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Parshas Emor (5777)

(Jewish) Mother's Day

This Sunday, May 14th, Mother’s Day is celebrated in North America and in many other countries around the world. It is a day for us to think about and recognize all the tremendous effort and sleepless nights and worrying and sweat and tears our mothers put into raising us, and where we would be without them – and to show them our heartfelt appreciation and thanks.

Which is all kind of ironic when you consider that, ever since the Sixties, the so-called “Stay-At-Home Mom” who spends most of her time “just” raising her children without getting paid a penny for her work, has been maligned and discredited by many, especially when compared to other, more “accomplished” women who are out there in the workforce in high-powered jobs, running big companies and making six-figure salaries.

As the story goes, someone once asked a woman what her job is. She replied, “I run a home for unwanted children”. The other person was quite impressed, until the woman added, “Actually, I run my own home, for my own children whom nobody else wants!”

You see, we typically value those who work outside the home in jobs that pay good money, whereas a woman who works inside the home - raising the children for no money - is not given the same respect.

And yet we all intuit – and publicly acknowledge on Mother’s Day – that without our mothers raising us properly, we would likely have very difficult and unsuccessful lives – and that being a mother and raising the children (with the help of Dad, of course) is probably the most important, if underpaid, job on earth.

[Of course, there is nothing wrong with a woman pursuing a career in addition to mothering her children – especially if the family needs the double income to survive financially – so long as it doesn’t compromise her ability to raise her children properly.]

Our mothers taught us about all we need to know in life. As someone once humorously wrote about his mother:

My Mother taught me about ANTICIPATION....
"Just wait until your father gets home!"

My Mother taught me to MEET A CHALLENGE...
"What were you thinking? Answer me when I talk to you ... Don't talk back to 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 MEDICINE....
"If you don't stop crossing your eyes, they're going to freeze that way."

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 HUMOR ...
"When the 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're just like your father!"

My Mother taught me about the WISDOM OF AGE...
"When you get to be my age, you will understand."

My Mother taught me JUSTICE....
"One day you'll have kids, and I hope they turn out just like you....then you'll see what it's like."

All joking aside, Judaism has always extolled the virtues and importance of the mother – not just in her role and capacity as the one who trains the children to be kind, decent, well-mannered, respectful human beings – but also as the one who plays a unique role in transmitting the Torah and its fundamental teachings and Mesorah (Jewish traditions) to the children, thus guaranteeing the very continuity of the Jewish nation.

As Rabbi Moshe Meiselman writes in his book Jewish Woman in Jewish Law (Ktav Publishing):

The Jewish woman is the creator, molder, and guardian of the Jewish home. The family has always been the unit of Jewish existence, and while the man has always been the family’s public representative, the woman has been its soul. The creation of a Jewish home is no small task. It requires much more than the burdens of childbearing, childrearing, and menial household tasks, for to create a Jewish home is to create a new link in the chain of Jewish existence and tradition. It is not easy to form children in the Jewish mold and prepare them to become Jewish adults, and such a task would not have been primarily assigned to women had they not been especially prepared for it, physically, psychologically, intellectually and spiritually, by Al-mighty G-d Himself. Moreover, the raising of Jewish children cannot be performed by a day-care center, for this task requires a unique spiritual being on a high spiritual level. “Hearken my son to the discipline of your father and do not forsake the Torah of your mother” (Proverbs 1:8). While a Jew ideally learns Torah discipline primarily from his father, he learns the fundamental concepts and principles of Judaism primarily from his mother. On a day-to-day basis, it is the woman who provides the general home atmosphere that will determine her family’s spiritual direction, for better or worse. The Jewish woman is the soul and inspiration of the Jewish home.

So we see that being a mother in the Jewish tradition is some pretty serious stuff. After all, the mother’s contribution to the children’s growth is referred to above as Toras Imecha – “the Torah of your mother” while the father’s part is called “the discipline of your father”. This means that while the father instructs and disciplines the children along Torah principles when necessary, the mother actually lives and models the Torah and Mesorah for the children to see and live by 24/7. (Hey, maybe that’s what MOM stands for … Modeling Our Mesorah!)

Now that we’ve come to an even greater appreciation of just how amazing our mothers are for the incredibly important job they do not just for us as individuals, but for the future of the entire Jewish nation – let’s remember this Sunday (and every day) to thank these great heroes of the Jewish world and give them the credit they truly deserve!


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