Honor Thy Mother…But Roses Won’t Cut It!

The first century sage, Rabbi Tarfon, was well-known for the care and respect he showed his mother. It was said that he was so mindful of his mother’s frailty, he would kneel down onto his hands and knees and serve as a footstool to enable her to climb in and and out of bed; his sensitivity to her dignity so profound, he disregarded his own possible humiliation to safeguard her waning independence. He once took her for a walk on Shabbat afternoon, a privilege she treasured, but her shoe broke shortly after the walk had begun. Rabbi Tarfon couldn’t fathom depriving her the dignity of walking home by carrying her like an invalid, but also couldn’t bare the thought of his mother’s feet trudging through the mud uncovered. And so, Rabbi Tarfon knelt before his mother and allowed her to step onto his hands until they reached home. Despite his extreme efforts, however, our tradition suggests that Rabbi Tarfon did not even exhibit HALF of the honor due to a mother…

“Those stories are ridiculous!” a 96-year-old participant in my weekly Torah class blurted out after I shared them. “They are so far-fetched and embellished it is like listening to caricatures of behavior. None of us can imagine a son doing ANYTHING like that!”

“You are EXACTLY right,” I responded to the surprise of the class. “None of us can imagine behaving in such a way, and that is what makes the sages’ comments so profound. Even an act of honor so exaggerated and overstated doesn’t come close to even half of the honor due to a mother. It is our tradition’s way of reminding us that half of infinity is still infinity…that the amount of honor due to a mother is simply unquantifiable.

May we be reminded that whether we show our honor to our mothers in deeds or with roses, it will never amount to even HALF of the honor they are due.

Mother’s Day is every day…

About the Author
Adam Watstein is currently the Rabbi of B'nai Aviv, a Conservative Synagogue in Weston, Florida.