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Do You Know How To Be a Mother?
by Rabbi YY Jacobson
 young Jewish man was visiting a psychiatrist, hoping to cure his eating and sleeping disorder. "Every thought I have turns to my mother," he told the psychiatrist. "As soon as I fall asleep and being to dream, everyone in my dream turns into my mother.

“Last night I even had a dream that YOU were my mother. I wake up so upset that all I can do is go downstairs and eat a piece of toast. And I came running here for the session."

The psychiatrist replied, "What, just one piece of toast for a big boy like you?"
Three Stages of Love
A profoundly intriguing Midrash relates the following episode (1):
The famed 2nd century Talmudic sage Rabbi Shimon asked Rabbi Eliezer if he ever heard from his father an explanation to a biblical verse (2) which intimates that the Jewish people are defined as G-d’s “mother?”
Rabbi Eliezer responded by way of a metaphor. “It is comparable to a king who had a single daughter whom he loved too much. He did not move away from loving her till he called her ‘my daughter.’ He did not cease to love her until he progressed and named her ‘my sister.’ He still could not satisfy his love to her till he called her ‘my mother.’”
Similarly, Rabbi Eliezer concluded, G-d coined His people – in various places of the Bible (3) – with three different names: His daughter, His sister and His mother, each term demonstrating a progression in the love.
Upon hearing this, Rabbi Shimon stood up and kissed Rabbi Eliezer on his head. “If I have come only to hear this insight, it would have been enough,” Rabbi Shimon said.
What is the meaning behind this strange Midrash? Are we, perhaps, encountering here the seeds for the Freudian Libido theory 1800 years before the modern theorist of psychoanalysis proposed his own? And why does the loving father not call his beloved child with her obvious and seemingly most healthy title -- ‘my daughter?’
The spiritual masters of the Chassidic tradition understood this Midrash as a description of the three central holidays on the Jewish calendar, Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot. During Passover, the first holiday of Jewish history, G-d defines the Jew as His daughter. Then, as the relationship deepens and the second holiday, Shavuot, comes around, we are defined as His sister. Finally, during the third and the final holiday of Sukkot, we turn into G-d’s “mother.”
These three stages are similarly reflected in the evolving relationship between a parent and a child, as we will explain below.
Recipients, Partners and Givers
During the time of Passover, G-d liberated an impoverished and oppressed people from slavery, bestowing upon them the dignity of freedom and the gift of liberty. G-d was the absolute giver and the Jewish people were on the receiving end. He was the father; we were His daughter.
At that point in our history, we were neither mature nor fertile enough to understand the nature of reciprocity. We did not possess the means – the knowledge, the wisdom and the tools -- through which to reciprocate the Divine love and protection. We were the innocent daughter being cuddled by her loving father during a thundering rainstorm, thinking that this is the way things ought to remain forever.
Yet, seven weeks later at the foot of Mt. Sinai, the Almighty expressed an even profounder form of love, empowering the people to become partners with Him in the work of repairing the world. From a child we turned sibling. At Sinai, commemorated in the holiday of Shavuot, we forged a partnership with G-d to redeem the world together. We entered into a mutual covenant.
The Talmud makes this point dramatically when it states that “every judge who issues forth a righteous moral decision becomes a partner with the Divine (4).” What the rabbis are suggesting is that when a judge renders a decision that contributes to the moral repair of civilization, he has in effect become a very real partner in the very work of creation. At Sinai, every Jew was charged with this responsibility and given the tools to transform the world. At Sinai we became G-d’s “sisters.” Siblings are ultimately partners.
But then the Jews betrayed their partnership with the Divine, creating a golden calf and reverting to the a-moral and deprived patterns of Paganism. The Jewish people bid farewell to the moral G-d of ethical monotheism and to the covenant they crafted with the creator of heaven and earth. It is no wonder why. The pressure of such a relationship was too profound, the responsibility too overwhelming, and the discipline too exacting. They would prefer to be slaves in a country that makes decisions for them rather than become truly autonomous and independent human beings, as a “kingdom of princes and a holy nation.” They would rather be nails than hammers. They would rather have somebody to blame for their problems than take responsibility for their own destiny. We cherish independence, but we also fear too much of it.
At this point in their history, it seemed that G-d’s attempt to inspire a people to freely choose a relationship with Him, failed. The beast prevailed over the beauty. G-d himself, in a candid conversation with Moses in the book of Exodus, admits failure. He feels that He needs to start all over again; there is no hope for Him with these people anymore.
Yet Moses and the people refused to accept G-d’s admission of failure. Instead, the nation of Israel used their downfall as a catalyst for renewal. Their failure helped them crystallize for themselves the root of the struggle that lay ahead. Their betrayal became a catalyst for a renewed and far deeper commitment. Moses, on his part, stood atop Mt. Sinai and spoke to G-d about the need to forgive; about the possibilities of rebirth, about the power of atonement. It took eighty days for Moses to “convince” G-d, but it worked: On the day of Yom Kippur, G-d acquiesced. He told Moses, “I have forgiven them.” And He gave Moses the second set of tablets to replace the first ones that were broken after the construction of the Pagan golden calf.
Mentors to the Divine
The message here is too daring to be spoken clearly. Yet the Jewish mystics picked up on it and articulated it. G-d does not sin. G-d does not violate, nor betray nor transgress. G-d is perfect, pure, impeccable and flawless. From G-d’s “perfect” perspective, failure and betrayal constitute the end of a relationship. There is no life emerging from death, no rejuvenation emerging from despair, no light formed from darkness, because in G-d’s reality there is no death, nor despair nor darkness. G-d, so to speak, cannot transform darkness into light, because in Him no darkness dwells.
But we can. Because human beings, in stark contrast to G-d, stumble, fall, fail and make mistakes. We are vulnerable to sin, transgression and profanity. We are capable of betraying and abusing. We know how to lie, to ourselves, to our souls, and to our fellow human beings. And then, after we fall, we are capable of utilizing the fall as a springboard for renewal.
When G-d gazes at His children encountering the abyss and yet rising from it to inspire them to reach far greater heights, He looks at them and cries out: ‘Mother!’ For it is then that we become, as it were, “mentors” to the Divine, showing Him how darkness can be transformed into light, how imperfection is the beginning of deeper perfection, and how destruction is the commencement of renovation.
And this is the message of the third holiday, the festival of Sukkot, when we celebrate the renewed relationship between G-d and Israel forged on Yom Kippur following their estrangement. From “sister” we turn into “mother.” From partners with G-d, we become “teachers” to G-d (5).
Taking in the Nurture
Yet here is the catch: To become a healthy mother, you first need to be a daughter and a sister. Those of us who never received nurture as children find it very difficult to become independent and responsible people (the “sister” stage), and even more difficult to become leaders and mentors (the “mother” stage).
The reason for this is because there is something about the love of a father or mother to a daughter which runs far deeper than our love to a sister and even to a mother. These latter loves are often contingent on what sister and mother contribute to the relationship; but the former love is unconditional on reciprocity, it knows no bounds and is limitless.
Therefore, only when you are first a daughter, can you become a mother; only when you have received that unconditional nurture as a child (or you have acquired it through your own hard work), can you then imbue others with that unshakable sense of confidence and love (6). You can’t get to Sukkot without first experiencing Passover.
So this Passover, let yourself become a true and genuine “daughter.” Let the divine light of the Passover holiday nurture you, liberate you and embrace you. Then, in the proper time, you will be empowered to become a sister and finally a “mother,” a Yidishe Mame, a light, inspiration and beacon of nurture and strength to those around you (7).
1) Midrash Rabah Shemos 52:5; Shir Hahirim end of ch. 3.
2) Song of Songs ch. 4.
3) Psalms ch. 45; Song of Songs ch. 5; Isaiah ch. 51
4) Shabbas p. 10
5) See Talmud Bava Metziah 59b: “G-d laughed and declared, ‘My children triumphed over me; my children triumphed over me.’”
6) This is why in the Midrashic metaphor, all of the three titles “daughter,” “sister” and “mother” are given by the king to his daughter, because the “daughter” relationships is the context in which the other two can flourish (see Safer Hamaamarim Melukat vol. 4 p. 197 footnote #50.) This may also be the deeper reason for why Rabbi Shimon kissed Rabbi Eliezer on his head, as a father would kiss his daughter.
7) This essay is based on Or Hatorah Bo p. 258, 263, vol. 8 p. 2916; Sefer Hamaamarim 5654 p. 138; 5679 p. 332; Melukat vol. 4 p. 196; vol. 1 pp. 363-374 and other sources.


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