And every wise hearted woman spun with her hands, and they brought spun material: blue, purple and crimson wool, and linen ...

(Exodus 35:25)

She was there for us at the very beginning, and she is there for us still. She was there at times of elation and was there in times of distress. She was there in times of hope and is still there in times of despair. She nurtured our faith under the Inquisition and our strength during the pogroms. She held our hands in the gas chambers and holds our hands still. She, is our Yiddishe mama—our Jewish mother.

The Matriarchs

I doubt I would find the courage to do what Rebecca did I wasn’t there when Ishmael threatened to take Isaac’s life, but if I were, I don’t think I could have stood up to him with the same determination that Sarah did.1 I wasn’t there when Isaac proposed to bestow his blessing upon Esau, but if I were, I doubt I would find the courage to do what Rebecca did and insert Jacob as a substitute.2

And would I have equaled Rachel’s sacrifice, when she selflessly forfeited her sacred right to be interred beside her husband in the cave of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs in Hebron? She chose to be buried in Bethlehem instead, for the sake of her children. When, more than a thousand years later, the temple in Jerusalem was destroyed and our ancestors were exiled to Babylon, they passed through Bethlehem and paused at their mother’s tomb to pray. Rachel, who had awaited this moment for centuries, stormed the gates of heaven and shed bitter tears. G‑d granted her prayers and promised that the exile would end after seventy years. If not for Rachel’s sacrifice, the Babylonian exile may not have ended so quickly; our nation may not have survived.3

Where did these Jewish mothers find the courage? I don’t know because I’m not one of them, but ask your mother and I’m sure she will gladly tell you. When a need arises, the Jewish mother simply responds.

Sarah didn’t worry about standing up to the violent Ishmael; her son’s safety was at stake. Had Ishmael accomplished then what his descendants have tried to accomplish since, we would not be here today. Rebecca didn’t fear Esau’s wrath; the future of her children was at stake. Had Jacob not received those blessings, there may not have been a Jewish people today. Rachel’s children were in need and she never hesitated. Her concern was not for herself, but for her children.

In Egypt

The future of their people was at stakePharaoh decreed that all Jewish male newborns be put to death. At hearing this news, Jewish men despaired and refused to procreate, but their wives wouldn’t hear of it. These women were, by nature, chaste and demure, but the future of their people was at stake. Contrary to their natures, they ventured out to the fields and seduced their working husbands.

When they felt the pangs of labor, they returned to the fields, away from prying eyes and gave birth to their children. The mothers then returned home; leaving their infants behind and entrusting their survival to G‑d. G‑d nurtured these children lovingly and brought them home when they matured.

They believed with perfect faith that G‑d would not abandon them. G‑d had promised Jacob that his children would be redeemed from Egypt and the Jewish mothers fought to give G‑d that chance.4

To ensure the success of his decree against Jewish children, Pharaoh instructed the Jewish midwives to commit infanticide. These midwives never even entertained the idea and saved countless lives at grave personal risk.5

When Amram, father of Moses, who despaired of having more children, he divorced his wife, Jocheved. He later remarried her at the urging of his six year old daughter, Miriam. Pharaoh’s decree, Miriam challenged her father, threatened only the male newborns, divorce ensures the complete extinction of our nation. When Moses was born, it was Miriam who gave the people new hope, when she prophesied that the baby would grow up to become the redeemer of Israel.6

Imagine Jocheved’s anguish as she placed her son in a basket and cast him upon the Nile, entrusting his safety to G‑d. Imagine Miriam’s dread as she watched the princess of Egypt collect the basket. Imagine her courage as she approached the princess and audaciously recommend her mother, Jocheved, as a wet nurse for the baby.7

Imagine her bravery as she returned to the palace, to the great Pharaoh’s homeAnd what of Batya, the Egyptian princess who stretched out her arm to collect the little Jewish boy? Our sages taught that she had ventured out to immerse in the river to secretly convert to Judaism. Imagine her bravery as she returned to the palace, to the great Pharaoh’s home, after having secretly consorted joined her father’s enemies, to raised their future redeemer under her father’s nose ....8

These are only the publicized cases. There are literally thousands of stories, liberally sprinkled throughout the course of Jewish history, of Jewish mothers who selflessly sacrificed for the sake of their children with no regard to personal safety.9

In Catholic Spain, despite the threat of death at the hands of the Inquisition, Jewish mothers taught their daughters to light Shabbat candles. Jewish mothers in Nazi death camps continued to have children and, with their last breath, defied Hitler’s “final solution.” Jewish mothers under Communist oppression raised their children to be proud Jews despite the hardships of Soviet discrimination and persecution.

The Foundation

What is the source of their strength? It is their faith. From the very beginning, Jewish women believed in a personal and caring G‑d. When Jewish men despaired, Jewish women believed and carried on. When the future seemed bleak, when events seemed at their worst, the women never lost hope. They never broke faith. They always believed that G‑d would come through. If not immediately, then soon. If not for them, then for their children.

When G‑d split the Reed Sea, Miriam, accompanied by the lyrical ringing of tambourines, led the women in an ode to G‑d. Where did they find tambourines in the middle of a desert? They brought them along from Egypt in perfect faith that G‑d would perform precisely such miracles.10

When Moses failed to return from Mount Sinai at the appointed time and men predicted that he wouldn’t come back, the women persisted in faith. When the men determined to build a Golden Calf, Jewish women refused to contribute their gold.11

The women never broke faith with G‑dWhen the spies returned from the holy land with a negative report the men broke down and wept. The women never broke faith with G‑d, and rejected the negative report.12

This ironclad faith braces the Jewish mother’s rock like strength. Faith is the foundation of our religion. If Torah and mitzvot are its building blocks, then faith is its cornerstone.

Our mothers give us the foundation upon which we build. Foundations are not usually visible. They aren’t meant to be. They are concealed by the buildings atop them. But at times of turmoil, when the building crumbles, the foundation can once again be glimpsed. Its solid surface cannot be shaken. The entire building can be rebuilt upon it.

The Wise of Heart

This is why the Torah identifies the women who helped to build the tabernacle as “wise of heart.” Wisdom of heart pertains to immutable faith and insurmountable strength. Indeed, these were the builders of our tabernacle. These were the true founders of our nation.13

Moses did his part. Aaron did his. The rabbis, judges, teachers and priests all did their parts. Master builders constructed the tabernacle and gifted architects sketched its plans. But it would all have come to naught if not for the contribution of "wise of heart," the Jewish mothers. These wise women planted the seeds that blossomed into a nation. These wise women sowed kernels of faith and reaped generations of fortitude.