| Parshah |

A Mother’s Message

"Hayom haras olam — Today the world was conceived.” (Tefillah after tekias shofar in Mussaf)


Today is the birthday of the world.

In Lashon Hakodesh the words for day, week, and month are all masculine, yet the word for year is feminine. Thus perhaps we can say that the beginning of the year is the original Jewish “Mother’s Day.”

During Rosh Hashanah davening, we mention four Jewish women who teach us fundamentals for meriting good judgment.

In the Krias HaTorah on the first day of Rosh Hashanah, Sarah tells Avraham to send Yishmael away, lest he negatively influence Yitzchak. But Avraham was reluctant to do so, as Yishmael was his son.

After tekias shofar, we beg Hashem to determine whether we’re sons or servants. If we are servants, it’s much easier to send us away, as Sarah sent away Hagar and Yishmael. But as His children, Hashem will be more reluctant to banish us, as Avraham was to Yishmael. (Rav Shimon Schwab, Selected Speeches)

I never met my maternal grandmother. The Arabs took care of that in 1948. I’ve pored over the few pictures we have, struggling to connect to make her alive to me. One of my daughters looks just like her.

I wonder what type of mother she was. What type of woman. What I hold within me that she transmitted to me. But grainy sepia photos don’t hold any answers.

The second of our Imahos, Rivkah, is mentioned indirectly in Shacharis. The words before Barechu are arranged so that the first root letter of every third word spells Rivkah.

Yitzchak felt connection to Eisav, but Rivkah championed Yaakov’s cause, upholding the clear distinction between the Jews and non-Jews. Although Rosh Hashanah is a time of renewal for all nations, Eisav isn’t included. As Rivkah zealously ensured the brachah would go to Yaakov’s children, not Eisav’s, she secured blessing for all Jewish children, not those of our oppressors.

Rochel is mentioned in the haftarah read on the second day: “Rochel is crying for her children.” Rochel, as Yosef’s mother, is the matriarch of Malchus Yisrael, the ten tribes lost since before Churban Bayis Rishon.

Hashem tells Rochel, “Restrain your voice from crying, and your eyes from tears… because there is hope for your future, the children will return to their borders.” This is a comfort to every Jew — no matter how distant they are, Hashem promises he too will return.

I generally visit my mother during the summer, but one year I couldn’t make it until Elul. I was excited — my mother’s birthday’s in Elul. That day, a bulky package arrived in the mail from her brother.

“What could he possibly be sending me?” She peeled away the layers of beige packaging paper. It was a sefer, old, worn, the letters stamped on the cover barely legible: Machzor Rosh Hashanah.

There was a note on top: “I found this and thought that as Ima’s daughter, it’s most appropriate that you have her machzor.”

Chanah, mother of Shmuel, is mentioned in the haftarah of the first day, where Chanah beseeches Hashem for a child. The pasuk says Chanah davened “on Hashem.” Not to Hashem. We see from here that Chanah wasn’t begging for a child for her own selfish reasons. Rather, she wanted a child for Hashem’s sake, to do mitzvos. She subsequently brought Shmuel to serve in the Mishkan when he was only two years old!

So, too, we beg Hashem, “Write us in the Book of Life, for Your sake, Hashem,” so we can continue to serve You.

Thus, on this day of motherhood, let’s utilize the power our Jewish matriarchs have bequeathed us to be blessed with a good new year.

While my mother’s emotions were not lost on me, I was surprised by my own intense feelings. I picked up the sefer slowly, almost reverently, and flipped through the heavy old-fashioned pages, my heart drawn to a yellow tearstain, the smudge of a fingerprint.

My grandmother held this machzor. My grandmother davened from this very sefer, turned these pages as she beseeched for another year of blessing for her family.

This was the first tangible connection I’d ever had to this woman who was a mother like me, who cried for me, the granddaughter she’d never know.

Despite the passage of time, those yellow stains and a mother’s prayers are still wielding their power. My savta’s machzor links me to her, and her tears are my own.

(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 661)

Oops! We could not locate your form.

Tagged: Parsha