Drinking It All In
by Rabbi Debra Orenstein
Completed on the day of Anne Silver’s unveiling, this essay is offered in her memory.
“Can a woman forget her sucking child, not have compassion on the child of her womb? Yes, even they may forget, but I [God] will not forget you…. As one whom his mother comforts, so will I comfort you.”
- Isaiah 49:15, 66:13
After the rush of the High Holidays, during the intermediate days of Sukkot, I spend extra time in the morning nursing my daughter. What a miracle it is! God endowed us with perfect complementarity. It’s not just that a child’s instinct to suckle coincides with a mother’s need to feed. In healthy mothers and children, nursing is the ultimate example of supply meeting demand. The baby brings down the milk she needs. Vigorous sucking, lots of milk. Gentle sucking, gentle flow. Effortlessly, mother's milk provides antibodies needed for that particular child and environment.
Isaiah thought it was the same between God and Her children. God loves us and wants to give to us, in the way that a nursing mother wants – needs – to give. God loves in that intense, bonded, way; God gives by design, with free-flowing gifts matched perfectly to each of our needs. Of course, women will sometimes fall short of the image and ideal of Mother, but God will always nourish us with perfect Maternal comfort and compassion. However much we need, She is able to provide.
I sat in the rocking chair this morning, silently enjoying the moment and assimilating these past intense days, feeling close to both God and my daughter. And suddenly a phrase came to my mind: “Latch on.” For a moment, I couldn’t understand why I found it so moving. And then I made the connection. “Latch on” is not just a description of what I was encouraging my daughter to do, so that she could bring down milk. “Latch on” is a good English rendering of deveykut, commonly translated as “clinging to God” – what the mystics encourage all of us to do, so that we can bring down Divine blessings. When in need of spiritual sustenance, latch on.
Biology offers an important lesson: the milk doesn’t flow instantaneously with the latch. When a baby first learns to nurse, he or she will suck hard and continuously, as if impatient. But with a little experience, a baby will usually latch and then rest for a few moments, knowing that the milk is coming. That time after the latch and before the milk comes is particularly sweet. Both mother and child are secure in the knowledge that nourishment is on its way, and they can just relax and enjoy one another. Similarly, the bonding of deveykut – latching on to Divinity – is not just a means of imbibing blessings, it is its own blessing, especially when we pause to savor it. The latch yields a richer blend if we seek Providence, more than provender; God’s face, more than God’s faculties. Deveykut means reaching for God’s hand, not just God’s hand-out. It means connection, love, bonding.
Lately, I have a perpetual crick in my neck. When my beautiful daughter latches on, it gives me such nachas that I just have to turn to her and smile. And even though my neck hurts, I can’t – and don’t want to – stop turning toward her. The priestly blessing offers this promise to the Children of Israel: “God’s face will be turned toward you” (Numbers 6:26). If that blessing seems elusive or somehow unreal, try latching on and drinking in what you need.
There are times when God simply pours blessings on us (“my cup overflows”—Psalm 23:5). But mostly it is our role, as children of God, to initiate the flow by latching on. In that moment of initiation, I imagine that God turns delightedly toward us – happy, even kvelling. “Where have you been, my children? Latch on, drink as much as you need. I am Ein Sof – Without Limitation, Ma’ayan Hachayim – the Fountain of Life.” Creation matched perfectly with Creator, baruch hashem.
Hannah Mathilda, two years old here, offers a Shana Tova greeting to the congregation at High Holiday services.