My Jewish Mother’s Unintentional Gift


I have often thought that people should write their own obituaries. Toward that end, I have even started writing my own. Why should I leave it to others to decide what’s important to share about my life? But my mother didn’t do that, and it’s impossible to condense my perception of her life into one coherent blog post, so I’ll share a couple of points about her now. She will surely be in future posts as she will always be with me. Some might even say she is within me.

I’lI never knew how my father felt when my mother would outright say that she only wanted to get married in order to have children. But as her daughter, that statement translated to mean that my two siblings and I were the most important people in the world to her. Only now that I’m a parent do I appreciate the endless hours she put into my life, especially counseling me regarding friends that weren’t really friends, and more importantly, what came to be known as my “bad thoughts.” My friends who weren’t really friends had no idea that I thought obsessively about why some kids were in wheelchairs or why some people were unhealthy, but my parents knew all about my inner turmoil. It was never, “why are you still thinking about this?” I had their full attention as often as I needed it for as long as I needed it. I cry now when I think how grateful I am for the comfort they provided.

I know now that my difficult inner world was the stirring of my Jewish soul. It was troubled by existential questions that my life’s trajectory had yet to provide answers for. But that soul was an inheritance from my mother — a pintele Yid, a soul that is literally a part of G-d.  And when I say I’m eternally grateful to her for it, I mean it.

Now that I finally understand what to do with it.

When we became observant, I was relieved and somehow sure that Torah and Chassidus provided answers to everything that anguished me as a child. But there was so much to learn and just as much to unlearn that I occasionally wished my soul could have been more like those of the people I grew up with.

Almost 30 years later, it’s hard not to see G-d’s involvement in my life’s transformation — not just mine, but my husband’s and our children’s — but the truth is that it came at a price.

Every time the going would get rough, my parents were the go-to people to blame for not teaching me how to read Hebrew or how to love a fellow Jew. Which made me feel guilty for not being grateful enough for all they did give me.  When I stood before my mother’s aron, her casket, one week ago, I sobbed as I begged her for forgiveness for anything I ever did that hurt her. For me as a ba’alas teshuvah, a returnee to Torah observance, honoring my parents was a challenging mitzvah.

And my parents were wonderfully supportive, especially compared to some other parents of ba’alei teshuva. My mother dressed up for Purim and my father was instrumental in raising money for the new yeshiva in Pittsburgh. Still, I know it caused my parents pain that we couldn’t celebrate Pesach together or eat in the same restaurants. They loved their grandchildren and great grandchildren who raided their “kosher cabinet” and were proud of the rabbis in the family. Still, our lifestyle choice mystified them. Their friends whose children had intermarried had an easier road, at least on the surface.

My mother may have lived primarily in the material world, but she was equally comfortable with pnimiyus, the inner dimension of life. She was diligent about lighting her Shabbos candles, going to shul for yizkor, visiting her parents and later, my father, at the cemetery. And when I talked about Moshiach’s imminent arrival, she answered unequivocally: “I’m ready.”

One of the customs that officially ends shiva, the seven day mourning process, is to walk around the block, which my brother Robert and I did yesterday. As we walked against a cold March wind, I told him our mother is now in the World of Truth, Olam ha Emes. The outer shell of her body has been shed and the inner light of her G-dly soul now shines completely, without constraint. I assured him our parents are very much with us, even though they’re not physically here. They can help us, especially in our G-dly endeavors. (I told him I wasn’t sure what they could do for his golf game though.) And because this material world is the place where G-d wants us to make His presence felt, we should do more mitzvos in our parents’ memory, because they’re no longer here to do them.

I know my mother loved hearing about my blog, even if she called it a “glob.” So if you had a special appreciation for this “glob” post, well, maybe she’s helping already.

About the Author
Lieba Rudolph, her husband, Zev, and their young family returned to observant Jewish life when they were both over thirty. Now, after spending equal time in both worlds, she shares the joys and challenges of her journey, answering everyone's unasked question: why would anyone normal want to become religious?