This past Shabbat, the 11th of Cheshvan, was the anniversary of Rachel Imainu’s death. On that day, we commemorate and try to learn from Rachel’s intense compassion, especially for her sister Mama Leah.
Mama Rachel had an objective perspective on life through which she could see the positive sparks of holiness inherent in humanity and in the world. The kind of compassion she possessed does not question the deservedness of the recipient to receive mercy, but rather emulates Hashem’s boundless mercy, thus allowing Him to respond in kind, showering us with compassion and ultimate redemption.
Her life was one of hardship, yet she rose above it all. A true Jewish woman of valor. She gave birth to only two of the twelve tribes, yet in our eyes, she is a mother of all the Jewish people. Rachel, our loving mother, still lays buried near Bethlehem. Though she was buried along the road, today her grave is included in the city proper, yet it is still far from the grave of her husband Yaakov Avinu. And today, Jews come daily to pour out their hearts to our dedicated mother. Because Rachel is listening, and always pleading before G-d on our behalf.
This instinct, to do what is necessary for the sake of one’s children is the mark of a mother. She may stand on the sidelines, yet she remains the true hero. She has no need for public displays of honor. It is for this reason that a mother is the one who passes down the Jewish heritage.
What is being a mother all about? Why is the mother figure the most important person in almost every child’s life?
There are three holy fathers and yet four holy mothers. A chair with four legs is much sturdier than one with only three. And our holy fathers wouldn’t have been who they were if it wasn’t for our four holy mothers. Women are born with motherly instincts, knowing how to care for our children or for our elderly or sick parents when necessary. And as children, just knowing that our mother was there was comforting and reassuring.
I love my mother’s humming. It’s very distinctive. First there is a small intake of breath, and then the hum itself, sweet and slightly hoarse. It usually lasts only for a few seconds, followed immediately by another little hum, and then a slight clearing of the throat. When I was a little girl, that hum meant security. It meant that the sunshine in my life was in very close proximity.
Late at night, tossing in bed, I’d hear that hum along with the tread of the plastic soles on the cloth slippers my mother loved to wear. Those two noises would tell me that my mother was still up, guarding us from all evils, and I’d drift off to sleep, cocooned by that knowledge. When my mother would go out on errands, it was often her hum, magnified in the entrance hall of our home, which would herald her homecoming. She was back, and all was right in the world once more.
I would have thought that as a married woman, and a mother of several children, that hum would no longer carry such significance for me. Yet every time I hear it, my heart lifts. My mother is near and the safe, cozy feeling returns.
I was startled one night to hear my mother’s hum on an empty street in my neighborhood, far from her home. It took a moment to realize that the hum was mine. I tried humming again just to be sure. Yes, my hum sounds just like hers. This was a rather unsettling realization. My mother is a rock of stability, and her hum could symbolize safety. It seemed deceptive to have a hum that sounds like hers, like a little girl thinking she is fully grown simply by putting on her mother’s high-heeled shoes.
Disconcerting as this discovery was, there was also an element of comfort. I felt like I was carrying around a little bit of my mother. Wherever she may actually be on this planet, all I have to do is hum and a piece of her is there.
I mulled this over as I walked home in the cold, damp night. I got home and shrugged off my coat. I stood still for a moment, appreciating the warmth, light, and quiet of my home. Then I changed into my comfortable clogs and got to work. Finishing the supper dishes and folding two loads of laundry, I headed for my kids’ bedrooms to lay out their clothes for the next day.
They looked so peaceful, slumbering heaps of innocence. In the girls’ room, my five-year-old tossed and turned in her sleep. I straightened her covers and kissed her forehead. As I selected jumpers and tops, my voice started humming. I hummed once, and then again. My daughter settled more deeply under her covers. I was mesmerized. Could it be? Did the thud of my clogs and the sound of my hum let her know that I was near? Dare I contemplate the thought that maybe, just maybe, those sounds calm her with the realization that I will guard her from all evil and allow her to drift off into a deep sleep cocooned by that knowledge?
I will probably never know, but that very thought made me feel so small and so big all at once. I was filled with pride at being part of a chain of those wonderful beings called mothers, and awed by the knowledge of how much I could mean to the little people in my life. Humbled and grateful, I kissed my daughter once more and went off to bed.
As many challenges as we might have today, Mama Rachel’s challenges were way beyond our understanding. Yet it is from her strength that all mothers from then through today get the strength to continue taking care of their children no matter what.
A part of Rachel is within each and every Jewish mother in the world. She continues to cry for us, to plead our case before the Holy One in Heaven. May we be redeemed once more, this time for all eternity, so that we can unite with our mother Rachel forever.