Sunday, August 25, 2013

Mother of Life

As we all know, when we daven for somebody who is suffering in ill-health or in other trouble, we refer to the person as son or daughter of the mother’s name – Yoseph ben Rochel, or Dinah bas Leah – not using the father’s name, which is what a person is normally called. The reason is that we want to evoke G-d’s maternal side, as it were, to “remind” Him of the particular trait of rachamim – mercy – that is a mother’s territory. The word rachamim derives from rechem, the word for womb, which is of course the most uniquely maternal of all bodily organs, and the seat of the emotion of mercy.

If I have carried you in my womb, you are for all eternity connected to me by ties stronger than death, and nothing that ever happens to either you or me can erase the loving, tender mercy that I feel for you; your helpless cry as you emerged from my womb will for all eternity resonate in my ears and my heart, and make me want to clasp you to my breast at your slightest sigh; as long as there is breath in my body I will care for you, child of my womb, and love you and happily give up anything in the world, including that breath, that you should live and be happy.

That is the feeling of a mother. That is the feeling we want Hashem to remember. He is our Mother and we need His rachamim, His rechem-ness. Interestingly, the word for womb in my mother tongue would literally translate to English as “life-mother” – which very vividly describes what the rechem is - in a sense, it is a description of Hashem Himself.

And now comes what I believe to be my very own little newsflash. (Of course I can’t be sure that nobody else has ever had this thought, but I have never read it or heard it said.)

It goes like this: Whenever a person is, G-d forbid, ill or in distress – in the normal scope of things, who suffers the most? Usually the mother; at least I know all you mothers out there will agree with me! However pained or frightened or anguished the person might be, it is hard to imagine that the pain, the fear, and the anguish of the mother is not exponentially worse. After all, do we not extrapolate the sobbing sounds of the Teruah (the ninefold staccato blasts of the Shofar) from the heart-rending sobs of the mother of Sisera*; not from the sobs of the man himself; nor from those of his wife, or his child.

My point is that when we mention in our prayer the mother of a sufferer, we are including her, and consequently davening for her as well; praying that the patient, or the prisoner, or the victim, together with the one who suffers with him, and for him, should receive from the Mother of All Life, the King of Rachamim, a healing balm for all their agony.

And may we all, in the words of the Navi Yeshayah – the prophet Isaiah – be “carried on a shoulder and dandled on knees; like a man whose mother consoled him...”.

Shalom Uv'racha!

The Mother of Sisera Looking Out the Window 
By Albert Joseph Moore, English painter,1841-1893

* Through the window she gazed; Sisera's mother peered through the window. "Why is his chariot delayed in coming? Why are the hoofbeats of his carriages so late?" 
Shofetim (Judges) 5:28

The whole story about how Sisera, the cruel commander of the Cana'anite army, was killed by our Jewish heroine Yael is found in Shofetim, chapter 4.

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