This message was sent to the congregation on Wednesday, May 6, 2020.
Dear Rodeph Sholom family,
Mother’s Day this year will be yet another occasion when many of us can only virtually hug the people most precious to us. My own kids will not be able to tell their mother in person how truly incredible she is in this and every other role.
This reality is sad enough, and then we consider all those people, some in our congregation whose parent is hospitalized because of COVID-19 or for some other reason, and they can’t be there to demonstrate their love and offer comfort. Other parents are isolated in nursing homes or in assisted living. Health care heroes and others who bravely serve the public must separate from their anxious children, often for long periods of time as they work tirelessly to save lives.
In the Torah reading this week we are commanded, “You shall be holy for God is holy.” Leviticus reminds us that holiness is not about ethereal contemplation, but rather building strong relationships and making the world more equitable. This is a vision we desperately need in these terribly troubled times.
One of the first requirements of holiness can be translated as, “You shall hold in awe your parents.” I love that phrasing, but keep in mind that Judaism does not concern itself very much with what we feel. Rather, we are what we do. We must show awe in concrete ways, so it is more than frustrating that we cannot demonstrate our devotion in person.
While some of us are far from our parents, many others are spending more time together than ever. This can be precious, but there is no doubt that constant togetherness, even with our loved ones, taxes our relationships and heightens tension. You may have seen the hysterical YouTube video of the Israeli woman, tasked with teaching her children at home, totally losing it. Usually we nudge our children in the early morning and at night, but now we are responsible for getting them to each period of virtual learning and doing their homework all day long. Never have parents appreciated teachers more than when they have to step into their formidable role at home.
Even in quarantine, our children hopefully can appreciate all their parents mean to them and do for them. If they cannot fully grasp that truth now, in most cases they will do so later in life.
As many of you remember, I have a mild case of cerebral palsy. I thank God every day for the word minor. Doctors told my parents that baby Robert may never walk and might have serious cognitive problems as well. Devastated by that possibility, my parents refused to accept that this was a true diagnosis. For years my mother would drag me in from outdoor play to do orthopedic exercises that strengthened my left side. At the time, I resented her intrusion into my fun. Years later, I am grateful she cared so much.
I’m reminded that the Hebrew word for teachers, morim, and the Hebrew word for parents, horim, come from the same root. Parents can be our best teachers and most inspirational guides through life.
This Friday night we will celebrate our annual Youth Service honoring our high school seniors. Sadly, they are missing many rites of their graduating year. Spending so many days and nights with parents might not be anyone’s preference! But I hope that our kids might appreciate their folks as never before, knowing their love is unconditional, and that they have worked hard to raise them as good students, and even more importantly, good people and good Jews.
During this pandemic I pray that parents can celebrate their children’s mentschlekeit—the values they demonstrate and the concern for others they learned at home, at Rodeph Sholom, and elsewhere.
Between Passover and Shavuot, Jews count the omer. In Temple times, Israelites would bring to God a measure of their best crops followed by a blessing of gratitude. They never took for granted that they would be able to sustain their families and communities. Let us also feel particular gratitude for the blessings in our lives and be called upon to respond by helping those far less fortunate than we are.
On the eve of Mother’s Day, may we give thanks for those who gave us life and love, and who remain a profound blessing in our lives.
Always remember that you are not alone. We are in this together and once again we will reach the Promised Land.
All of us at CRS send a virtual hug.
Rabbi Robert N. Levine