June 15, 2024
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June 15, 2024
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Parshat Eikev

It was a little girl, I recall, perhaps 3 or 4 years old, who broke down in tears in the middle of a department store when she couldn’t find her mother. “What happened, little girl?” the security guard asked her, “Did you lose your mother?” The child responded immediately “NO! She lost ME!” The guard smiled and reassured her, saying, “Don’t worry. Mommies never forget their children.” But, sadly, I think that the child was correct. Her mommy was responsible for losing her child because, even though it was for but a moment, she did forget about her.

The reason as to why I remembered this story specifically during this week is because Yishayahu Hanavi’s opening words to our haftarah describes God’s loving relationship with Israel. In it, he reassures the doubting nation that just as a mother could never forget her child, so God could never abandon His people, and adds that even if a mother could do such a thing, He could never forget His children. Such is the bond between Hashem and Israel.

Throughout Tanach the closeness between God and His people is described in different ways: as a Father to His child, as a King to His subjects and as a Master to His servants. In fact, although Yom Kippur is still some seven weeks away, this idea brings to mind the well-known piyut that we recite on each and every one of the five Yom Kippur, because it is a piyut whose thoughts can shed light on an idea that is expressed by Yishayahu in this week’s haftarah.

“Ki anu amecha v’ata elokeinu, anu avadecha v’ata adoneinu…” The beautiful poem, an introduction to the Yom Kippur “vidui,” is based upon the midrashic interpretation found in Shir HaShirim Rabba (2:16) to the verse “Ani l’dodi v’dodi li.” The payetan (religious poet) bases his work on this love relationship between Hashem and Israel that is found in Shir HaShirim and describes that connection in 12 different ways: “We are Your people and You are our God; we are Your servants and You are our Master; we are Your flock and You are our shepherd, etc..”

Were we to go through the entire Tanach, we could find many other descriptions of God—such as our Sustainer, our Strength, our Shelter, and many more. However, only rarely in all of Tanach do we find a comparison of God to a mother. And yet here, in this haftarah, Hashem does just that. Hoping to impress the people with His love and compassion for them, He compares Himself to the mother of an infant who could never forget the newborn, just as He could never forget His children, Bnei Yisrael. And then God goes a step further by adding that even if it were possible to imagine such a mother, Hashem, Who has an eternal memory, could never forget.

It is a powerful metaphor. So powerful that we may rightly ask why such a comparison is rarely found in Tanach. As we all know, God is depicted as the unchallenged power. He is the “MAN” of war, the KING of kings, the war HERO and other descriptions that throughout history have been identified as masculine qualities. But what about being loving? Compassionate? Merciful?

Well, that is exactly where Hashem is depicted as a woman, whether we realize it or not! Because we find God described as being compassionate and merciful almost 100 times in the Tanach through the form of the word RCHM. Hashem is a “Rachaman; He is a “Merachem” Whose “Rachamim” is applied to all. And that root word is based upon the Hebrew word “rechem,” womb!

How fitting, therefore, is Yishayahu’s message of God’s mercies for Israel depicted as those of a woman, of a mother’s mercies for her child. HaRav Soloveitchik carries this message even further. The Rav points to the verse that follows in which God states: “Behold, I have engraved you upon my hands” and comments how the verb “engrave you, chakotich,” signifies the act of making incisions on a hard surface of stone or metal that are protected from the erosions of time. That is precisely why a law that seems illogical to us and must nonetheless be followed is called a “chok,” unchanging. Similarly, he argues, the love of a mother to her child is instinctive and even irrational at times—but is unconditional and eternal.

A mother may, while distracted, forget a child in a store—but she will never cease searching for her or loving her.

What a powerful message to a grieving nation! Especially in times of trouble, we are charged to remember that God is not only Avinu, not only Malkeinu—but in all ways He is Imeinu.


Rabbi Neil Winkler is the rabbi emeritus of the Young Israel Fort Lee and now lives in Israel.

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