Monday, June 24, 2013

Mad Men Mussar 2 Here is what I wrote just two years ago in Mad Men Mussar 1 -- "Don Draper, the central protagonist, has been struggling with his identity. Don, it is time for some, Truth, Emet, in your life." As all meaningful Mussar efforts --it takes a while to bear fruit - so, Don? Mazel Tov! We are seeing a glimmer of Emet - truth! Standing outside your childhood home was no easy deal and bringing along your kids is downright petrifying but powerful. Yes, for some of us, you can go home again - and in some cases - you must! Bring on the truth! We have waited long enough. This is the only way for you to get near Shleimut - wholeness and peace - Don - so bring it on! Back in 2010 Betty was not faring well in my estimation. My how things have change. Far from being a paragon of maternal magic - she at least has moved from this awful place - here's what I wrote in Mad Men Mussar 1 - at the end of Season 4 that shows Betty at the beginning of her downward parental spiral; "I confess, upon first coming across Betty, Don’s now ex-wife, I was impressed with her demure demeanor and was a fan. All of that has changed. I am decidedly disturbed by her parenting methods or perhaps the lack thereof. Her firing of her longtime housekeeper and nanny, Carla and her continuous lashing out and appalling lack of compassionate connection with daughter Sally is of great concern." Things are better now - though sharing a cigarette on the way home form Boarding School try out - was not a high point -- but folks -- remember things were different then! Betty overall - at least your showing some compassion, Chesed for those for those kids. Peggy, what can I say - I wish things were different. Last time up - the Mussar for you was to have some patience, Savlanut - now I feel you need some work on a bit of a different Mussar trait -- Peggy you need a little Bitachon - Trust. Please Peggy, trust yourself and your gut. Stop falling for those married men at work! You deserve better! Though you are a peek of the new woman, that does not mean that a fulfilling personal life is not within your means. Your bashert is out there somewhere! Finally, Joan and Roger - the turkey awaits carving - but this, a family does-not-make and Joan knows it. A nice season long display of Gevurah, strength, Joan! If only Roger could catch some. As for Peter and the creepy Bob Benson -- don't even get me started. Mussar traits for them? How about a fine dose of humility - Anavah? Reality check. Even Television can't make that kind of special effects happen! Thank you Matthew Weiner it's been a thoughtful season...get out those Hershey Bars we're going to need some chocolate comfort to get us through the Mad Men-less days ahead.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Torah Lishmah 1. Shelah: A means to proper practice of Torah laws. 2. Nefesh HaChayim :To know and to understand H’. 3. Ruach Chiam:…to comprehend the secrets and mysteries of H’s marvelous deeds and Hi Glory and to fulfill the will of H’. 4. Rabbi Hertz: The one true motive is the love of G’. 5. Rabbi Shalom of Baranovich: The meaning of this mitzvah (lishmah) is to cleave (devekut) to H’ who as if says “ I have written myself into it” learning Torah is knowing H’ 6. Rabbi S.R.Hirsch: To discern from it the will of H’ and to do G’s will by fulfilling it oneself and teaching it to others. 7. Rabbi Reuven Bulka: An individual who is occupied with Torah for its own sake who sees Torah as a vehicle towards actualization of human purpose justifies the act of creation. 8. Tanya: …to attach one’s soul to G’ through the understanding of Torah. 9. Rambam: Introduction to Chelek – The only purpose in studying this wisdom should be its knowledge in itself. In the same way the search or truth should be for the purpose of knowing the truth, and Torah is The Truth. The purpose of knowing the truth is to realize it in practice. 10. Sfas Emes: "Torah lishma"is exactly what its shem (name) indicates. The word "Torah" means instruction. Hence, "Torah lishma" means learning in order

Monday, March 12, 2012

In Honor of Mrs. Chana Lorber a'h

Mrs. Chana Lorber a’h
One of the Women of BCMH

When we speak about the happiest moments that we have ever experienced, though they are generally significant uplifting moving milestones - none can really ever compare to Mrs. Lorber’s response to the question; what was the happiest moment of your life?

It is an answer that puts into perspective the degree to which we take so much in our lives for granted. In Mrs. Lorber’s case, it is an answer that she offers without hesitation. Her response stands forever as a sobering reminder in the grand sweep of Jewish history.

What was Mrs. Chana Lorber’s happiest moment in life? - The moment that she was liberated from work camp in Germany, on April 28, 1945. The answer speaks volumes.

What does it mean to sit together with a Jew from Warsaw, to spend time with a woman who lived through the Warsaw Ghetto, Auschwitz, Majdanek and Ravensbruch? It is to sit in awe and to attempt to understand the immensity of Chana Lorber’s perseverance, strength and accomplishments.

Chana Rosensweig Lorber was born in Warsaw the youngest of seven children. Her Father owned a butcher store. The family’s home was the two-bedroom living quarters behind the store. Mrs. Lorber went to Talmud Torah learned Hebrew and how to daven, later with the closing of Jewish schools she had no choice but to attend Catholic school, where she was mistreated as a Jewish girl. In 1940 the family was forced to leave their home and business and move into the Warsaw Ghetto where they would live for the next three years until it was liquidated.
The Warsaw Ghetto was the largest of the Jewish ghettos established by Nazi Germany in General Government during the Holocaust in World War II. In the three years of its existence, starvation, disease and deportations to concentration camps and extermination camps dropped the population of the ghetto from an estimated 450,000 to 37,000. The Warsaw Ghetto was the scene of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, one of the first mass uprisings against Nazi occupation in Europe.
Mrs. Lorber’s life has been shared with the Seattle community in several different publications and though I had the honor to speak with Mrs Lorber in great length on a grey rainy Seattle Sunday afternoon, I draw on those materials here to reconstruct parts of Mrs. Lorber’s life.

Life in Poland was never easy for Jews according to Mrs. Lorber; this was a country with much anti-Semitism and though she and her sister tried to escape from Poland their plan was viciously foiled by a Polish boy who betrayed them and turned them over to the authorities.

Life in the ghetto meant miniscule rations and overwhelming starvation. Mrs. Lorber was one of those brave ones that you and I read about; she would sneak out of the ghetto through the Jewish cemetery, which was one of the Ghettos’ boundaries, and smuggle food back into the Ghetto. And yes, once she was caught taken to jail and brutally beaten.

Mrs. Lorber is a witness to history, watching from her attic as a hundred or so brave Jews launched what would be known as the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. She vividly remembers the sounds of the explosions and the Molotov cocktails being thrown. She watched as the Germans brutally set the ghetto on fire on the last day of Pesach April 25th and with power of scores of tanks eventually put an end to the Jewish community in Warsaw.

The duration of the war slowly and painfully took a toll on Mrs. Lorber’ family with two of her brothers and one sister were taken from the ghetto in the first year never to be seen again. Her Mother died in the Ghetto and by the time of the ghetto’s liquidation there remained only her father, sister, brother and five year old niece. They were transported by cattle car to Majdanek. Upon arrival to the death camp, her little niece was taken to the gas chambers, her father murdered before her eyes. Eventually, her sister lost all will to live. It was then just Mrs. Lorber a brother and a sister. In Majdanek, Mrs. Lorber was forced to work brutal hours and was on one occasion viciously beaten with twenty five lashes by a female SS officer.

People were moved around by the Nazis and after being in Majdanek, Mrs. Lorber and her sister were transferred to Auschwitz where the inhumane treatment continued; her head was shaved, poorly fitting shoes and clothing were doled out to her and a number was burned on to her arm, 47259. There Mrs. Lorber saw and smelled the crematoria ashen smoke pumping out day and night.

After a year they were transferred to Ravensbruch a labor camp and then eventually to Malchow Germany to work in a munitions factory. It was there that liberation finally came to Chana Rosensweig. The young girl found by the English and American liberators was a very different person than the one who entered the Warsaw Ghetto five years earlier. Now she was all skin and bones. It took several years in Sweden for Mrs. Lorber to regain her health and humanity.

It was from Sweden that Mrs. Lorber and her sister made their way to New York and then on to Seattle. There Mrs. Lorber met Dovid Lorber, a very strong Zionist and a Partisan fighter. They married in 1952.

Mrs. Lorber’s relatives through her Mother’s side were the Walters and they were living in Seattle; that drew the young couple to the Pacific Northwest. Once in Seattle together they opened a men’s clothing shop in Pike Place Market at 1215 First Avenue. For forty-five years worked hard and long hours to make a living a selling clothes and for a time uniforms to sailors.

Here in Seattle the Lorbers became part of BCMH and Mrs. Lorber became a member of the sisterhood, cooking and baking and making lunches.

In those early years she found that most folks here were not interested in the experiences of Holocaust survivors – but that has changed.

The Lorbers had one daughter, Rosalie, who went to Hebrew School and spent a year in Jerusalem at Hebrew University. One can see Rosalie sitting together with Mrs Lorber most Shabbosim in shul. Rosalie is a successful accountant and an active member of BCMH.

Mrs. Lorber remembers the shul when it was still on 17th and Yesler. She recalls going to a packed shul on Rosh Hashanah. Mrs. Lorber still enjoys attending shul and if I may add always looks beautiful and stylishly dressed! Mrs. Lorber has a lovely countenance; she is not a tall person of great build but rather quite frail, in spite of this there is an aura of strength and determination in her bearing.

Each Shabbos I make sure to say Good Shabbos to Mrs. Lorber. She is an inspirational person, a delicate but very strong woman. Each week she expresses gratitude for being able to be in shul despite her health constraints. We are honored by her presence and truly sanctified to have her sitting with us.

There are new people in our shul, like myself for but thirteen years. I learned that if you want to understand who we are spend some time Mrs. Lorber.
We forget so quickly those who came before us and what true hardship really looks like. We do them great disrespect by allowing our petty differences to divide us when we are but a generation away from each of us being equally discriminated against and persecuted.
We only have a limited amount of years to get to know, to honor and to pay tribute to those giants of people who preceded us; Jews who are truly holy, “brands plucked out of the fire”. Take advantage; there are compelling lessons to be learned. If not, for what is this project?

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Who is Judith or Yehudit and why is she important to the Story of Chanukah

Often what has become invisible through the ages is the female experience. The life of a seemingly obscure widow, Judith, deserves a bit of center stage of Chanukah. This comment of Susan Weidman Schneider in her book Jewish and Female got me thinking, She writes, "Whatever the reasons, Chanukah is one of the few markers on the Jewish Calendar that have not proved fruitful ground for Jewish women looking for a usable past. The only traditional Chanukah tale featuring a woman is the story of Hannah and her seven sons." I ask; could there be more?
To see a significant and meaningful place for women in the Chanukah celebration, one needs to perhaps don another pair of glasses. Let’s call them halachic glasses. These spectacles allow us to gaze at the vast body of rich Jewish legal literature. They sometimes reveal that which you least expect.
Let us begin by opening the Shulchan Aruch, Code of Jewish Law, authored by Rabbi Yosef Karo in the sixteenth century. In section #970 we find the first law concerning Chanukah. He starts with the simple; Chanukah is for eight days beginning on the 25th of Kislev. These are days when eulogies and fasting are prohibited, but work is permitted - except for women who have the custom to abstain from doing any form of labor while the candles are burning. Further on, he writes that women are obligated in lighting Chanukah candles and may light on behalf of the entire household.
Two interesting points jump out. First, though the laws of Chanukah go on for pages, it is women's custom that immediately takes center stage. The only labor prohibited on the festival is by women - during the burning of the Chanukah candles. The second significant halachic twist is that in spite of the principal that women are exempt from positive time bound commandments - when it comes to the lighting of the Chanukah candles their obligation is equal to that of men.
Questions; why do women have the custom to refrain from work while the Chanukah candles burn? Why do they seem to have a higher level of commitment or perhaps reverence for the Chanukah lights? And finally, why are they obligated in lighting Chanukah candles?
Keep your halachic glasses on as we zoom back in time to search the pages of the Talmud for Rabbi Karo’s source. Opening to page 23a of Tractate Shabbat we find that “Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi says that women are obligated in the mitzvah of Chanukah lights, for they too were involved in the miracle." They too were involved in the miracle? Rabbi Shlomo Yischaki, Rashi, tenth century scholar, suggests two possible interpretations to the puzzling phrase. First, they too were involved in the miracle - they too were subjugated to the Greeks, but in a terribly tragic way particular to women only. Each Jewish virgin was forced to be with a Greek officer before marrying. Second possibility; it was through a woman that the miracle occurred. This provocative comment is echoed and enlarged upon by Rashi’s grandson Rabbi Shmuel ben Meir, Rashbam, he adds, that the Chanukah miracle was done through the hands of Yehudit, Judith.
Ah, Judith the Obscure! To uncover her mystery, we must do some pasting together of Apocrypha, midrash and poetry. The reconstruction of this episode may never be completely satisfying, but what does emerge is a tale of heroism and sacrifice. It is unclear whether it is Judith the widow who goes forth willingly or Judith the bride who is taken by force, but, once alone with the Greek general she feeds him wine and cheese. She waits for the soporific meal to take its effect, cuts off his head, As recorded in Chapter 13 of the Book of Judith,
Then she came to the pillar of the bed, which was at Holofernes' head, and took down his fauchion from thence,
And approached to his bed, and took hold of the hair of his head, and said, Strengthen me, O Lord God of Israel, this day. And she smote twice upon his neck with all her might, and she took away his head from him.
She then gives his head to her maid who places it in her basket and they ever so nonchalantly return to the Judean camp. Officers, troops and soldiers of the Greek camp are left in leaderless disarray and a breach enabling the smaller Judean army to triumph. And thus the miracle was truly executed by a woman.
Now what do we see? Is this what Schneider might call a usable past? I think so. The legend together with halachic practice has bequeathed to women a powerful symbol. Yes, we were victims; but we were also heroes. We are part of the miracle. We were oppressed, but we joined together with our brothers to fight back. Yehudit, Judith is enshrined forever in sculpture, art work, librettos, and novels. Her memory is recalled on the Shabbat of Chanukah when traditionally we recite a lengthy twelfth century piyyut, poem, describing the pathos of her wedding and youthful fears of what awaited her.
Let each and every woman light a Chanukah menorah, refrain from work, watch flames and remember. Let us see in those flames both the pain of our ancestors and the courage of their actions and for this I do not think that we will need any kind of glasses. And finally, let us praise Judith as she was praised then,
O daughter, blessed art thou of the most high God above all the women upon the earth; and blessed be the Lord God, which hath created the heavens and the earth, which hath directed thee to the cutting off of the head of the chief of our enemies. For this thy confidence shall not depart from the heart of men, which remember the power of God for ever. And God turn these things to thee for a perpetual praise, to visit thee in good things because thou hast not spared thy life for the affliction of our nation, but hast revenged our ruin, walking a straight way before our God. And all the people said; So be it, so be it.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Tisha B'Av: Why we mourn....

Dear Rivy,
Here we are trying to have a decent summer and it seems like every other minute it is another fast day; sadness for a Temple long gone. I guess I don't quite understand the notion of mourning for the Temple. Why should I be sad about its destruction? I can't imagine needing or wanting such a place for sacrifices. Additionally, why all this for that one Temple, what's wrong with many holy spaces or synagogues, like what we have today? Please help me understand why we are fasting for the loss of this Temple.
A lot of people feel distanced from Biblical ideas of sacrifice and the role of the Temple, which is reasonable considering how long ago and faraway that temple stood. But I think that after I explain an idea or two you will feel differently. The idea of a centralized temple is at the core of our beliefs.
Let's start with perhaps the earliest mention of such a place. It is found in surprisingly close proximity to the beginning of our peoplehood. Immediately after the Exodus, as soon as the Israelites cross the Red Sea, they stand on the shore absorbing their miraculous salvation. You might remember the dramatic gelatin-facilitated footage from the Cecil B. De Mille film. There, the freed slaves are plunked after having just narrowly escaped a perilous collective brush with death. Led by Moshe, they sing a stunning song of thanksgiving, The Song at the Sea.
In that song they exuberantly proclaim, You bring them in, and plant them in the mountain of Your inheritance, the place, O Lord, which You have made for You to dwell in, the sanctuary, O Lord, which Your hands have established.
This is amazing to me. The Israelites have but stepped one foot out of slavery
and are already envisioning a holy sanctuary in which God will reside. This seems premature - why discuss a temple now? The Israelites have not begun to shed their slave-like persona, they have yet to receive the Torah, and are they certainly nowhere close to entering the land of Israel.
It is not until much later in the Book of Kings that we get an answer to this temple precociousness. But before that, the Israelites must first build a temporary tabernacle in the desert and travel with it into the Land of Israel. This mishkan, or temporary sanctuary, is then planted in the city of Shiloh, where it mostly remains until King Solomon is able to build the Temple in Jerusalem.
When Solomon does indeed construct the Temple, we are offered this rare nugget of chronology: “And it came to pass in the four hundred and eightieth year after the children of Israel were come out of the land of Egypt, in the fourth year of Solomon's reign over Israel, in the month Ziv, which is the second month, that he began to build the House of the Lord.”
An accounting like this, specific to an event, is not to be found in any of the early books of the Prophets. Not Joshua, not Judges, not Samuel. Only here, when the Temple is about to be built, are we notified of the span of years stretching from the Exodus till this temple time. This is the answer to the peculiar reference to the Temple at the splitting of the sea.
Four hundred eighty years from dream to realization. For our people, that is not astonishingly long - it is, in fact, a lilting leap with a profound link. As we are asked to make the connection from Exodus to Temple, we are catapulted back in time, as if standing again on the sandy shores of freedom, dreaming of the day that we will serve our heavenly God in a holy space here on earth.
It is there that we first envision this mystical notion, an ideal that the world has been waiting for since its creation: as God creates a world and makes room for humans, we are given a land and we create a space for God.
This connection between creation and the building of sanctuary is mapped out carefully by a number of Bible scholars such as Martin Buber, Benno Jacob and Nechama Leibowitz. They notice the startling similarities in language used in the creation narrative and the description of the building of the Tabernacle, mishkan. The Israelites mend the exile of the Garden by inviting God into a sanctuary and making space for God fulfilling the command, “and you shall make for me a dwelling place and I will dwell among them.” It is with the Israelites, who are ”a kingdom of priests and a holy nation, “that God's divine presence can finally join together with humans and be drawn down into this world.
First Eden and Exodus, then the Temple. The path of patience finally leads to the realization. As Solomon inaugurates the Temple, he triumphantly sets out what the role for this holy space will be for the Israelites and the entire world. In one of the most magnificent scenes in the Bible, King Solomon offers a soulful prayer to God before the People Israel.
He begins by reminding us when this building was first planned, “Since the day that I brought forth My people Israel out of Egypt,” and continues by asking the essential question, “But will God in very truth dwell on the earth?”
Though it may seem impossible, this place will be a place of prayer. All kinds of prayer - in times of famine and drought. Prayer in the time of war and hardship. This will be place that the whole world will come to pray to God Almighty, a place for penitence and forgiveness. Nary is a word mentioned about sacrifice, for this is a place of reaching out to God.
The Temple is a potent symbol for our people; it reminds us that God can be drawn down to earth and that a people can unite and build a community with God at its center. Perhaps that is the most powerful lesson for each of us. When we mourn the Temple, we mourn for that unity and for that mystical connection to the Holy One. We mourn a loss of land and central leadership. We mourn many missed opportunities.
A story is told of how Napoleon was walking through the streets of Paris. He passed by a synagogue and heard the sound of Jews weeping bitterly inside. He turned to his aide and asked, “What's going on inside there”?
“Today is the Jews' fast of Tisha B'av,” came the reply, “and they are mourning their temple.”
Napolean looked toward the synagogue and said, “If the Jews are still crying after so may hundreds of years, then I am certain that the Temple will one day be rebuilt!”
There is hope, we are still crying.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Why Eat Dairy on Shavuot -- and More...

If you put two plump cheese blintzes next to each other they just might resemble the two tablets of the law. But, I think we need to do better than that to bring meaning to our observance of Shavuot. The least attention getting of the holidays, it has a few things going against it from the start. No prominent engaging ritual and no eight-day marathon. Its timing is quite less than perfect coming as the school year is winding down, with no secular holiday season to boost its observance. Blink and you just might miss it entirely. Ironically, this low-key nature of Shavuot is its essence. When it comes to Shavuot less is more. Let me explain.
Try and find Shavuot in the Torah. Look for the verse linking Shavuot to the Giving of the Torah, search for the exact date, and maybe try to find the part about cheesecake. You will find none of these. Here is what you will find: We are commanded to count fifty days from the second day of Pesach when the omer offering is brought and to then observe the Feast of Weeks, Shavuot. On the holiday itself the Israelites bring first fruits to the Temple in Jerusalem and the priests offer the two loaves of bread. The day is holy and work is prohibited.
Three elements of the holiday seem to be missing. There is no clear designation by the text that Shavuot is the day that the Torah was given. There is no explicit date. And where are the blintzes?
Often we can learn from what is hidden as we learn from what is revealed. No specific date for Shavuot? Well, if we count seven weeks from the second of Pesach we clearly arrive at the date for Shavuot. Seven weeks, forty nine days equals the 6th of Sivan. Ambiguity regarding the date is clearly not the point - we can and do calculate its appropriate convergence. Why then the obscurity in the text? What message does Torah give us when instead of telling us the specific date it tells us to count the days from Pesach to Shavuot?
Pesach and Shavuot are connected. Shavuot’s very essence is that it does not stand-alone. By its very definition it is an extension of Pesach. Some would even say that the counting effectually transforms Shavuot into the final day of Pesach. Atzeret, one of the names of Shavuot reflects the idea of conclusion, as in Shemini Atzeret the eighth concluding day of Succot. Pesach is not complete without Shavuot and Shavuot does not happen without Pesach. Pesach is the physical redemption of the Israelites from Egyptian bondage - while Shavuot marks the spiritual redemption. We anxiously count the days that transform us from slaves to a free people able to recognize and hear the words of God.
Why wait the fifty days? Why are the Israelites not given the Torah straight away upon exiting Egypt? Shavuot could easily have been the real last day of Pesach. Several reasons. We were clearly not ready. The tribes exposed to Egyptian culture and paganism were yet to be the people of the book and the pyramid builders of Egypt lacked the fortitude to wrestle with nuances of monotheism and a life of transcendence.
Wait and anticipate, count and reckon - almost breathless with hope tally the days till destiny arrives. Number the fifty days from Pesach to Shavuot till God reveals himself to the people Israel. No date for Shavuot? Of course not there can be no date. An individual date stands alone, the fiftieth is part of a process, a moment in the fluid movement towards becoming closer to God and Torah.
Staying up all night Shavuot, decorating the sanctuary with flowers, confirmations, and Shavuot liturgy all reflect the long held belief that Shavuot is the day that the Torah was given to the Children of Israel. There is no scriptural citation stating thus and no prescribed ritual to inscribe it upon our consciousness. No Seder to follow no Succah to sit in. It is as if the Torah was purposefully obscuring the historic event and intentionally stripping it of any ritualistic commemoration. You’ve heard the lyrics; every day is Mother’s Day with you… well I suppose every day is Torah day for us. No one day can or should be set aside as the day to re-experience the giving of the Torah, that is for every day. The Midrash Tanhumah puts it this way, “Every day let the Torah be as dear to you as if you had received it this day from Mt. Sinai.” Revelation, says Rabbi David Tzvi Hoffman, cannot be translated into the tangible language of symbol. Can one even imagine what that might look like? What happened at Sinai was very much a one and only unique never to be repeated or imitated experience. The ritual to remember the Giving of the Torah is the every day ritual of Torah study that our people has dedicated themselves to, to never let this book of teaching cease from our lips.
Now for the menu; milk, elixir of life lead us to thoughts of intimacy, nourishment, simplicity and modesty. The way of Torah says the Tanna, is to eat bread with salt, drink water in small measure. A life of humbleness; Torah is like honey and milk under our tongue says the Midrash on the Song of Songs. Milk is pure and symbolizes the pristine whiteness of God who out of kindness revealed himself to us with intimacy, to nourish and give us life. Passed through the generations is the idea that the day of the Giving of the Torah is the day to eat with modesty reflecting the ultimate value of walking humbly with the Lord.
Less is more; less attention, less hoopla. So it is sometimes with things that are most precious and private. What we hold most dear we hold most close. Shavuot comes quietly after Pesach, we build no succahs and buy no loads of groceries. We cook modest meals and study Torah through the night. Oh and don’t blink you might miss it.

Friday, May 6, 2011

The Torah of Mother's Day

Dear Rivy,
In honor of Mother’s Day I decided to prepare a speech, a d’var Torah, about mothers and daughters in the Torah. I thought it was a good idea. I began my research in earnest but had quite a hard time finding material. Where did I go wrong?

I am not sure that you went wrong anywhere. I appreciate your experience and empathize with your consternation. I too have attempted such investigations. It is not simple to fashion a d’var Torah about mothers and daughters in the Torah, primarily because there is not much from which one might glean. When considering father and son relationships, there are a number of quite complex narratives from which we can garner timeless interpretations, meanings and inspiration. Without much strain to the brain we can tick those sets off quite swiftly, including Noah and his sons, Abraham and Isaac, Isaac and Jacob, Jacob and Joseph, Saul and Jonathan, David and Absalom. Though a number of these relationships give us pause and are fraught with intense conflict, they are relationships nonetheless. Without a doubt, they mirror the intricate and oftentimes precariously complicated nature of the father-son bond.

When we turn to inventory mother-daughter connections, the list is disappointingly sparse. Our first task must be to identify mother-daughter pairs in the Torah. In this discussion, we are use a broad definition of Torah, including all twenty-four books of what we call the Tanach: the Torah, the Prophets and the writings. Some call these the Hebrew Scriptures.
At first glance we can quickly identify two visible mother-daughter duos; Leah and Dinah in Genesis, and Yocheved and Miriam in Exodus, the former receiving much less fanfare than the latter. A second more comprehensive page-turning, concordance-checking, CD-ROM-searching exploration yields nothing more. I hesitate to utter the words, but I think we are done. I invite you to prove me wrong I would rejoice with you. Keep in mind we are searching for a meaningful kind of mother-daughter citation not a flavorless reference in a genealogical begat list. Those are decidedly exceptional as well, what with the father-son genealogy by far outpacing the mother-daughter statistics.

Proceeding with our identified mothers and daughters, although limited, I wonder whether these scant twosomes may yet offer us a fertile patch of earth from which we can grow some big ideas about mothers and daughters and their relationships. What pearls of wisdom do these mothers impart upon their daughters? What gems preserved through the ages are recorded? This is where we get even a bit more discomfited. Upon further investigation, it becomes apparent that there is not a single word of dialogue between any mothers and daughters in the entire aforementioned twenty-four books of the Hebrew Scripture. Implausible as it may sound, it is true; not one word is exchanged in the entire Tanach between any mother and daughter.

Now what? Skip the mother-daughter d’var Torah? I think not. There are, after all, narratives that can mined for meaning. There may be no words exchanged between mothers and daughters, but there are deeds that can provide inspiration and insight. In spite of this discerned dearth of dialogue, I believe there is something to be learned. Concepts can be extracted from the little we do have in the texts. For example, Rebecca meets, waters and welcomes the servant of Abraham and his camels in Genesis, Chapter 24. Bedecked with gifted jewelry, she runs to her mother’s house to report on the arrival of the stranger. Though no words are directly exchanged we notice that here the beginning of a hint of a motif: Mother’s tent or Mother’s house. Later, Isaac is comforted after the death of his mother only when he brings Rebecca into what had been his mother’s tent.

In one of the five Megillot, the dreamy beloved of Song of Songs speaks to her adored suitor and tells him that she will bring him into her mother’s house. There the relationship will blossom Mother’s house again. Mother is the original comfort of intimacy and love. The run to Mother’s house is the eternal impulse for return. Mother’s house is a womblike shelter and security the place of primal warmth. The potential romance between Isaac and Rebecca is set in motion as she runs to her own mother’s house with news of the unfamiliar person who had been bursting with intentions which are then later ultimately realized as she enters the tent of Isaac’s mother. Mother’s love gives way to the promise of intimate love of the future. The Torah is suggesting a blueprint for mothers and daughters. Let’s understand that first place of tenderness and grow from there. Perhaps this sweet phenomenon of Mother’s house can help us to break down those tensions that sometimes build between mother and daughter.

One more incident where nary a word is spoken takes place by the banks of the Nile. Miriam, sister of baby Moshe, sets out to watch as the daughter of Pharaoh reaches for the Hebrew baby meant to be drowned. What to do? A nursemaid is needed. Again the dash to mother with no words recorded, but we can imagine the swift urgency with which they are delivered. Mother and daughter share an intense purpose: this baby must be saved and cared for by its Israelite mother. Perhaps no words need be spoken. There are understandings that transcend the spoken word. These two voiceless episodes speak to me deeply. I see these patterns played out with my own daughters, the silent knowing and understanding, the trusting intimacy of relationships and the comfort of eloquent trust. The D’var Torah of mothers and daughters is a talk that does not abound with examples but it certainly resounds with meaning, sometimes actions transcend words.