By Rabbi Idan Scher, Congregation Machzikei Hadas
In a few weeks from now we will be celebrating the Festival of Shavuot.
We find three different names used by the Torah to refer to this Holy Day: 1. Chag HaShavuot (the festival of weeks), Chag HaKatzir (the festival of reaping) and Yom HaBikurim (the day of the first fruits).
Each of these names refer to different facets of Shavuot, all of which are central to the Holy Day. However, one name, perhaps the one with the greatest significance, appears to be missing from the Torah. No mention is made even once of Shavuot being the day on which God gave us our most precious gift – the Torah.
Why does the Torah not refer to Shavuot as Zman Matan Torataynu (the time in which the Torah was given to us)?
One possible answer is that the Torah did not want to explicitly highlight one specific day as the day on which the Torah was given because that may have wrongfully implied there is one designated day which is ideal for bringing the Torah into our lives.
In fact, any day on which an individual decides to “accept” the Torah is particularly well-positioned to facilitate that experience, and in effect, every day is perfectly suited as a day to personally “receive the Torah.” No one day is designated as the day of accepting the Torah, because in reality we have that opportunity every single day of our lives.
Whenever I hear this idea, I think about another important holiday: Mother’s Day. In reality, no single day should be designated as Mother’s Day because every day should be Mother’s Day. Not a day passes that we shouldn’t be celebrating our mothers. But until the time comes that we celebrate our mothers every day like we do on Mother’s Day, let’s make sure that our mothers get breakfast in bed and beautiful flowers at least once a year.
The Torah underscores that there are exceptional relationships in life. First and foremost, the relationship between mother and child is so exceptional that the Kohen, the priest, could turn away from his duties to God to attend to his mother. There are other relatives that fall under the same rubric; but the first one mentioned is the mother.
One of Jewish history’s greatest mystics, Rabbi Isaac Luria, would welcome each Shabbat by kissing the hands of his mother.
On a more contemporary note, I remember when Israeli lawmaker Gadi Yevarkan of the Blue and White party kissed his mother’s feet in a show of gratitude upon taking the oath of office as a member of the 21st Knesset. After kissing her feet, Yevarkan hugged his mother and escorted her into the Knesset.
“Words can’t describe her nobility. The least I could do was to kiss her feet and bless her,” he wrote.
If we spent a moment thinking about our moms’ dedication to us from before we were even born, we would run to kiss their feet, or hands, or the cultural equivalent, because that’s the treatment our moms deserve.
I have been thinking about “mothers” and why Gadi Yevarkan felt the urge to kiss his mother’s feet and how so many of us feel exactly the same way. Such emotions are not so easily articulated. Then it hit me.
I recently had the honour of being interviewed, together with Nikki Shapiro representing the Jewish Federation of Ottawa, by the Orthodox Union. We spoke about how our community has come together in an unprecedented way during this pandemic. At the end of the interview we were asked about what we hope will stick in our community even after life returns to “normal.”
I pointed out that so much we have done is not particularly relevant to a pandemic. We should always be looking out for each other and actively make sure everyone is supported and has what they need. We should always build bridges and increase collaboration between synagogues and Jewish institutions. Furthermore, we should always be creative in how and what we are offering.
And then I spoke about “rallying.”
I have the most wonderful memories from my childhood of attending many Chicago Cubs games at Wrigley Field with my dad and siblings. During really important games when the Cubs were behind and really needed a win, the fans (and sometimes the players) would put their “rally caps” on. They would turn their baseball hats inside out and cheer harder than they had the entire game to inspire their team to rally and come back from behind.
But the rally cap was reserved for very specific points in the season because a rally is a special effort made on a specific occasion. It’s hard to continue rallying even after the specific occasion is no longer. To keep that type of momentum up is basically superhuman.
I went on to express my confidence in the many components of our community’s rally becoming permanent, having witnessed the obvious and passionate altruism steering the proverbial ship through these uncertain waters.
It was at that point of the interview that it hit me. I found the words I was looking for. A mom is a human being who always has her rally cap on.
From the moment we are brought into this world, moms put their rally caps on and unlike every other human being, never take them off no matter what stage of life their child is at. And as moms become grandmas, they put on that rally cap perhaps even a bit tighter, even more firmly than before. Even when a mom is no longer physically with us, I believe with all of my heart that in Heaven, a mom never stops rallying for her children, grandchildren, and all future generations. They pray for us, root for us, and stick by our sides at every moment of our lives.
Rallying for most people is a special effort for a specific reason. For a mom, from the moment she acquires that name, the rally cap is taken out and never put away.
So, we kiss our moms’ hands as welcome in the Shabbat. We kiss our moms’ feet as we are sworn into Knesset, and we cherish and thank our mom every day for being the one person in the world who never stops rallying for us.