B’midbar: The Mother’s Day Present

By Ilana Grinblat

Published May 12, 2010.
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Last week, my husband kept asking me, “What do you want for Mother’s Day?” “Nothing,” I replied, which was the truth. Thankfully, I have everything I need, and there was no gift I wanted which came to mind.

My grandmother flew into town from Connecticut for the weekend, and we spent Friday afternoon with my father-in-law who is an avid photographer. So the visit was well-photographed. Also one of the mornings, my six-year-old son Jeremy took my cell-phone and started snapping pictures around the house.

I noticed a big difference between the types of pictures my father-in-law took and the pictures my son snapped. My father-in-law took a series of polished, posed photos of various family members, well-dressed and smiling. He took pictures of the kids playing piano among other cute moments. These kinds of pictures fill my photo-albums. By contrast, my son took photos I would never put in an album. He took a picture of me in my bathrobe and of family members when no one was paying attention. He didn’t take photos of “Kodak moments;” but regular, around-the-house moments.

This week’s Torah portion marks a change in focus from Kodak moments to non-Kodak moments. The parasha begins a new book of the Torah — B’midbar meaning in the desert — and as its title suggests, the shift is geographic. The people move from Mount Sinai — which was the name of first part of last week’s portion B’har (on the mountain) — to the wilderness where they march on their way to the Promised Land. This switch in location also mirrors a shift in content of the Torah. The previous book of Vayikra dealt with lofty laws while B’midbar deals with the day to day struggles of the people wandering through the desert for forty years — complaining every step of the way.

The first portion of B’midbar is not dramatic. It recounts the census that was taken of the people — the precise numbers of each tribe as well as the arrangement of the groups as they marched in the desert. The portion is dry reading, but perhaps its lesson is that spirituality can also be found in the ordinary, day-to-day times.

This year, Mother’s Day felt a little ironic to me. To honor mothers, adults create an event. Whether it’s a family brunch or a celebration at school, we create a ceremony complete with photo-ops or video, a present, and flowers. These celebrations are thoughtful and lovely, but the real lesson of motherhood is precisely the opposite.

The greatest thing about young children is the way they find fun in the non-events of life; they enjoy running errands and hanging out. Yesterday, my three-year-old daughter enthusiastically helped me press the buttons on the bank ATM and put away laundry. Children infuse the regular times of life with a joy that’s infectious. If we’re lucky, we catch a bit of their worldview. We too can see that the “bathrobe moments” count as much as the “Kodak moments” of life. This year what I really want for mother’s day is to see the world through my children’s eyes—enjoying even the duller moments to the fullest.

Rabbi Ilana Grinblat teaches rabbinic literature at the American Jewish University’s Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and their two young children.






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