Mother’s Day Teaching

by Deity on May 16, 2006

by Rabbi Gershon Winkler

Mother’s Day is approaching. Mother’s Day is not a Jewish celebration. But mothers are. We have been celebrating mothers since the first woman appeared on the scene, and she wasn’t even Jewish. Our people’s ancient Scriptures do not begin with the advent of the first Jew or Hebrew. It begins with the advent of the first sign of existence, then moves through the unfolding of that existence toward the arrival of the first human.

According to our tradition the first human was not some guy named Adam wandering about in the Garden of Eden filled with the joy of being alone with dirty dishes scattered across his cave. The first human was a hermaphrodite, a creature comprised of both male and female in a single body (Babylonian Talmud, B’rachot 61a), and named “Ahdam” (Genesis 5:2) because it was formed out of the Ahdamah, or Earth (Genesis 2:7). In the Hebrew original
of the story, the primeval human is not referred to as Ahdam but Ha’Ahdam, or “The Adam.” Eventually, God splits the Adam and the result is a man and a woman. The freshly-brewed young couple then kind of just hang out in the Garden of Eden long enough to get themselves into sufficient trouble to warrant eviction.

Until this point, they have not had any kids, not even made love, totally ignorant to the concept of sex, conception, and birth, totally blah.

Upon being sentenced to leave Paradise, Adam the Man names Adam the Woman “Cha’vah” (Eve), meaning “life-giver” and the narrator explains that he so names her because she is the “mother of all life” (Genesis 3:20). In fact, this is the fi rst mention of Mother in the sacred Jewish scriptures, mentioned in a story where there was no mother. This raises the question: why does the Torah refer to Adam the Woman as “mother of all life”? As mother, altogether? After all, she wasn’t a mother at the time, and the concept of mother was yet unknown to either Adam!

Obviously, the Torah is teaching us something special about the concept of Mother. In the Hebrew, the word for Mother is Ee’ma or Ey’m, and is related to Ey’ma, the Hebraic word for Wellspring. Adam the Man calls Adam the Woman Cha’vah, or Life-Giver, because — having eaten of the Forbidden Fruit — he feels alive for the first time, raw, open to engaging, encountering, feeling; he experiences passion, emotion, faith, doubt, hate, love, pain, pleasure, sadness, joy, and so on. His faculties as a creature of Nature are now activated. Prior to eating of the Forbidden Fruit that Adam the Woman had picked for him, it was like having a credit card that hadn’t been activated yet. The credit line was $10,000 but he couldn’t use it. Now, after eating of the fruit, it was like activating the card.

And so his reaction to his woman companion getting them both kicked out of Paradise was anything but rage, bitterness, or disappointment. It was joy. It was appreciation, gratefulness. He named her according to what he felt he received from her act of eating and sharing with him that no-no fruit. He called her Life-Giver, and here the narrator freezes the moment and tells us exactly what Mother is: she who stirs us into aliveness as Eve did to Adam; she who shakes us out of our stupor, moves us out of our innocence, challenges us from static beingness to dynamic beingness. She is the Wellspring of our aliveness, from which will spring forth all of those wonderful choices we are
destined to make in our lives as well as all those mistakes we will dare to make as part of our personal unfolding. She is the wellspring, who trickles us into life and then cannot for the life of her understand how from the whispering trickle she brought forth we turned into unrecognizably thunderous waterfalls. She is the eagle that our teacher Moses spoke of (Deuteronomy 32:11), who shakes the nest so that her young fall out, struggling desperately as they drop hundreds of feet to the earth, in the process of which they learn they can fly, in the process of which they realize their power, in the process of which they get it, they get what Mother is really all about.

No wonder, then, that the ancient kabbalists referred to God, too, as Ey’ma D’ila’a, Mother of Above, or Great Mother (Tikunei Zohar, folio 63b).

As Mother’s Day approaches, let’s really get it, what Mother is. And start celebrating her always, in her life and after.

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