A Tribute to Great Women, To Our Mothers on Mother’s Day!

by Arliene Botnick, April 29, 2021

Our Tanach is filled with stories of heroism, defiance, dedication, prophetic insight. And although most of these stories are tales of men, we must never forget the role of women in our story. Let’s begin with Eve, whose curiosity and perhaps insight led her to eat the fruit of the tree, gain knowledge, and forced us to leave the garden in order that we become true partners with God in the mending of the world, tikkun olam. Outside the garden was the place that we could truly work with God to create a good world, where we could be active and not passive in the work of creation. After all, this may be why the tree of knowledge was planted in the garden by Adonai in the first place and why we were endowed with the ability to make choices.

Now, we can move on to Sarah, our first matriarch. Though initially barren, she wanted to be able to help Abraham fulfil God’s promise that Abraham’s descendants would inherit the land. Sarah thought that perhaps the prophecy would be fulfilled through the maidservant, Hagar, and Hagar did give birth to a son, Ishmael. Sarah realized, however, sometime later, that the son she herself had given birth to, Isaac, would be the offspring of Abraham through whom the promised prophecy would be be fulfilled. So, Sarah made the decision to cast out Hagar and Ishmael. Sarah, perhaps, saw Ishmael as the progenitor of violence and immorality, going on a path that she did not want her own son, Isaac, to follow. Our sages have said that everything Sarah said, Abraham should heed. “From this, the sages deduce that she was a greater prophet than Abraham.”

Next, we come to Rebecca, who saw that her husband, Isaac, was blind both physically and emotionally, and unable to truly recognize the differences between their twin sons, Jacob and Esau. It was she who encouraged Jacob to take from Esau, through guise and deception, the blessing to which he was entitled as the first born. She knew that it was through Jacob that the lineage of Abraham would be continued. Her wisdom and strength played a crucial role in the development of our people.

We can look at the story of Jochebed, who refused to stand by as the pharaoh ordered the murder of all the male children born to Israelite women. For three months, she hid her baby, defying the Pharoah’s edict. Then, she trusted God as she placed her baby in a wicker basket and put the baby into the Nile. He, Moses, would be drawn out of the water and eventually, he would draw us, the Israelites, through the water as we fled from slavery. He would lead us to Sinai, where we would affirm our Brit, our covenant with God. And ultimately, he would lead us to the promised land.

Much later on, we read about Ruth and Naomi, two women who forged a deep and lasting relationship. These women were widowed and not only managed to survive, but thrived. Naomi became Ruth’s Beit Din as she, Naomi, in love and caring, first tried to encourage Ruth to stay back in the birthland (Moab). But when Naomi realized Ruth’s commitment to the Jewish people, Naomi not only took Ruth back to Canaan with her, but became the matchmaker, the shadchan, between Ruth and Boaz. Ruth and Boaz would marry and have a son called Obed, who would have a son called Jesse, who would have a son called David. Ruth and Naomi endured great hardship in order to be part of the people of Israel and they both succeeded. Their love and dedication ultimately led up to the birth of David, from whose seed the messianic age is prophesied to come.

Lastly, we come to the mother I will always remember, not only on Mother’s Day, but each time I look into the eyes of my children and grandchildren. I will always remember Jennie, a dedicated and courageous woman, my role model, and my sister’s and my loving mother. Jennie endured more than her fair share of pain, sorrow and loss but she never gave up. She knew God‘s commandment is for us to live, so even after the loss of her four-year-old son and later, the loss of her second son at age 15, Jennie carried on. She lost the love of her life, my dad, when she was 47 and I was only 13, but she carried on. She lost her oldest daughter, my sister Rose, at the age of 50, but my mother carried on. She worked from home, created a home business, sold dry goods and dresses, was a seamstress and took care of her last two remaining children, my sister and me.

Jennie was the epitome of a “Yiddishah Mama.” She loved to share her “Jennie” stories, stories of her life in Kielce, Poland, about the grandmother I never knew (Reuchal), about her passion for food, eating her way across the Atlantic, of her fear of getting her ears pierced. These are stories that I have chosen to share with my family and with you as my congregation. Although she did not live to see any of my grandchildren, she showed me how to create a Jewish home. She modelled dedication, strength, and faith as did our ancestors. She made sure that there would be the next generation of Jews. Jennie was kind and caring, capable, hard-working, wise, resilient, and full of love. Each time I look into the eyes of my children and grandchildren, I see her spark still aglow. We are remembered by our good name and our good deeds, and Jennie is truly remembered on Mother’s Day, on every day!

Happy Mother’s Day to all!

Filed under: Educator's Message

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