Rabbi’s Reflections – Sunday, May 10, 2020
Counting the Omer – Day 29
Here is the proper blessing to be said each day. This is how Jewish people fulfill the command to count.
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ מֶֽלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, אֲשֶׁר קִדְּשָֽׁנוּ בְּמִצְוֹתָיו, וְצִוָּֽנוּ עַל סְפִירַת הָעֹֽמֶר
Baruch Atah Adonai Elohenu Melech Ha-Olam, Asher Kid’shanu B’mitzvotav, Vitzivanu Al Sefirat Ha-Omer.
Blessed are You O Lord our God, King of the universe, who has sanctified us by his commandments and commanded us about the counting of the Omer. Today is four weeks and one day of the counting of the Omer.
Thank You, Mothers!
by Dr. and Senator Raymond Finney
[God spoke] “Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long upon the land which Adonai your God is giving you.” (Exodus 20:12)
(Today, May 10, 2020 is Mother’s Day)
MY INADEQUACY: Today, we celebrate Mother’s Day. I often feel inadequate– even hypocritical– to write these weekly RRs. I feel especially inadequate to write a Mother’s Day RR, because most mothers are indispensable to our community, nation, and world and are often under-appreciated. For most families, mom is the heart and soul of the home. Linda is without doubt the heart and soul of my home.
Four mothers have impacted my life: “Lula” Longmire was my maternal grandmother. (My paternal grandmother died when I was very young, and I cannot remember her.) Ruth Finney was my mother. Linda Finney, my wife of more than 58 years, is the mother of my children. Debbie Finney Sosna, my daughter, is the mother of my two grandsons. I have learned much from each of these women. I appreciate them all.
How many billions of words have been written about mothers? I cannot add anything of importance to these words. I will add comments to two previously published anecdotes to start a discussion about the importance of motherhood.
FIRST ANECDOTE– “NOT HOME YET:” This anecdote may seem strange for a Mother’s Day RR message. I liberally paraphrase a short essay, “Not Home Yet,” by Joseph J. Mazzella:
A now-elderly husband and wife had gone to Africa to serve as missionaries immediately after their marriage. Initially planning to serve only a few years, they fell in love with the continent, the kind people, and the loving God they served. Their “few years” turned into more than fifty years. They founded churches, medical clinics, and schools.
They were proud of their sanitation systems. Villagers not only had clean water to drink, preventing diseases, they also learned Yeshua’s words about living water, saving souls (John 4:13-14): Yeshua replied [to the Samaritan woman at the well], “Everyone who drinks from this water will get thirsty again. But whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never be thirsty. The water that I give him will become a fountain of water within him, springing up to eternal life!”
This couple assured that the villagers had both clean water to prevent the first death (death of the body) and Yeshua’s spiritual water to prevent the second death (death of the soul). Many souls had been swept into Heaven because of their tireless efforts and the loving personal examples of their Yeshua-filled lives.
Advancing age and failing health finally convinced the missionaries they had accomplished as much as they could in Africa. It was time to go home. They wrote to their hometown community and church to let them know the date they planned to return home. After several days at sea, they arrived in the port community from which they had sailed decades earlier.
As they sailed into port, they rejoiced to see a large crowd cheering the ship as it anchored. Is it possible they would be remembered so fondly after such a long absence? Their smiles and hearts fell, though, when they saw that the crowd was there to cheer a local politician aboard the same ship. No one came to welcome home God’s servants who had labored so long in service for the kingdom of God.
The old man told his quietly sobbing wife that he was going to ask God in prayer why, after so many years of dedicated service, not one person was there to greet them when they arrived home. After some time in their cabin, he came out with a peaceful smile on his face. His wife asked him if God said anything to him, as he prayed. “Yes,” he replied. “God told me, ‘You are not home yet!’”
In most marriages– including, unfortunately, my marriage– the wife works harder and longer at drudgery than does the husband. The wife’s work is often repetitive, dirty, and not very interesting– work for which she is seldom thanked.
Several poems, based on “a woman’s work is never done,” have been written, including this short proverb from the date of the American Revolutionary War: “A man may work from dusk to dawn, but a woman’s work is never done.” Another anonymous saying goes: “It’s hard to be a woman. You must think like a man, act like a lady, look like a young girl, and work like a horse.” If your home is typical, mom, you probably work harder than anyone else in the family.
Is there reward for hard work? Each person has one life and one judgment (Hebrews 9:27): And just as it is appointed for men to die once, and after this judgment,…. In an earlier RR, I wrote about the two end-time judgments. If you have secured admittance to eternity in Heaven, you will be judged at the Judgment Seat of HaMashiach (the Bema Judgment). Here, rewards (“crowns”) will be given to or withheld from you, based on your service for others in Yeshua’s name. NOTE WELL: No matter how much you may suffer in this brief, earthly life (martyrdom, persecution, labor, suffering, illness, and so forth), God has promised to make it up to you in your eternal, heavenly life (1 Peter 2:20b): … But if you endure when you do good and suffer for it, this finds favor with God.
Learn from this elderly missionary couple anecdote. Your home is not in this earth, but in Heaven (Philippians 3:20-21): For our citizenship is in heaven, and from there we eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Yeshua the Messiah. He will transform this humble body of ours into the likeness of His glorious body, through the power that enables Him even to put all things in subjection to Himself. Crowds– even your family– may not now applaud your efforts in your home and community, just as the missionaries were not welcomed home and their labors left unrecognized, but be assured that your Divine Judge will take notice at your Bema Judgment and will reward you for all you have done.
You may think your efforts are not worthy of rewards. No! Recall the account of Yeshua in the Temple (Mark 12:41-44). Rich men were giving great gifts to the Temple treasury. A poor widow silently came in to give all she had to God– two copper coins– which would seem to mean little in comparison to the rich men’s gifts. Yeshua, however, said that her gift meant the most to God because she gave the best she had (Mark 12:43b-44): … [Yeshua said to His disciples] “Amen, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those contributing to the box! For they all put in from their surplus; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything she had, her whole living.” The motive– love– establishes the value of a gift (Matthew 10:42): [Yeshua said] ”And whoever gives to one of these little ones even a cup of cold water in the name of a disciple, amen I tell you, he shall never lose his reward.”
No stranger to a hard, strenuous life, the Apostle Paul wrote (Galatians 6:9): So let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we don’t give up. When you do even little things in love for your family, Mom, I believe you add to your account in “The Bank of Heaven,” which is the best retirement plan ever devised!
We should all remember– as we journey through this life filled with challenges, pains, and struggles– that we are not yet home. The Blount County Tax Assessor’s office lists my house as being on Middlewood Drive in Maryville, a place my wife and I have lived for more than thirty years and where I probably may still be living at the time of my death. But, my house is not my… your house is not your… true home, Mom. Home is where Yeshua has gone to prepare a living place for you (John 14:2-3): [Yeshua said] “In My Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and take you to Myself, so that where I am you may also be.”
Mom, home is the place where your loving Father awaits you. Home is the place where the true reward of your earthly life awaits you. You will not see your much-deserved heavenly rewards until you enter Paradise (your real home). Home is the place where neither sadness, illness, nor death are remembered or experienced any longer.
Once again, like the old missionary couple, you are not yet home. Home is the place where the love you learned, the good you did, and the joy you shared will reside in your soul forever. Rejoice in your life here, love, help others, and be happy. The “front porch light” will be on when you get home. Enter in! Your labor may be under-appreciated and unrecognized here, but your loving service may earn you the privilege of some day having Yeshua smile at you and say (Matthew 25:23): “… ‘Well done, good and faithful servant!…. Enter into your master’s joy!’”
Suggestion: Thank mom or someone else you love for how much their labors of love have meant to you. Do not wait for Yeshua to thank that person for you.
SECOND ANECDOTE– “REMEMBER ME:” We have a treasure in eastern Tennessee near Norris. That treasure is the Museum of Appalachia (https://www.museumofappalachia.org/ ). John Rice Irwin (a distant relative of mine?) (Rabi’s note to Raymond: I think you’re both related to Noah.) spent his life collecting artifacts and stories about the people who settled and lived in this area. Regretfully, I have not visited the museum in many years, but it is worth a visit (when it reopens after this COVID-19 mess is over).
Read about Granny Irwin’s Christmas quilt, displayed during the Christmas season: https://www.museumofappalachia.org/granny-irwins-christmas-quilt/ .
Sarah Irwin married in the late 1890s. A life of hard work, love, service, sweat, sacrifice, and tears go into earning the title of “granny,” and Granny Irwin earned this praiseworthy title. She was John Rice Irwin’s grandmother, but she sounds like my grandmother and most other grannies of her generation I have known.
John Rice Irwin correctly underscores the anonymity in which these women lived. Granny Irwin’s life was defined by her husband. John Rice Irwin said, “Like many women of her era, Sarah Irwin had little identity of her own. Her home was ‘Uncle John Irwin’s place,’ and she was ‘Uncle John Irwin’s wife.’ Although she was happy and content to love and work for others, she had little to leave behind. Not much for which she would be remembered. There would be no legacy, and had it not been for this Christmas quilt, there would be nothing personal or physical to indicate that she ever lived. It seemed that she sensed this, and was– perhaps unknowingly– crying out that she not be forgotten.”
Granny Irwin made a patchwork quilt, now called her “Christmas quilt.” I have seen my own grandmother labor for hours, sewing together pieces of cloth scraps (remnants) she had carefully saved from other sewing projects. After hours of tedious work, she created a work of art, which should be the envy of many persons passed off today as “artists.”
What was special about Granny Irwin’s quilt were two words embroidered in the corner: “Remember Me.” John Rice Irwin concludes: “Ever since Granny Irwin first displayed her quilt in the front room of her home, it has served as a sign of the Christmas season. Over 120 years later [this statement made in a book published in 1997], her creation continues to serve this purpose, as every December, it is prominently displayed in the Museum’s Hall of Fame for all to see. Sarah, the jolly, energetic woman who spent her life doing for others, has not been forgotten, and by carrying on her tradition, we hope she never will be.”
Most of us will be forgotten after a brief period of mourning. After all, as said by Langston Hughes, is not life for the living? At my age, many of my relatives, co-workers, and friends have died, and I know each passing day brings me one day closer to my own death. In writing this RR, I reflect on some of these people who have preceded me in death, concentrating today– in honor of Mother’s Day– on my grandmother and mother. I try to remember their voice, their appearance (especially before they became ill in old age), the meals they cooked, things that made them happy, the love they had for their families, and so forth. I suggest you also reminisce about family members who have loved you so much in the past.
By far, my favorite play is Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town.” This play chronicles ordinary people who lived in fictional Grover’s Corner, New Hampshire between 1901 to 1913. First performed in 1938 during the Great Depression, Wilder provided for few stage props, and the best performance would have few props.
In Act III, a young Emily dies in childbirth, leaving husband George and their children without a wife and mother. In this videoclip of part of Act III (see link in following prompt), Emily is taken to a hill, a cemetery, in Grover’s Corner to be buried among those she loved in life. The people sitting in chairs on stage with Emily have all previously died. She is granted the privilege of watching herself relive one day of her life (a birthday). Too soon in her eternal life but probably too late in her earthly life, Emily understands how precious her brief life was.
You MUST see this play, if well performed. (The 1940 movie version is a disgrace.) Several YouTube performances are available, which is a poor substitute for seeing a live play, but you may try (with a box of Kleenex at hand) to see part of Act III: video.search.yahoo.com/search/video;_ylt=A0PDsBl5laheNpYA2zJXNyoA;_ylu=X3oDMTEyNWNiaW4yBGNvbG8DYmYxBHBvcwMxBHZ0aWQDQjI5NDRfMQRzZWMDc2M-?p=our+town+by+thornton+wilder+act+3&fr=mcafee#id=3&vid=9d0083bc9af3223750e9f04b665ec7de&action=view .
Granny Irwin wished to be remembered for her hard life of service to others in eastern Tennessee. Thornton Wilder’s Emily wished to hold onto and remember her brief life in “Our Town” in Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire. You and I now wish to be remembered, but we know that our lives are like fleeting vapors (James 4:14): Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. What is your life? For you are a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes.
We all know that memories fade. Woody Allen wrote a touching, nostalgic movie script about life in America during World War II. Try to see this movie, especially if you remember the 1940s. This movie, “Radio Days,” ends with Allen’s nostalgia and sorrow that persons he loved are growing harder for him to remember. Allen’s script reads: “I never forgot that New Year’s Eve… when Aunt Bea awakened me to watch 1944 come in. And I’ve never forgotten any of those people… or any of the voices we used to hear on the radio. Although the truth is… with the passing of each New Year’s Eve… those voices do seem to grow dimmer and dimmer.”
Suggestion: Today may be a good day to call mom or someone else you love and tell that person: “I love you. Thank you for all you have done for me.” Some day you may not have the opportunity to make this call because that person lies in a grave. Or because, as Allen laments, that voice has grown too dim to remember. Please do not wait for that person’s Bema Judgment to have Yeshua thank your loved one for you.
THANK YOU! Thank you, Linda, for being a great mom for our family. Your children and grandchildren love you; I love you (Proverbs 31:28): Her children arise and bless her, her husband also praises her:…. Our children, our grandchildren, and I are much better persons because of your hard work and love.
To any mom who reads this RR, thank you! Thank you for enriching, serving, and loving the family God entrusted to you. Thank you for enriching the family of America. Thank you for enriching the family of God. We are all better because of you. Shalom and Maranatha.