- What is Lag B'Omer?
- Lag B'Omer Quiz
- How to Count the Omer
- Click here for our Mother's Day responsive reading.
A slight modiﬁcation gives us the Jewish Mother's Cardinal Rule:
"Let your child hear you sigh every day; if you don't know what he's done to make you suffer, he will."
Once you've mastered that, you are ready to move on to the "Technique of Basic Suffering."
To master the Technique of Basic Suffering you should begin with an intensive study of the Dristan commercials on television. Pay particular attention to the face of the actor who has not yet taken Dristan. Note the squint of the eyes, the furrow of the brow, the downward curve of the lips-the pained expression which can only come from eight undrained sinus cavities or severe gastritis. This is the Basic Facial Expression. Learn it well. Practice it before a mirror several times a day. If someone should catch you at it and ask what you are doing, say:
"I'm ﬁne, it's nothing at all, it will go away."
This should be said softly but audibly, should imply suffering without expressing it openly. When properly executed, this is the Basic Tone of Voice.
The book is still very funny, in part because ethnic stereotypes like the Jewish mother are making a comeback, even though Jewish mothers have long since stopped being "Jewish mothers," and all the guilt that came with the rapid assimilation of that post-immigrant generation has long since melted away. We have plunged fully into the Melting Pot, but nostalgia is a powerful thing.
Mother's Day brings out some far more serious lessons that derive far more deeply from our Jewish cultural heritage. The rabbis spoke of a man named Dama, a serious one-percenter, from the Roman upper class, a jeweler who wore a gold-embroidered cloak and kowtowed with the glitterati. Despite all this, the rabbis held him up as a paragon of piety in one respect - how he honored his parents.
In one story, a precious stone has disappeared from the High Priest's breastplate in Jerusalem. So a Jew comes to Dama seeking a replacement. Dama goes in the back room, but his father is sleeping right on top of the key that would open the safe, so he tells the man that he can't sell him any jewelry today. When his father wakes up and hears what has happened, he gets angry at his son for not making a profit. His son responds, "I am not prepared to disobey the command to honor one's parents for any money in the world." A week later, the price of gems rises, and Dama sells the needed jewel at a greater profit than he would have made the week before - a happy ending for everyone.
In another midrash, Dama's mother, evidently peeved that her son didn't go to medical school, rips off his gaudy garment and spits in his face. Despite this, Dama does not shame her, instead referring back to the Torah's command to honor one's parents.
The word for "honor" "kabed" is nearly identical to the word "kaved," which connotes a heavy burden. It's not always easy to honor our parents.
As Mother's Day approaches, my mom, 93, is in a nursing home, struggling to live a life of dignity, despite the ravages of Parkinsons and related afflictions that have robbed her of much of her ability to communicate. Although her memory remains relatively sharp - or maybe because of that fact- there is very little that brings her joy at this stage. A lifelong pianist, her tremors forced her to give up piano a few years ago. The burden of filling her days with meaning only increases for both of us, and I now can say that I completely understand what the fourth commandment meant to convey. To honor a parent really is to bear her, to hold her up, just as she once bore me, smiling despite the piercing pain. We bear our elders just inches from the earth to which they - and we - will return, and we do it not our of guilt but a profound gratitude.
So kids, I'm not asking you to love your elders. You don't even have to honor us, strictly speaking. The Torah makes it clear: all you need to do is bear the burden of us. Hold us up when we stumble, as we invariably do. Our lectures may be onerous, our use of technology embarrassing and our ideas archaic. But though we may fumble with Facebook from time to time, we do have some wisdom to share.
There are real dangers out there and enormous challenges that we need to face, which have only increased this week, and right now the only way to face them is together.
That's why need Mother's Day.
He had a rare form of testicular cancer. Why so rare? Well, Crosby had no testicles. He was neutered while still a pup. Yet somehow, a microscopic residue remained, enough to wreak havoc on his body fourteen years later. Just his luck, Crosby was killed by sex without ever having the pleasure even of humping a single armchair. Life is so unfair.
The potential for immortality (and the potential to save other lives) brings some comfort, but textbooks don't cuddle on the couch or nuzzle up to you for an extra piece of hallah. For her part, Chloe is handling her doggie grief in her own way and she is being showered in affection - including a new toy brought over by a particularly compassionate congregant. Thank you all.
And Chloe turns 13 this fall, so stay tuned. Another Hammerman Bark Mitzvah could be on the way.
I've always felt that the loss of a pet, while not on a par with human loss, needs to be treated more substantively by our religious traditions, because grief is not something that can easily be measured. Nor can it be relegated to private moments. I found myself choking up when leading the mourners Kaddish this week. I wasn't saying Kaddish for my dog, but neither could I turn off the thought of him wagging and barking at that moment. The pain of loss is amplified by a bond of trust that is tested so severely when caring for such an innocent life, one so dependent and dependable, so loving and loyal.