to make sure all was okay. I had never known the warmth, the joy, the love, the heartache, the wonderment, or the satisfaction of being a Mom. I didn’t know I was capable of feeling so much before I was a Mom.
While it is true that some women should not become mothers, I don’t know women like that. I do know, however, women who desperately wanted to be mothers, but, for whatever reason, could not. And I know other women who have found non-traditional ways to be a mother. To be a mother is to be Gd’s partner in bringing life to this word, nurturing and sustaining life. It’s also an amazing opportunity for personal growth—to find out that you are so much more than you ever thought yourself capable of being.
I have heard it asked whether Jews should celebrate Mother’s Day. After all, Mother’s Day is a product of the greeting card industry and the florists; it’s a day that has been commercialized and it turns what ought to be our sentiment every day of the year into a day when the gift-giving industry takes advantage of our feelings. And yet, honoring parents is at the core, the foundation of Judaism—it’s one of the 10 Commandments. Let me read to you what Helen Latner (The Jewish Week, 5/11/90), in her advice column, once wrote when asked this question:
The more skeptical among us, facing another round of perfume or chocolates, may wonder why we need this holiday. Are we so unfeeling that our love for our mothers must be legislated into being? And what about the rest of the year?
The same question, in a more universal and much more profound context, has been asked about the commandment to honor our parents. Is it really necessary to have a divine law to honor one’s mother and father and to have it placed 1st in the list of commandments governing personal conduct?
The answer is yes—yes, indeed. The sages tell us that if it were easy to respect and honor parents, there would be no need for a positive commandment to do so. The commandment recognizes that respect for age, experience, nurturing and the divine-given fertility that brought us into this world in the 1st place are the very foundations of civilization. It also recognizes that parents are people, individual human beings with all the varied virtues and faults we all share. So, too, are children. Relationships between such imperfect beings are often not ideal.
When emotions run high, when jealousy, pride or hurt feelings over-power rational good sense, that is precisely the time that an external control, the commandment of respect and honor, is most needed. What one does not say in anger does not have to be taken back or apologized for. What one neglects to do often cannot be made up. Following the commandment as best one can makes it less necessary to say, “I’m sorry,” less likely to face situations where no apology is possible.
Mother’s and Father’s days, while hardly in a class with the commandments, give us all one more chance to be gracious. We need not rush out to the stores to buy one more expensive gift that no one needs to express a fundamental gratitude—thank you for bringing me into the world; for raising me until I became able to fend for myself; for teaching me, as best you knew how, what it means to be a mensch. Never mind the bonbons. Tell your mom you love and appreciate her, even if you have to do it by the numbers.
A happy Mother’s Day to all the moms reading this!
When I read that, I experienced a little pinch in my heart, for I can’t call my mother any longer and tell her how much I love her. But what I can do is to remember what she has taught me. Here’s a little piece that expresses some of that. It’s titled: “Things My Mother Taught Me.”
· My Mother taught me LOGIC...“If you fall off that swing and break your neck, you can’t go to the store with me.
· My Mother taught me TO THINK AHEAD...“If you don’t pass your spelling test, you’ll never get a good job!”
· My Mother taught me INTUITION...“Put your sweater on; don’t you think that I know when you’re cold?”
· My Mother taught me HUMOR...“When that lawn mower cuts off your toes, don’t come running to me.”
· My Mother taught me how to BECOME AN ADULT... “If you don’t eat your vegetables, you’ll never grow up.”
· My mother taught me about GENETICS...“You are just like your father!”
· My mother taught me about my ROOTS...“Do you think you were born in a barn?”
· My mother taught me about ANTICIPATION...“Just wait until your father gets home.”
· My mother taught me about JUSTICE...“One day you’ll have kids, and I hope they turn out just like YOU... then you’ll see what it’s like.”
And she thought no one was listening! The truth is, we all learned a lot from our mothers—though we never might have admitted it growing up!
I’d like to end with an anonymous poem, written for my mothers’ generation, about the wisdom of their mothers that illustrates this so beautifully. It’s called: “All I Got Was Words”:
When I was young and fancy free,
My folks had no fine clothes for me–
All I got was words:
Got tzu danken [Thank Gd]
Got vet geben [Gd forgives]
Zol mir leben, un zein gezunt. [Live and be well.]
When I was wont to travel far,
They didn't provide me with a car–
All I got was words:
Gey guzunt [Be healthy]
Gey pamelech [Be careful]
Hub a glick-liche raizeh. [Happy journey.]
I wanted to increase my knowledge,
But they couldn’t send me to college–
All I got was words:
Hub saychel [Be smart]
Zei nischt kein narr [Don’t be a fool]
Torah iz di beste schorah. [Torah is the best reward.]
The years have flown—the world has turned,
Things I’ve gotten; things I’ve learned—
Yet [this] I remember:
Zog dem emes [Speak the truth]
Gib Tzedaka [Give charity]
Hub rachmonas [Be compassionate]
Zei a mentch! [Be a mentch!]
All I got was words.
This sums up well what my mother has taught me. Let all of us use this Mother’s Day to remind us of how crucial our mothers and wives are. Tomorrow, let’s hug and kiss them and tell them how we appreciate them, and let’s do it again every day. To all moms and moms to be, have the very best Mother’s Day ever. Amen!
Rabbi Mark Hillel Kunis