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Education: Teaching the faith as Mary did - Learning from her life as a Jewish woman
A French poet has referred to Mary as
"A woman of whom nothing has been said" because her life was so ordinary in spite of the extraordinary circumstances related of it.
She was a woman like the Mothers in Israel: Sara, Rebekah, Rachel and Leah;
like Tamar, Rehab, Ruth, Bathsheba, who are privileged to be named in the genealogy of the Messiah;
like Miriam. Hannah and so many others, both in byegone days and in our own day.
She was a woman who waited, fined with an ardent desire for the Messiah, filled with him before having brought him forth into the world.
She was a woman who remembered with a memory that is rooted in faith, in hope and in love, who fulfilled the promises and all of Scripture in giving them body, flesh and blood.
As a Jewish woman she made of her house a Temple and of her family life, a liturgy:
"How fair are your tents, 0 Jacob,
your encampments, 0 Israel!"
Mary's Life was Woven with the Torah
As the one who, together with Joseph, brought up the child Jesus, Mary fulfilled the commandments of God, The whole of her life: its years, its months, its days and its hours were, as it were,
woven with the observance of the Torah. This she did through means of
The Benedictions In the morning:
Blessed art thou, 0 Lord our God, King of the Universe,
who openest the eyes of the blind'
...who removest sleep from mine eyes and slumber from mine eyelids.
...who givest strength to the weary.
At meal times:
Blessed art thou, 0 Lord our God. King of the Universe,
who createst the fruit of the vine.
...who bringest forth bread from the earth.
On kindling the sabbath lights:
Blessed art thou, 0 Lord our God, King of the Universe, who hast hallowed us by thy commandments, and commanded us to kindle the sabbath light.
Blessed art thou... Blessed art thou... because thou art the Creator and the Savior. We give thanks to thee and confess that thou art the source of everything we are, of all that we have, of everything that we do.
Our Rabbis have taught: It is forbidden to a man to enjoy anything of this world without a benediction, and if anyone enjoys anything of this world without a benediction he commits sacrilege (Ber 35a).
As a Jewish woman, Mary was careful about the ritual purity of the house, of the foods she served; nothing is profane in a Jewish household, everything is kadosh, that is to say, separated, holy, consecrated to the Lord.
She was careful also about the ritual purity laws which apply to a Jewish woman, since her body, too, was a Temple. 2
She was careful to fulfil, with Joseph, all the laws concerning their child:
— he was circumcised when eight days old, the Covenant being sealed in his flesh. His name in Israel, his place in Israel, his mission was Yeshuah, Jesus, God saves?
— Thirty-three days later. Mary accomplished her purification as is the case for women after child;birth.4 She and Joseph consecrated their first-born to the Lord and redeemed him with the offering of the poor.3
Mary Taught the Jewish Faith to Jesus
From his infancy Mary began teaching Jesus about his faith:
Hear, 0 Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart,
(Let not your heart be shared in its relation to the Place) 6
and with all your soul,
(even if he take your soul)
and with all your might
(with all your possessions)7
She herself tended towards the one Lord with all her being, with all her heart, soul, mind.
She taught him the Ten Words and all the Torah, summed up in the Golden Rule:
What is hateful to you do not to your neighbour: that is the whole Torah, while the rest is the commentary thereof; go and learn it.6
These commandments pervaded his understanding (which is the meaning of the tefillin placed on the forehead), his actions and his heart (tefillin on the left arm) and stood guard over the holiness of his home (the mezuzah placed on the doorpost)9
Mary accompanied Jesus In his Faith Experience
On reaching adolescence, Jesus was taken to the Temple by Mary and Joseph. He had begun already to listen to his teachers and to ask them questions. He was being fashioned by his people's tradition.
From sabbath to sabbath henceforth, from feast to feast (Pesach. Shavuot, Rosh haShanah, Yom haKippurim, Sukkot, Hanukkah, Purim) he would relive his people's experiences, both in the wider community in Synagogue and Temple, and in the intimacy of his family.
— He would pass over the sea with his people: Not only our forefathers did the Holy One blessed is He, redeem, but also ourselves did he redeem with them.10
— With them he recited the Torah at the foot of Mt. Sinai:
And these words which I command you this day . . . This day: Do not look upon these words as an old teaching no longer worthy of attention, but as a new teaching given this clay.'
— He lived in his sukkah for seven days.
You shall dwell in booths (sukkot)
"Were they really sukkot? They were the sukkot of the cloud of glory ."12
— He shared in the joy of the water-carrying ceremony.
R. Hoshaya said: Why was it called the rejoicing of the place of drawing (water)? Because from there they imbibed the Holy Spirit's
Mary guided her son through the different stages of his life, from infancy to adolescence. In his adult life she shared in the fruits of his ministry whose seeds she herself had sown while he was growing up.
Just as her elder sister in the faith, Miriam, went with Moses as he led his people through their exodus, so too, Mary lived with Jesus as he lived his exodus, his desert experience, his entry into the Land. She herself kept all these things in her memory in faith, in hope and in love. She watched over their fulfilment.'14
Mary in the Life of Christians
The risen Jesus continues in Christians his journey which leads from the Father to the Father, by walking our ways, following us in every aspect of our lives.
Mary teaches us to make our homes into temples, our lives into liturgies, every moment of our lives a long benediction.
She shows us how, throughout our days, our months, our years, to relive in the Church the experience of the People of God.
She brings us up, she lifts us up to God just as we are.
To educate (the Hebrew verb carries within it the idea of beginning), means to be always beginning again, to inaugurate, to renew what is old, letting God open up anew in us his Son's pathways.
Sr. Anne-Catherine Avril, N.D.S. is a Sister of Our Lady of Sion living in Jerusalem, where she is a Professor in the Institute of Jewish Studies of the Ratisbonne Center.
1. Every blessing begins with the formula: Blessed art thou. 0 Lord our God, King of the Universe. For the sake of brevity it is not repeated each time.
2. Cf. Lev 15. These regulations concerning ritual purity need to be understood In a positive way. The loss of blood and of seminal fluid are linked with life. The loss of energy which results from their flow requires a ritual purification which symbolizes the need for the regeneration and reconstitution of one's bodily integrity. Ritual purification means also that every act, even that which seems the most animal, can be raised to the dignity of a holy action.
3. Lev 12:3: Gen 17; Lk 2:21.
4. Lev 12:4-8: Lk 2:22-24.
5. Ibid; Ex 13:11-16.
6. Hebrew: Ha-Makom: circumlocution for God to avoid naming him out of respect. Other examples are the Name, the Holy One, etc.
7. Deut 6:4-5 with commentaries tram Sifre Deut.
8. Shabbat 31a: cf. Mt 7:12. The whole Torah, in this context. refers not only to the written, but to the oral Torah (Talmud) as well. Even though not written down until 2-6 cents. C.E., this oral tradition had begun Its development well before the time of Jesus.
9. Deut 6:8-9.
10. Passover Haggadah.
11. Sifre Deuteronomy on Deut 6.4-5.
12. Sifra on Lev 23:42; cf. Mt 17:1-8
12. Gen Rabbah on Gen 29:1-4; Cf. Jn 7:37-40. '4
13. Cf. Lk 2:19. 51.