On the plane from TLV to LAX, 05/23/2017

My mother has passed on. And her words—I can’t recall her words.

It’s true. Don’t ask a son for a biography of his mother. He never really left her womb.Don’t ask a son for a biography of his mother. He never really left her womb. How much can you see from inside a womb?

And in the sense that he did leave her womb, he never escaped her embrace.

He may have spent his entire life wriggling his way out of that embrace—but then he was preoccupied with the embrace, with his attempt to escape, with declaring his own identity. His mother, her life—what does he know? Her words—what can he recall?

A mother teaches a child his first words. In those years that molded my character until I left home, there was no voice that rang, sang, whispered, flowed and entered my ears as much as her voice. Words that penetrated my heart, the things I most value in life—they rest there to this day.

Yet I don’t recall any of those words.

My father—I can recite his words verbatim. “Don’t buy junk.” “You’ve got to set priorities in life.” “Keep asking questions; how else are you going to learn?” Indeed, he taught me many things.

I had another teacher, my grandmother. I can tell you the stories she told me in the words she used. I remember words. Words like “We have a tradition in our family. If you do something good, bury it under the ground, throw it out to the sea. When you will need it, or your children will need it, or your children’s children, it will come back to you.”

Close enough. I remember words.

But From my mother, I can’t tell you words. I didn’t hear words.from my mother, I can’t tell you words. I didn’t hear words.

There were three times I really got her upset, and she taught me good. I recall as vivid as the sun shining in my eyes the fire of her pounding heart, the burning tears upon her cheeks, the choking of her breath; and through her eyes, her deep, powerful eyes, I was drawn once again into her womb, where I was formed.

But within the heart, you do not hear the words that come from the heart. You hear a pulse, you feel it in all your being, and no room is left to hear the spoken words. Within the womb—that is the place where you and the words have yet to be born. There, you do not know of words. You know, you just know, as you know yourself.

I can tell you what she wanted from me. Maybe I can’t. At least, I can feel it inside me. An ache that won’t be assuaged.

I know she wanted me to be a mentsch. To put others before myself.

She loved Torah. As an adolescent, she would just read Tanach aloud—that’s all she knew—to her younger sister and to her niece whose mother had traveled afar, both of whom she cared for, and who both shared her bed.

She loved all things Jewish. But she didn’t want to see a religion that tore people apart.

To her, being Jewish meant loving people. Knowing G‑d meant loving people. Learning wisdom, studying Torah—if it it did not mean loving people and caring for them more than you care about yourself, in what way could it be called wisdom?

I know she wanted me to value all that is beautiful.

Beauty is a tree that G‑d planted and nurtured for a hundred years.

Beauty is the play of children in a park, giggling with one another, learning to make room for one another.

Beauty is a symphony composed centuries ago, and while so many other symphonies have been forgotten, this one is still beautiful for us, perhaps yet more beautiful. Because its beauty is true, and truth lives at all times and places—which is why there is no truth that is not beautiful, and why real beauty is always true.

Beauty and truth. All my life I have pursued them as one. Because my mother taught me so.

What remains is that irresolution we call guilt. What remains is that irresolution we call guilt.Unfinished business. Because no son can live up to the expectations of a Jewish mother. Not on his own. Not in her lifetime.

But life doesn’t end.

In the last years of my mother’s illness, she was physically incapable of expressing her love or affection, of providing encouragement or rebuke. Or guidance.

But now she is liberated from the confines of a physical body. Now, as all the holy tzaddikim teach, she is able to assist her son in ways that she never could have done before. Now, all that she has asked of me becomes possible. I must do it. And she will help.

How do you draw a mother’s spirit within you? With love. As the Zohar says, one love tugs along with it another love, and a spirit is drawn only through love.

There is love like fire; there is love like a flowing stream.

Love like fire consumes you until it has nothing left to burn. And then it waits until you have the power to love once again. Such is the love between two lovers that become one.

Not so the love of a flowing stream. It trickles along in its quiet way, nurturing all it passes. Until it meets an obstacle, and then it swells and grows, until, with awesome power, it surges through dense mud and heavy rock in a fury. And yet, a little further downstream, it is quiet again. Such is the love of brothers and sisters.

There is love as one who sees beauty and all his being is pulled in towards that beauty. But he will never arrive. He perceives, but he does not grasp.

The love a son has for his mother is none of these. For none of these grasp the one that is loved, and none of these is held in an eternal clasp within her love.

How do you know that you grasp a thing? Because it moves with your grasp, all of it.

So that when a child cries, a mother moves, all of her. And in the mother’s pain, in her desires, in her joy and in her deepest aspirations, all the child is held for every moment of his life. He can never leave that embrace. Even as he runs from it, he only finds himself trapped deeper within its maze. Indeed, he is still within the womb.

So, I surrender. Mother, I want to say those words I was meant to say many times before, as I was running to escape your embrace. Mom, I love you. May I have the wisdom to allow the best of you entry within me.