Get Ready for Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day is sacrosanct. It is almost a law of nature. Nobody dare disparage the purchase of those boxes of chocolate and the saccharine-flavored greeting cards that accompany them. Few would discourage dragging mom out to a crowded restaurant for that obligatory Mother’s Day meal. Were I to  question its value as a revered date on our calendar closer to its date in May, I would be excoriated for blasphemy. This week however, my Thought Tool can be welcomed as, oh say, research.

You see, here is what bothers me about it: Most would agree that the Ten Commandments lie at the core of Western civilization. Well, the Fifth Commandment doesn’t instruct us only to honor our fathers and mothers on two special days each year, does it? No, the Commandment is valid for 365 days each year and 366 in leap years.

My wife and I have always suspected that observance of an annual Mother’s Day or Father’s Day actually diminishes observance of the Fifth Commandment. Not wanting to run the risk of that happening, we just declared from our children’s infancy that in our home, every day would be Mother’s Day and Father’s Day.

To my relief, our children accepted this, but on growing a little older, they inquired about another verse found early in the 19th chapter of Leviticus.

Everyone should fear his mother and father.  
(Leviticus 19:3)

Contrasting this with that Fifth Commandment which did so much for our family’s lifestyle, they asked, “Why reverse the order of father and mother?” In the Ten Commandments, “Honor your father and mother” but in Leviticus, “Fear your mother and father”.  Does the Bible instruct us to honor our fathers more than our mothers but to fear our mothers more than our fathers?

Of course not! The Bible never asks us to do the easy and the natural. In fact, its very greatness is how it introduces us to the revolutionary idea that makes Western civilization possible. Namely that it is not only possible, but vital that we overcome nature, particularly our own. Behaving naturally is not the goal, dominating our nature is.

Toilet training a young child is an early time this lesson is administered. Don’t relieve yourself when it would be natural to do so, just as animals do. Be unnatural. Hold it in until an appropriate time and until you’re in an appropriate place. Behaving naturally is not the goal; dominating our nature is.

Although many in America consider it uncivilized to eat without first saying a blessing of gratitude for the food, it would be hard to find instructions about grace before meals in the Bible.  However, in the eighth chapter of Deuteronomy we are clearly instructed to give thanks after eating.

And you shall eat, be satisfied, and bless the Lord your God. 
(Deuteronomy 8:10)

Ancient Jewish wisdom assures us that most of us feel considerably more spiritual and holy when hungry. (This dictum must be related closely to the one about no atheists in foxholes!) Fasting is necessary to observe the Day of Atonement because it puts us in the mood to atone. Since hunger induces piety, it is completely natural for all normal, sensitive humans to say grace prior to satisfying their hunger. Thus, we can be counted on to do so without instruction. What is unnatural is for the satiated diner with bulging belly, to pause prior to staggering away from the table in order to express profound gratitude to the Creator. That is an amazingly unnatural feat and it is precisely what is demanded of us.

Similarly, most of us feel a natural respect toward our mothers while we feel a natural fear of our fathers. I know that as a child, I much preferred my frequent mischief to be discovered first by my mother. Thus the Fifth Commandment teaches us the unnatural. Honor your father as much as you would naturally honor your mother. Then, in Leviticus, fear your mother just as much as you naturally fear your father. In other words, always strive to be far better than nature dictates. Behaving naturally is not the goal, dominating our nature is.

Mother’s Day may be part of nature, but it is unnatural and far more desirable to make today and tomorrow, and yes, everyday, just as much a Mother’s Day as will be May 12th.  If you do this really well, perhaps good, old Mom will let you off that dreadful Mother’s Day lunch.

5 thoughts on “Get Ready for Mother’s Day”

  1. Dear Rabbi,
    I think the writer of Leviticus got it right. When my mom said “Brian stop that” I stopped or I got the board of education applied to my seat of knowledge. There was no second warning. Then I would have to sit and wait for my father to get home and tell him what I had done. The wait was much more traumatic than his punishment.
    One time me and my friend were talking and I wasn’t aware of my mothers presence.
    He and I both said a curse word. I hear Brian Tucker come here. Jennings you go home. I don’t remember the word I said, but I will never forget the red pepper sandwich I he’d to eat. My parents never again heard me use fowl language. That isn’t to say didn’t swear now and then. I was in the Navy after all. But never in their presence or in the presence of my wife or children. Some one once said that swearing showed a lack of vocabulary.
    Thank you again for your teachings and insights to the word,

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Thank you Brian–
      Yes, in our audio program Perils of Profanity-You Are What You Say, we teach how swearing not only shows lack of vocabulary but actually diminishes vocabulary.

  2. Agree 100% I love on other days too such as Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day etc. to tell people “it’s the Lord’s day”.

  3. Our family and friends think that we’re crazy because we don’t celebrate “Father’s Day” or “Mother’s Day.” The creation of special days is neat and all, but there are some such as these that are not so “sacred.” We decided that we, parents, were gifted and entrusted by our Creator with children to teach them gratitude and leadership before they became adults; they needed us to respect them as human beings as we would have them respect us as human beings.

  4. That is a great way of looking at things that one day shouldn’t be devoted to Mother’s Day!
    I used, if my parent’s where talking to me, to solely make eye contact with them so I could forget external influences and not judge according to my Christian faith, and to maintain that respectful boundary, that God gave children and parents , sort of as a reminder of the boundary between humankind and God’s divine self!

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