New Menorah - Fall 5764/2003

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Returning to the Great Mother
Thoughts for Rosh Hashana
By Rabbi Shefa Gold *

In preparing for the High Holy Days I do a lot of reading, hoping to be sparked by a word or a phrase, hoping to have my viewpoint turned upside down, or to be reminded of something I know at some deep level but have forgotten.

I read an article by Phillip Moffit, a teacher of meditation in which he talks about "Healing Your Mother Wound." As we venture forth on the spiritual path we will be faced with whatever psychological or emotional trauma that is buried inside us. These traumas will particularly affect our relationships and will become an obstacle to us as our spiritual practice develops.

The "Mother Wound" refers to the ways in which we may have been mothered inadequately or poorly. This first relationship inevitably conditions much of our lives. Moffit suggests that we must become aware of this deep place of wounding and use our practice to" transform what has been a hindrance in your life into a teacher of the heart."

As I read this article during the time of preparation for The High Holy Days, I thought, yes this is also what T'shuva is -- "transforming what has been a hindrance in your life into a teacher of the heart."  And the greatest T'shuva is returning, through the reconciliation of our deepest desires with the reality we face, to the Great Mother.

Though our tradition affirms that God is beyond gender, most of us grew up with the images of God as Father and King. During this season especially we are immersed in Avinu Malkeynu (Our Father, Our King). The images we use for the Divine are meant to help us relate to the ineffable, to speak personally to the great mystery that is both within us and all around us.  Throughout our history we have called God by many names knowing that every name only points to the mystery.

When I call God  Mother, a place of both vulnerability and gratefulness opens up in me. I wondered as I read this article if it might be helpful to see the "mother-wound" in the context of our relationship to God, The Great Mother.

Moffit instructs us to examine our "mother-wound" by reflecting on the four basic functions of mothering- nurturing, protecting, empowering, and initiating. These four basic functions are also helpful in reflecting on our relationship to God, The Great Mother.

When we come to God clearly seeking nurturance, protection, empowerment and initiation, we can both mourn the lack of those qualities in our foundational life and begin to build a relationship with God in which they might manifest and flourish. Even if our biological mothers failed to give us the right mothering that would establish in us the truth of our power and worth, a sense of basic trust in life, and the inspiration for our unique mission, it's not too late. We can stop blaming her and instead turn our hearts to God, the Great Mother who loves us unconditionally.

During this time of the High Holy Days we are called to return, to do Tshuva.  God says, "Return to me. Return to your center. Let go of distractions and bring your attention back to the miracle that is before you."  When we are disconnected from the awareness of that miracle, then our existence itself becomes traumatic.

During these days of Awe, the Great Mother comes to you as Nurturer and opens her arms in an inviting embrace. There is no shame too great, no ugliness in her eyes, no sin you could commit that would bar you from her love.  She sees the place in you of insatiable hunger, the emptiness you vainly try to fill with entertainment, unhealthy food, drugs, or your busyness.

All the prayers we say are meant to open us to her abounding love, and remember that it is that love that we have been seeking all along.  It is only that love that can nurture us and quench our awful thirst.  We can open to that God-love in the everyday details of our lives, and in our relationships to family, friends and strangers.

During these Days of Awe, the Great Mother comes to you as Protector.  She comes to remind you that whatever happens to you in this unpredictable life, you are ultimately safe.  Though our lives seem filled with dangerous adventures, the Great Mother whispers to us that she was, is and will always be there for you, and the knowledge of her presence will protect you from despair even through your greatest suffering. "Even death is safe", she whispers. What seems a tragic ending is in the greater reality a joyful homecoming.

During these Days of Awe, the Great Mother comes to you as Empoweror.  She reminds you that you always have allies and that her strength is within you.  She challenges you to act righteously, to be good stewards for her creation, to repair the broken places of her world. She reminds you how powerful you are in that each word, each action, each thought really matters.

During these Days of Awe, the Great Mother comes to initiate us into her mysteries. With this initiation, she sends us onto our life's path with an awareness that each of us has a mission to fulfill.  Each of us must grow into the unique being that we truly are. Each of us must accept the gifts and the challenges that are given through this initiation.

The Great Mother asks us to hear her voice in the sound of the shofar, a voice that cries for our pain, yet sends us to our wholeness.  This initiation connects us with our ancestors and makes us loyal servants to the ones who will follow behind us in the days to come.
During these Days of Awe we are transforming our hindrance into a teacher of the heart. So if you've ever felt a lack of nurturance in your life; if you've ever felt deathly afraid; if you've ever felt dis-empowered, or if you've ever suffered a lack of meaning for your life… then your hunger, disappointment, sadness, anger or hopelessness can lead you back to the Great Mother who awaits your turning with an eager embrace.

* Rabbi Shefa Gold is the director of C-DEEP the Center for Devotional, Energy, and Ecstatic Practice, a project of ALEPH.  For more information on Rabbi Shefa Gold, visit her website at

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