This Sunday we celebrate Mother’s Day, an occasion to express love and gratitude to our mothers for giving us life and sustaining us. The mother-child relationship is a mysterious one, beautiful and complex, able to withstand tension and stress perhaps because its foundation is pure love. The most gratifying experience of my life has been fatherhood, yet I quietly acknowledge that the maternal bond can be deeper and more spiritual. We can speculate as to why this might be so, and of course there can be no single correct answer. But there must be a reason that close to 150 million phone calls are placed to mothers on Mother’s Day and more flowers are sold and delivered on this day than any other in the year.
Mother’s Day has been celebrated since the beginning of the 20th century and became a legal holiday in the United States in 1914. But of course, reverence for our mothers did not begin only 100 years ago. Indeed, the Torah exalts mothers and depicts them as zealous and unwavering in protecting their children and securing the welfare of their families. Sarah suffers the humiliation of seeing Hagar conceive a child with her husband Abraham, and when she has her own child she seeks to shelter him by demanding that Hagar and her son Ishmael be banished from the family home. We may not wish to emulate such an act but we can see Sarah as someone determined to keep her child from being hurt. Rebecca takes charge of her family and secures Isaac’s innermost blessing for Jacob. Perhaps she was simply fulfilling a divinely ordained result. Or perhaps she took matters into her own hand, being able to see, in a way that Isaac couldn’t, that Jacob and not Esav was the right choice to lead the family and his people in the next generation. The Midrash teaches that Tziporah saved the life of her husband Moses by quickly circumcising their son when Moses had neglected to do so. Might we say that Tziporah ensured the survival of our people by her determination to see the tradition continue? Each of these stories is complex and layered with multiple meanings, but they share a common thread of strong mothers who act out of love to protect their children, their families and their people. This is the image of the Jewish mother—someone who is deeply committed to education, family cohesiveness, hard work, loyalty and love. The image of the self-sacrificing mother has become the source of countless jokes, but at its core it’s an authentic idea. Jewish women so often sacrifice their own needs for the sake of their children and families.
So, let’s consider Mother’s Day not as a secular holiday but as one associated with Jewish values. On this Mother’s Day, take a moment to offer your mother a blessing. I’ve taken the liberty of offering a sample here, one that is blended from several different texts. Of course, many people no longer have their mothers in their lives. Consider saying these words of blessing anyway, perhaps with a photo of your mother in hand, or with her image firmly planted in your mind and heart.
Harachaman, Hu yevarech et imi morati…Merciful One, bless my mother, my teacher. To my mother, I offer my thanks for the traits you have modeled, for showing me that love can overcome obstacles, for sharing celebration and pain, for teaching me about fragility and strength. I am grateful for the life you have given me, and for your wisdom, your guidance, your concern and, most important, your love. There are no words to express my gratitude for all the blessings you have given me. Still, I tell you, thank you. May God bless you as you have blessed me.
To all the mothers, grandmothers and great grandmothers, may you have a special day filled with love and joy, surrounded by your children.