Renewed in Mother Eve: Our Noble Legacy
Fireside: Stake Relief Society
Shalom Aleichem, my sisters, and lashana tova tikusevu, which means "may you be inscribed for a good year". I am honored to be among you this evening, this Jewish High Holy day, Rosh Hashonah. I hope that what we share here this evening will be pleasing and informative to you. This is such beautiful country I am tempted to sell my home, buy a horse and move to Jackson Hole. I do think, after looking around, that a better name might be The Valley of Eden, or perhaps the Valley of the Sisters of Eve.
Driggs, Idaho September 15, 2004
Are there any other Jews in the audience tonight? Any non-members? Single sisters? Remarried? I am or have been all of these. We are all sisters in the families of Israel and in the truest sense we are daughters both of our Heavenly parents and our first mortal parents.
I'm here tonight to share my conversion story with you. Not only my conversion to the Church, but my discovery that I am one of the daughters of Eve. That knowledge has literally remade me. Baptism in 1988 when I was almost to my 48th year of mortal life has impacted my character to a degree I never thought possible. Since baptism, the Holy Ghost has taught truths to my spirit. As a result, I've come to know myself as a spiritual woman.
I am grateful to be a Latter-day Saint, an inheritor of the wondrous mantle of our Mother Eve because we Latter-day Saint women are blessed with true principles to live by, ordinances and covenants to take upon ourselves, gifts we can develop which we may offer upon the altar of service to others in all seasons of our lives.
You know, this is the night of Rosh Hashonah which, for the Jewish world, means the head of the cycle" or "first of the year." According to Jewish belief it was on this day 5764 years ago that Adam was created and the world experienced the first Rosh Hashonah. Rosh Hashonah commemorates the birthday of the world and in a large sense looks toward fulfillment of peace and adjudication of all earthly problems. It is a time of rebirth through repentance. The Hebrew word here is "teshuvah" which means "to turn" from sin or error.
Regardless of how old the world really is, the eve of Rosh Hashonah begins the Ten Days of Penitence (Days of Awe) that end in Day of Atonement services. On that day and night Jews are commanded to ask forgiveness of God for their accumulated sinfulness, but only after they have asked and received forgiveness from one another. During those 10 days the Jewish people ponder their acts towards others, how they have been, how they ought to be.
So the Jewish New Year is a time of introspection, to think of our past year's shortfalls and to make the changes we want to implement in the new year, which begins right now, sundown. In this way, this holiday is a feast of deliverance. We are freed from our past and find delivery into our future through teshuvah.
To the Latter-day Saint this date is also quite significant, for the Prophet Joseph Smith received the golden plates from the Angel Moroni on 22 September 1827, the day of Rosh hashonah. Why was this significant? On this "head of the cycle" day Jews all over the world were pleading with God to restore the covenant. And it happened, thus starting a new cycle in the lives of his ancient covenant people.
And so it can be with us here tonight - a re-energizing, a new vision for mind and heart. On this night we are invited to review our actions of 2003-4 and evaluate them. How do we measure up as disciples of Christ, as servants to our families and our community. Romans 8:16-17 teaches us that "the Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: and if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ."
Are we worthy daughters of our Heavenly Mother, of Mother Eve? We, like them, possess limitless potential. Our Relief Society motto "Charity Never Faileth" teaches us that showing kindness and compassion towards all with whom we come in contact blesses others as well as ourselves. We daily demonstrate that concern in our public professions or as wives and mothers, grandmothers, matriarchs. Tonight let us be a nucleus for new success as the fairer, gentler gender, and because ours are the hands that rock the cradles of the world, teach it, tend it, nurse and clean it, we sustain it. We are the Lord's best angels and perhaps this world's best hope for peaceful co-existence.
As for myself, I knew nothing of these concepts or of the Mormon people until I had lived nearly a half century. I had a very difficult time converting to the Church because of the Jewish mindset I grew up with. The conversion of Jews to the Church is still a rarity but increasingly they are accepting Jesus as their savior. In my case, I had reached the depths of despair because of my lifestyle, which was predicated upon age-old traditions and barriers. So, it took powerful experiences to bring me to Christ. Please bear with me. My story is an intensely personal one.
I must preface it by telling you that the history of the Hebrew people has been continuous for more than 5,000 years. They developed a unique religious system that has survived the onslaughts and conquests of twenty different nations and rulers, until in 1948 they became a Jewish nation again in Israel.
Judaism is a way of life embracing ethical and moral precepts covering every aspect of daily life, from hygiene and behavior to justice and equality before God and the law. It is a sub-civilization having territory, commerce, history, a culture, a social order, a unique identity, a language, philosophy and originally a race of people. It was the Semitic desert tribes and wandering Hebrews who brought these concepts together for the first time.
My heritage is Ashkenazic. These are the Jews who settled in Italy, France, Germany, Britain and eventually Eastern Europe. My father was born in 1910 in the little southwestern Ukrainian town of Berdichev, strategically important to the Nazis on their way into Russia in 1941.
I was very lucky to be born in America one year earlier than that, in Ohio. Initially, I was raised in a predominately Orthodox Jewish environment, progressing and regressing from a devout follower of Torah, which contain the first five books of what Christians call the Old Testament, to a somewhat Americanized observer of Jewish tradition. I am of the tribe of Judah. We have roots in Tsarist Russia. My mother's family comes from the Kiev area in Ukraine.
I grew up in a Jewish neighborhood in Los Angeles and I remember my first rabbi, his sweet charitable nature, his frizzy beard and his humorous acceptance of this Yiddishe madele who kept asking questions. Why doesn't God speak right to us, rabbi? Where is he, why can't I see him? Does he know me? Why do we hate Jesus? What happened to the prophets? Always I was asking questions, which is how a Jew encounters life. Of course, we continue to question the answers we receive. My rabbi never did answer those questions to my satisfaction.
My life was also tumultuous because of the severe family problems that continued throughout my teenaged years. My parents were usually at odds, they'd married in haste and soon regretted it. My parents' arguments and anger were often physical and none of us escaped it. By the time I was 17, I had become accustomed to my father's rage and his belt across my face on a regular basis. To this day I don't know why he resented me so, but from the time I was 6 or 7 he told me I would never amount to anything. I needed and wanted my father to love me and if I had known the Gospel I would have petitioned my Father in Heaven to help me in my private trials, to protect me from my earthly father's rages and from my mother's displays of personal grief through her many suicide attempts.
God wasn't in our house, we always felt that our lives and home were cursed. But somehow the knowledge that I would one day escape my unhappy circumstances kept hope alive.
We belonged to a synagogue but as I became a teenager my folks were divorced and fell away from it, though Mother and I continued on a very irregular basis. So there was little spiritual growth or participation for us as a family or as individuals.
How did all of this affect me? I was the first born by 7 years, but because I was not born a boy I was usually on the discount table. I always seemed to be disappointing my parents, and when my brother, their first and only son, was born, it was as if their true desires had finally been met. I felt deeply disliked, cast aside and taken for granted. My mother was a nurse and often worked long hours, so I was recruited in my preteens to clean the house and make dinner for my father and brother most every night. I became a cook and housekeeper long before I knew anything else and that has pretty much continued. I was never treated with any particular interest by my parents. To many Jewish households, if the first born is not a male, the family believes it is cursed.
When I was 14, I was confirmed from Hebrew Sunday School, but I decided to leave the synagogue altogether because I felt no happiness there. I took this up with my mother. She did not understand my concerns. She cried that I was unfaithful, she cursed and threatened me but I cried back
"Something is missing! I don't feel that God is with me in the synagogue. There's more to this, there has to be!"
Mother was a true believer in Judaism.
"Can a rabbi be wrong?" she asked. "God hears your prayers but we have to pray as a people, not only for ourselves."
All I could say was "I don't know, but this isn't right, this isn't enough, something's missing, I need more."
I vowed then to find the missing part if it took all of my life. My parents eventually divorced. But I was still unhappy. Eventually I found myself looking for love in all the wrong places. Several times I narrowly escaped death at the hands of evil people. My father in his visits continually called me a failure and said I would become a fallen woman (though I never fulfilled his expectations). My mother didn't bother to defend me. The effect all this had on me is that I seriously questioned the value of living a life bereft of self-esteem, family cohesiveness or parental approval. By the end of my 30's I'd learned a lot of the world's uglier lessons first hand and experienced several personal tragedies that devastated me and which almost convinced me that life in general was fruitless. I felt I would always be alone, that no man would think I was worthy of caring for.
My mother eventually disowned both her children, choosing instead to disappear with all the family pictures and mementos. She was never seen or heard of by any of us again. I searched for her many years. My own dreams of husband and family never materialized. I married early but divorced several years later. As time went on, I began to think about painless ways of ending my seemingly fruitless existence.
If I had known my essential worth as a child of God and that I have a Heavenly Mother and an enduring example of heroic Eve, as LDS women are taught, I could have been saved from many of the mistakes I made that were caused by a poor and potentially disastrous view of myself, my posterity, my family and my God.
Let us stop here for a moment and consider the woman Eve while still in the Garden. Eve's Hebrew name is pronounced KHAV'VAV, meaning 'life giver' with a further description of her calling, AM KOL CHAY in Hebrew, meaning "mother of all living" or "mother of all life".
Isn't that an unimaginable task? What was she like? We do know she was the prime example of a deeply spiritual, courageous and noble woman. Yet popular media for years has pictured her as some weak-willed figure. Even the Washington Post years ago referred to her story in the book of Genesis as having a more profoundly negative impact on women throughout history than any other biblical story. Recently the news media featured an article on Turkish women. It reported they are routinely beaten and denied any voice in the lives of their family and community. The Turkish government enforces their bondage. This is not good news for the daughters of Eve.
It is true that legally and socially, civilizations have adopted this erroneous and misunderstood story of Eve to fit their concepts of who women are and are not and how they should be treated, or that should read mistreated. Various religions have used Eve's role in the Fall as a rationale for canon law and ecclesiastical positioning. My own father, who was taught better by his Jewish mother, came to view women as foolish, inherently evil and ultimately not worth his bother. I, of course, learned to see myself in the same way and for a number of years acted accordingly.
What's wrong with this picture? What we must not forget is that we have inalienable worth. What does inalienable mean? It means God-given, that which mankind can not take from us. We are each of us inheritors of the legacy of Eve.
Let's discuss for a few moments what that legacy is.
Elder Bruce R. McConkie has written extensively about the role Mother Eve plays in the lives of women today. I quote:
"There is no language that can do credit to our glorious mother, Eve. Eve---a daughter of God, one of the spirit offspring of the Almighty Elohim---was among the noble and great in [premortal] existence. She ranked in spiritual stature, in faith and devotion, in conformity to eternal law with Michael".
We know Michael to be Adam, a prince and the patriarch of the human family.
These are amazing words. Women have for centuries sold themselves short of mortal or eternal value. In America until recently we couldn't vote. The women's rights movement a few years back was an attempt to revolutionize that destructive pattern. It is only recently that legislation was written giving us equal rights with men, but equal pay is still a few eons away.
But in our temples we are taught that our beloved Mother Eve was long-suffering and heroic. So understanding Eve's real role is vital to our realizing our true worth because that can make all the difference.
Picture this: Adam and Eve are together in a beautiful garden. Lucifer finds Adam alone and tries to convince him to sin and fails. He then finds Eve alone and holds out the importance of knowing good and evil to her. She with spiritual perception and intuitive wisdom sees, beyond the blandishments of the tempter, the importance of the commandment that they multiply and replenish the earth. Somehow she understands the mighty importance of that instruction. The world sees Eve as a primary instigator. Her firstborn was Cain.
But, in Alma 12:22, 31 Alma explained that by Adam's fall . . . they learned good from evil. In short, they became free to have a family, free to learn to truly love, free to act according to their wills, whether to yield to the plan of God or subject themselves to the devil, free to enjoy the fruits of the plan of redemption, the plan of mercy, the plan of happiness, free to choose and to be accountable. Eve did the right thing, made the right choice, had the intuitive comprehension to see the end from the beginning. Eve made a noble choice. We honor her. She was spiritually mature.She and her husband, Adam, meaning many, were celestial beings.
Eve learned first that knowledge meant loss of innocence and that it carried a heavy price. Remaining in the Garden was impossible. She and Adam could never progress, they could never be parents or be free to use their agency to discover their inherent potential.
Eve was heroic. She was able to see the great possibilities and promises that awaited all of mankind through hers and Adam's sacrifice. She found that, associated with the penalties of mortality there were also untold blessings in store. What were the blessings? The Plan of Salvation as Heavenly Father explained it to them in conjunction with the atonement. Eve and Adam immediately agreed to it.
And so Eve endured bravely with her husband their metamorphosis from a celestial life to a mortal one where evil as well as good abounded. Their lives were surely filled with hardship, enduring the elements, hunger, the attendant pains of childbirth, fatigue, age, and mortal death.
Yet Mother Eve brought forth the human family with gladness and charity, loving and teaching her children, grateful for the challenges they would bring to her. She was willing to assume the problems connected with a family, but also the joys. She was active in the planning and preparation that has shaped our sphere and our mortality. Now it is true that we are in a mortal world where disappointment, sorrow for sin, etc. are also present, but any success and glory we can have owes its beginnings to Eve's example. And that legacy has been passed on to all of womanhood. It is a glorious legacy. We each have a mighty errand to do. It may or may not include marriage and motherhood at this time, but ours is the errand of influence.
That got me thinking about our Heavenly Mother, our eternal mother. With these examples always before us, we do not have to succeed by the world's standards because when we follow the Lord's admonitions we cannot fail to find happiness and success in even the smallest ways. He supports us in these endeavors.
How I wish my parents and I had known of this special legacy that women are heir to. Let's keep these things in mind as I continue my story.
In my 41st year my brother Mark drove from his home in San Jose to San Diego to bring me a Book of Mormon. He had married a Tongan woman in the mid-70's and eventually converted to the Church. He said "Sis, you need Christ in your life", to which I replied
" I don't need Christ in my life, I am a Jew, we don't believe Jesus is the Messiah." I already had a Torah. I put the Book of Mormon away in the bookcase and forgot about it. That book found a home on various bookshelves and in packing boxes for 9 hard, lonely and financially poor years while I continued to falter in my search for meaning and purpose, working hard but earning little, I enrolled myself as a charter member of the Failures of America club.
Now, as a Jewish woman I had been taught that women are to be loved, served, even revered by our husband and children. We are the heart of a home, the essence of the home. That value is inherent in Jewish culture. But I was divorced. I had grown up in a home where Jewish values were largely thrown by the wayside. The only culture I knew was one of self-denial, self-dislike, hard work with no vacations or a family to spend them with, and general abandonment of all noble values. Instead I believed the common societal views. Unfortunately, millions of women worldwide still hold to the untruth that we are inherently sinful, of less value than men and that we need to somehow apologize for our gender, as though there is something not quite right about it. Hold that thought.
Back to the conversion process:
Eventually missionaries visited me on Mark's referral; but after the second discussion and a visit to the Mormon Battalion church in San Diego, I sent them away. In the First Discussion they told me that Jehovah of the Old Covenant and the Hebrew Torah was Jesus Christ, the living Son of the living God, their Savior and mine. I had never heard that. I didn't accept it. Jews believe Jehovah is Heavenly Father as well as the God of Israel. Here were some so-called latter-day Hebrews telling me that God does not operate alone and that the Messiah of the Jews is Jesus Christ, co-creator with God of this world and that Jesus is the God of Israel. They spoke to me as though I had a mind of my own. They never talked down to me. They told me I was a daughter of God. I was speechless.
From a religious point of view, to a Jew the name of Yeshua, the enlightened, is the bringer of freedom through spiritual light, a teacher, a rabbi. Here were Christian missionaries calling Yeshua the Christ. I could not understand that. To bring the name of Jesus into a Jewish home usually sets off total resistance, ostracism, perhaps even hatred, fear and possible alienation from family members far and wide. I was afraid to believe the wonderful things I was hearing. (Yeshua means wide open, free, hence freedom, liberty, redemption, salvation etc. It also means the one who brings this condition about, hence Savior, Redeemer, Liberator, etc.)
The missionaries told me of the Grand Council in Heaven and said that everyone on the earth was at that meeting where Jesus was chosen to be the only begotten Son of God, that he was and is the Christ, as well as the Jewish Mashiach, or Messiah. It all sounded strange and wonderful, but I was unable to accept it because Jews believe very differently.
The missionaries also said I had a mother in Heaven. They believed I had a distinct and personal reason for being on the earth at this time and that I was given many talents to use in forging a life for myself. They told me I was an inheritor of the legacy of Mother Eve.
Goodness! All these mothers! These were things my earth mother had never told me. I found myself examining my behavior and thinking I should be reevaluating myself in the light of these revelations because I was aware that I did not measure up to the examples that were put before me.
But I could not allow the missionaries to continue. I hated even the thought that any Jew would actually accept Jesus as the Savior. Jews do not believe anyone has yet been resurrected or come to earth as a Messiah. But I was afraid to believe these things, and also afraid of the changes in myself and my lifestyle they would require.
So, in my wisdom, I sent the missionaries away. I was not ready to live a chaste lifestyle. I did not care for the image of Mother Eve that I was presented with. I was working for little pay while attending an expensive college on a state loan and worrying about finances, so I certainly did not want to pay a tithe, although Jews are taught to tithe. In short, I was a worldly woman. Humility and obedience were not my best qualities. I was proud of being a free spirit. I didn't realize I was in a cage of my own making.
But a tiny seed had been planted. It bore strange fruit at first. As I passed an LDS chapel on my way to synagogue, I began to wonder if those missionaries were right when they told me I had a personal Savior who knew and loved me.
So, against all better judgment I began a strange and secret liaison. On the following Friday night I attended services at my synagogue and on Sunday I drove to an LDS chapel. I waited until its congregation left, because I thought they would know I was Jewish and tell me to leave. Stealing inside, I made myself sit there, in a church, and pray. Always, I made sure I was alone and undiscovered. My first prayer was for forgiveness for entering a church with a plea attached that I would not be struck dead on the spot.
When I felt safe and undisturbed I prayed for relief from many problems. I could feel a strong, human presence behind me. Somehow I knew I was being listened to. I knew something was there, but I saw no one. I heard only my shaky voice. It was mystifying and new and very energizing. Even more mystifying was that during the following week all my prayers were answered. It amazed me so much I went to that chapel numerous times on Sundays after Friday night synagogue services. I told God all my temporal and spiritual problems. These prayers were always answered, sometimes within a day. It was a revelation that I could be heard on a personal level and that my requests were actually answered. I felt so peaceful and comforted. Maybe this was what I told my mother was missing from synagogue services.
My life quickly improved. I found a mechanic for my car, all the little problems I had were resolved quickly, old friends called and visited, and it seemed I was filled with a spirit of peace. I made sure to go to synagogue also, just to keep things evened out.
Eventually all my prayers were answered, so I stopped my secret forays into the chapels. But I never forgot what were to me miraculous blessings. It was a completely different feeling from synagogue attendance and very satisfying to my spirit.
Let's reflect again. What was I learning at this point? I was pondering on a subconscious level what the missionaries had taught me. I am a child of God. I carry a holy spirit. I was planned for, I entered mortality on purpose and I am here to progress and to be tested as to my worthiness. I was not meant to fail but to succeed. But my success was not really measurable by the world's screwy standards. This eventually made a walloping big difference in my attitude toward myself and my outlook on life.
I also learned that Jesus of Nazareth, a Jew, atoned with his life for my sins. That made me responsible for my actions and gave me the very guilty feeling that I owed God for the mistakes and sins I had made in my life. I didn't like that feeling.
And I was beginning to realize, that like Eve I had chosen to learn things that tempted and tried me. But whereas she saw the positive, eternal possibilities in the consequences of her choices, I thought that my lifestyle was the only way for me to live because I didn't feel worthy of more. There was also the problem that I did not know how to ask for God's help to change.
So I stepped backward into my Garden of Disorder, to reevaluate and reassess my personal tree of knowledge of good and evil. Pruning was in order. When I'd ventured into the world in my teens I thought I was being wise, I thought my lifestyle was good food, and I partook unwisely. My garden snake was my own errant will and I let it seduce me from the garden of innocence to the lone and dreary world of sinfulness and sorrow.
By 1985, I had almost forgotten my experiences with prayer in LDS chapels. I moved to Oregon to be near my brother's family when his wife died of cancer at 34, leaving 4 small children to be raised. Immediately, his neighbors, stake missionaries, began visiting me, Over my loud objections to Christianity in any dress, they assured me I wouldn't have to give up anything, but only add to what I already understood. I said I wasn't going to be seduced into believing a modern prophet existed or that Jesus was the Mashiach and I still wouldn't allow myself to attend their church meetings. I had been taught to honor my heritage and was not about to embrace Christianity just because I'd had those peaceful, wonderful experiences in the San Diego chapels.
That year my father was found dead in his store in California. He was for a long time a victim of severe depression and he had isolated himself from the world several years before his death, turning his children away. I would love to have cared for him or at the very least to have said goodbye to him and receive his blessing. I loved my father more than anyone I have ever known. But he never wanted my love nor would he give of himself to anyone. I was informed of his death by a business associate.
Following my father's funeral I was deeply depressed. The stake missionaries met me with open arms, which I skillfully dodged. But they kept tabs on me. They were excited to tell me about the Restoration of the original teachings of Jesus Christ, as the first missionaries had done. They said members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were also partakers of the blessings of the Abrahamic Covenant between God and the Jewish people, that the LDS were of the original 12 Hebrew tribes. The missionaries kept knocking at my door. They said animal sacrifices were no longer necessary because the atonement of Jesus Christ was an infinite atonement, sufficient for all people and for all time. They assured me that Jesus came to earth as a Jewish man, that he WAS and IS the Messiah.
I assured them I was not interested in my eternal possibilities or in someday meeting my maker. I refused to consider their words, but I could not forget the happy look in their eyes as they spoke, or the knots of emotion that rose within me. I fought it as hard as I could, but something kept at me, beckoning, whispering. These new ideas were becoming a real problem that needed solving. For months I pondered their words, but I was stubborn and would not pray about it as they urged me to do. The dark old ways were comfy and familiar.
But the Spirit beckoned. Eventually I made a deal with the stake missionaries when they moved to an old farmhouse. I offered to help them pay for and build a room onto their dilapidated barn. There I moved in among the goats, the chickens and the mice, the horse and cow and other barnyard citizens. I vowed not to leave until I had fully investigated their scriptures and my own and come to a definite conclusion about the falsity of their claims.
That Oregon winter was a miserable one, but I hung in there for 5 ½ months, in that cold room with no heat or facilities other than a bare bulb. I was 47, with no job, no money, no husband or children, no direction and much confusion about the purpose of my life. I had nothing to lose, I had to solve the puzzle all these missionaries were giving me. Where did I really come from? Why was I here, where was I going? Why did they care so much what I believed? Why couldn't I persuade myself they were all wrong?
Every woman is special, a somebody of intrinsic worth who has been a somebody for a very long time, indeed, forever. Every daughter of God, born of divine heritage in the spirit before this world was formed, enters mortality already a special, eternal person. Each has proved herself in demanding periods of trial, has chosen the right course and pursued it with faith and courage, and comes here with credentials earned in premortal worlds.
President Spencer W. Kimball has counseled,
"The world is increasing in wickedness. Temptations are greater than they have ever been in the memory of any of us. In the face of these conditions-and they will get worse. We must ever keep in mind that it is the design of Satan to thwart the plan of our Eternal Father. Before the world was created, in heavenly councils the pattern and role of women were prescribed. You women were elected by God to be wives and mothers in Zion, priestesses to your husbands, and eventually gods yourselves."
Well, I didn't hear that talk by President Kimball or any other prophet or apostle, nor was I a mother in any setting, so I had a whole different and far less desirable idea of my purpose in life. But when I entered that cocoon of a room in October of 1987, I entered as a woman with a noble heritage of another kind, with 5 centuries of incalculable Hebraic history at my back. Many times I imagined choice curses were being hurled at me by a billion Jewish voices who had gladly paid with their lives to retain their Jewish identity.
That first step was as if an imaginary threshold had been built for me to enter, which I did with much trepidation and misgiving. I had lost all my childhood illusions by then. My long and short term goal at that point was to keep breathing. But there I was, stepping out of my comfort zone as a Jewish woman with a specific and familiar identity. I'd never thought to question that more knowledge would better define me as a soul with unknown and unexplored potential - but it was at that low point of my life, which the Lord knew I had reached, that the road not taken became the path to enlightenment.
I took with me the sacred books of both religions. These I spread out on my single bunk.
Over a 5 ½ month period in that cold room I read through centuries of the Lord's words, his blessings and penalties, his interventions in the lives of his children, first the Old Covenant, specifically the prophets, with Isaiah as the central cog of the ancient prophetic wheel. As a teenager I loved the words of Isaiah. Now rereading them as if for the first time I read in chapter 43 of the eventual deliverance of Israel, the promise of their release from exile, one of Isaiah's favorite themes. The Lord speaks through this great prophet and tells all of Israel that after she is driven to all corners of the earth she will be gathered again.
As the hours became months, I learned again the Plan of Salvation, our premortal life, the Grand Council in Heaven, the Fall of Lucifer, our first parents Adam and Eve. I read for the first time of Eve's mission and her great courage. Jews know nothing of the Fall or the lessons that can be learned from it. I was finding a role model who could uplift me and speak to me about my own worth and purpose in mortality. These scriptures rang in me a bell of awakening and of gladness and I many times dropped to my knees for verification of these great happenings. But that witness was held from me. I knew I was on the hardest, longest path of my life and that any further life I could have depended on my finishing what I had started.
What new lessons was I learning?
- I am a worthwhile person and woman because I am a daughter of Heavenly Father and I have come to this world because of my faithfulness in the premortal worlds. I am not a failure, but a soul seeking truth.
- I was discovering that the Gospel of Jesus Christ was an essential tool in my life, an implement to discover and develop my self worth. President Lorenzo Snow once counseled:
Though Christ a thousand times in Bethlehem be born,
If he is not born in thee, thy soul is still forlorn.
- My biological father did not have any understanding of my true worth or of my mother's worth as a woman, nor did my mother know how valuable a person she intrinsically was.
- I had been selling myself short in my life goals, which were extremely unsure by that time in my life. I could have a new life and a new beginning, a God-directed life.
- Becoming worthy was first in importance, then finding a worthy mate, one who held the priesthood of God, was next. I might not be able to have children in this world, but there were promises that in other worlds I would be able to raise them with my eternal companion.
- A good marriage with eternal possibilities was what I should be striving for after I had done the work necessary to be worthy of a lasting marriage. That was becoming the plan.
What was the foundation of all this new understanding? It was the news that Jesus is the Holy One of Israel, Jehovah, our personal savior and the savior of mankind, the Mashiach. Jeshua, the name of salvation, prosperity, deliverance, freedom and victory. He was not just another preacher in Jerusalem. He was not a fake Messiah, but he is the Messiah of the world, he is the name of freedom and deliverance from bondage of all kinds. He is not dead, he lives and he has promised to return to the Jewish people, he will persuade them this time that he is and has always been their long-awaited Mashiach. His sacrifice was made in his atonement. Jesus, Yeshua, is the miracle.
My heart leapt within me. My God, I prayed, in awe of worlds opening to me, how can this be? I could not stop, not to eat, not to argue, not to do anything. I sat on that bed whole days and feasted upon the words of Christ and thought about myself as a woman with value, promise, a life outside the barn.
What else was I learning? The Doctrine &Covenants immediately wrote itself into my heart. It reminded me of the Talmud corrected and edited!
I knew it was scripture, pure and exact. I learned there are ordinances necessary for salvation and exaltation. Jewish canon does not prepare anyone for exaltation so we blind souls are like rats in a trap. No saving ordinances of any kind exist in Judaism.
I had stepped into mortality with my eyes opened but somewhere along the way there were blinders limiting my sight. Now I was learning that I had a kind and loving Heavenly Father who was eager for me to know him and to accept His Son and the atonement.
I was also learning that I liked myself this new way. I had worth that didn't come from the approval of a boyfriend or the look of a new dress or any other physical reality. It came from inside myself, based upon my new knowledge of my first, true heritage as a child of God and an inheritor of the nobility and courage of Mother Eve.
Elder Orson F. Whitney described the Fall as having a two-fold direction---downward, yet forward. It brought mankind into the world and set his feet upon progression's highway.
Well, I had already gone downward. In fact, I was so far down I couldn't see up. I had looked to the world for answers but found only empty pleasures.
Finally I had to grapple with the fundamental truth of all. If the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants are true books, then the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the true Church restored because Joseph Smith was a modern prophet, and all that the missionaries had been telling me throughout those years of intense searching, is true. The restored gospel does provide all that is needed for exaltation whereas synagogues deal only with mortality. Temples have once again been erected, ordinances that pertain to eternal life have been restored, and this is the time of the restoration of all things. And my life was not in vain, it had all been in preparation for the future I could have. It was the sentence I was soon to receive that put the cap on everything.
Could I finally accept the fact that long ago in Palestine there was a man, a Jew who came to teach the Kingdom of God to those from whose loins we are all descended? That he, finishing the Last Hebrew Passover with his disciples, walked from that table to the Garden of Gethsemane to begin his infinite atonement. What he did there split history down the middle and echoes throughout eternities. Now, finally I was able to read of this and contemplate the great love our Savior has for each soul who would ever live. I pondered that many, many days and nights. How could any mortal give up his life to God so that no further sacrifices would ever have to be made, then rise from his grave as if death had no claim on him? This Jesus they wrote of, he must have been an immortal being. It must all be true…
I had walked inside that musty room a natural woman. I emerged happier, full of the light of understanding, with faith and especially with hope. The scriptures had nurtured a healthier, spiritually alive "me" with a sincere determination to go the rest of the way.
One glorious day soon afterward I was standing outside the barn when a miracle occurred. A voice spoke to me. It was a heavenly presence, real as myself there next to me.- I saw and heard him. He knew it was time, I was ready. He was truly present as a being. I saw and felt his weight and presence. He gave me one sentence: "It's all in how you think about it."
It was like the truth came at once into my soul! I was filled with joy, with a sudden understanding that I was now truly free to believe whatever I chose. As I stood there I began vibrating from my toes to my head, filling with light, filling with joy, for the first time, knowing that all of it, everything I had read, everything the missionaries had told me is true. My heart pounded, I felt I was growing a new one to fill up new space. At one point the pressure was so great I thought I would burst open.
Then, all at once I knew that this is Heavenly Father's Church. He has a Son who came into the world to save it and he gave his precious life for us in that terrible act upon the cross. Best of all is that he lives. He is Jesus Christ and he is the Jewish Mashiach, our Redeemer, our Advocate with the Father, he is our Intercessor who will plead in our behalf. He is our friend, our compatriot, our heart's desire, our comforter, our Creator, our everything.
Why, then, was I born a Jew? To experience some of the progression and passion of biblical history. To learn that truth is a tapestry of revelations, faith, obedience, repentance, hope. The Old Covenant is not old, the New not new, Book of Mormon not newer, they are all part of one fluid, moving long record.
I was baptized April 6, 1988. In the confirmation prayer I was told my purpose in this life. It is to be a missionary for Christ. The Holy Ghost has testified to me that my mission is to be an Esther to my people through my books, firesides and personal missionary work. I had lived almost a half-century before learning my purpose.
Three years ago I married a man in the Church and we are, after a lot of getting accustomed to each other in our hoary old years, even happy together. In my long and lonely life, in and out of unhappy circumstances, childless and with little hope of finding fulfillment, I have learned more of my true worth and the urgent need to grow in worthiness. I have seen that the prophets of this Church speak the truth with wisdom and foresight that comes of their seership as mouthpieces for the very God of us all. I look also to them for my spiritual well being.
Recently, I listened to our Prophet's wife, our dear and very recently departed Sister Margery Hinckley, who gave testimony of her thoughts on motherhood in a 2003 fireside for women. She said:
> "I don't want to drive up to the pearly gates in a shiny sports car, wearing beautifully, tailored clothes, my hair expertly coiffed, and with long, perfectly manicured fingernails.
I want to be there with a smudge of peanut butter on my shirt from making sandwiches for a sick neighbor's children.
I want to be there with a little dirt under my fingernails from helping to weed someone's garden.
I want to be there with children's sticky kisses on my cheeks and the tears of a friend on my shoulder.
I want the Lord to know I was really here and that I really lived."
In our temple endowment session Latter-day Saint women are reminded that Eve's title as the mother of all living was conferred upon her by Heavenly Father. She understood her mission while still in the Garden and she played a significant and courageous role in the Fall. She exercised her agency to accept a life outside the confines of Heavenly paradise and strove with Adam to attain the privilege of returning to God. How did she do that? By remaining faithful in her God-given roles. She was a devoted wife to her husband and a loving, dedicated mother to her many children. She gave her life to the lives of others. Mother to the mortals to come. So what can we immediately learn from this?
In The Pearl of Great Price, in Moses, chapter 5 we find that:
We have the same opportunities, the same trials, the same legacy to pass on to our sons and daughters, our grandchildren and great grandchildren.
- Our first mortal mother was a noble, forward looking, successful woman in her own right. As she lived she grew in understanding and wisdom. She carried the mantle she had been given with honor.
- Eve knew how and when to exercise her agency because she acted in concert with the Plan of her Father in Heaven.
- Eve kept her covenant with Heavenly Father to hearken to her husband as he hearkened unto God.
- She was a woman who worked side by side with her husband. They reigned together, they fell together, they toiled in the world outside the Garden together, raising and teaching their many children to live righteously.
- Eve understood, accepted and magnified her role as companion to Adam. They acted together, in unity with the knowledge of their eternal worth as separate souls and as an eternal family.
- She never fell to Evil, for her eyes had been opened and she knew evil from good. She used her agency for the good of all concerned.
Let's discuss that a moment. The Prophet Joseph Smith had an understanding of who Eve had become. In a vision he related: "The heavens gradually opened and they saw a golden throne, on a circular foundation, something like a lighthouse, and on the throne were two aged personages, having white hair, and clothed in white garments. They were the two most beautiful and perfect specimens of mankind he ever saw.
Joseph said, 'They are our first parents, Adam and Eve.'"
What does this vision tell us? They tell us much of the rightness of Eve's actions and the acceptability of her contribution. The Prophet's vision was of Eve after her life on earth. She had fulfilled her important assignment gloriously.
Before the world was created, in heavenly councils the pattern and role of women were prescribed. You sisters were elected by God to be wives and mothers in Zion. Exaltation in the celestial kingdom is predicated on faithfulness to that calling.
Since the beginning, a woman's first and most important role has been ushering into mortality spirit sons and daughters of our Father in Heaven.
Since the beginning, her role has been to teach her children eternal gospel principles. She is to provide for her children a haven of security and love-regardless of how modest her circumstances might be.
How many of you are mothers? How many are waiting to become mothers? How many of you are like me, no children of our own but have helped rear and counsel the children including daughters of others? This message is for all of us. When Adam, his eyes now opened, blessed God and thanked Him that they should again be in His presence,
Eve heard all these things and was glad, saying"-and now comes a perfect one-sentence summary of the whole plan of salvation, (Moses 5:11), one of the greatest short sermons ever preached:
Eve says, "Were it not for our transgression we never should have had seed, and never should have known good and evil, and the joy of our redemption, and the eternal life which God giveth unto all the obedient."
Thus, in the beginning, the perfect pattern is set for perfecting the family. The man and the woman are together in worship; they are together in teaching their children; they are together in establishing the family unit that hopefully will endure in the eternities ahead, thus giving eternal life to all those who earn it.
One of the most stirring success stories in scripture is told in the Book of Mormon of Lamanite women who taught their sons the gospel in the home. These two thousand sixty (2060) young men were taught faith in God at their mothers' knees. Later, they exhibited great faith and courage when they went to war.
In Alma 56:47 their leader, Helaman, said of them, "Yea, they had been taught by their mothers, that if they did not doubt, God would deliver them." There is the key-"they had been taught by their mothers"!
Sisters, continue to give love's nourishment to everyone you can in the spirit of Eve. Why? Our need of love is greater than our need for food. Support, encourage, and strengthen your husband in his responsibility as patriarch in the home. You are partners with him. A woman's role in a man's life is to lift him, to help him uphold lofty standards, and to prepare through righteous living to be his queen for all eternity.
The world is filled with souls hungry for the bread of life. People perish searching for the love that lives within them. The world is dying from a paucity of faith in the Master and his Kingdom. We as women and sisters with the glorious calling of mothers in Zion can save the world with love and we can as committed Saints be saved from the world through our love, but it all must begin with individual commitment to Jesus Christ and the principles of eternal life.
Why? Because the seasons of mortal life are only short prologue to the seasons of eternal life. Whatever time we have here is short compared to the work we can do to further the Kingdom of God. What choice spirits we are to be reserved as wives and mothers in Zion at this critical hour!
And now, I will officially declare it Rosh Hashonah with the blowing of the shofar, the ram's horn, which Jewish people blow on this night to call everyone to repentance, renewal and rejoicing. There is order to the nature, sequence and frequency of the blasts blown from the smaller end of the horn, which is not supposed to be altered in any way. Rabbis developed elaborate rules that state broken notes should resemble sobbing, that a long unbroken note must precede and follow the broken ones. Many Jews speculate the Advent of their Mashiach will be heralded by the sound of a shofar and that God will use the shofar to deliver the trump sound of the Advent of the Mashiach.
I testify to you, dear sisters, the truthfulness and eternal nature of your honored place as women, as caretakers in and of our homes and in our world. I testify to you that the Gospel of Jesus Christ, has been restored to the earth for all to know and live. Tonight let us renew our resolve to live nobler and richer lives as Saints in the Zion of this lovely valley, to be stronger, happier and more proactive than we have ever been. Let us attach the name "Eve" to our own. Let her live in us and let us rise to the glory that awaits us, I pray in the sacred name of Jesus Christ, amen.
© 2004 by Marlena Tanya Muchnick