Mother’s Day is a difficult holiday for many people. There are women who aren’t mothers, mothers who are estranged from their children, children were abused by their mothers, and other permutations of this often complicated relationship. For them it’s not a day for fancy brunches, boxes of candy, or flowers and cards.
And while I’m happy for the four Central American mothers who were reunited with their children by the U.S. government this week, I am mindful of the many kids – probably thousands – who have yet to see their moms. Divided by walls, distance, politics, miles of red tape, and more, it’s doubtful they will be reunited any time soon.
Making everything worse for women like me is the awful stereotype of how Jewish mothers supposedly behave.
All of this means that I enter into this weekend gingerly. I’m happy that my local daughter plans to spend the afternoon with me, and I’m sure I’ll hear from my daughter who lives in New York. But even knowing full well that they love me and I love them, I have a general uneasiness about the day.
The Torah tells us to honor our parents, respect them, obey them. It doesn’t, however, tell us to love them. If you think that’s because the Torah doesn’t try to command our emotions, think again.
The last of the Ten Commandments enjoins us to not covet our neighbor’s possessions (and wife, who was obviously considered a possession along with the house and donkey). And Deuteronomy specifically commands us to love God:
Shema Yisrael Adonai Elohaynu, Adonai Echad.
V’ahavta et Adonai Elochecha, v’kol l’vavecha, u’v’kol nafshecha, u’v’kol m’odecha.
“Listen Israel – God is your God, God is One. You will love God your God with your whole heart, with your whole soul, with all of your strength.” Deuteronomy 6:4-5
It is remarkably simple and direct. We are commanded to love God completely, with everything that we have to give. Nothing is to be held back; we are expected to fall head over heels in love with God.
I imagine that for some, being told to love God is easier than being told to love their mother. Perhaps that’s the deep truth that the Torah is teaching. Humans are merely human. Not everyone is loveable, or worthy of being loved by their child.
But when we can’t or won’t love our parent, we have God. A God who wants our love. Who actively encourages us to respect our parents but love God.
And here’s the thing about loving God: We are not expected to bring chocolate or flowers. Just ourselves. Our whole selves.