Most holidays commemorate ancient historical events or celebrate significant religious themes. Mother’s Day is a relatively new (since 1914) American holiday honoring motherhood. It is a good occasion for Jews to honor not only their physical mothers, but also their spiritual mothers: including the non-Jewish mothers and grandmothers of converts to Judaism.
When the Baal Sham Tov heard what happened to Count Valentine Potocki, a young Polish nobleman who secretly converted to Judaism, and was later arrested and burned alive in the center of Vilna in 1749; he said that Potocki’s soul was a Gilgul (reincarnation) of parts (sparks) of the soul of both Sarah and Ruth, who also were not born to a Jewish mother, but whose grandchildren became devoted Jews.
Indeed, there is something special about the non-Jewish mother’s and grandmother’s of most converts to Judaism. Ruth was the most famous female convert to Judaism. One of her descendants was the father of King David.
According to a Midrash the souls of all future converts to Judaism were also standing at Sinai. Perhaps the special non-Jewish grandmother’s who rejoice when they are blessed by Jewish grandchildren are descendants of the ‘mixed multitude’ of non-Jews who joined the Jews when they escaped from Egypt and also stood with them at Mount Sinai.
According to Sefer HaPliyah a 14th century Kabbalistic text, most converts to Judaism are gilgulim- reincarnated Jewish souls from previous generations that were lost to the Jewish people, who are now returning home to their original people. Since Potocki left no children, his soul would be reborn in a Gentile body and then someday would return (convert) to the Jewish people again.
Jewish mystical teachings relate that the souls of Jews who were cut off from the Jewish people, without leaving physical descendants to propagate their Jewish lineage, will reincarnate in later generations in the bodies of close friends or extended family, who 3-7 generations later will revert to Judaism. Perhaps these special non-Jewish grandmothers are descendants of such Jews who begin the return for their grandchildren.
An example of this kind of special type of non-Jewish mother from England was recounted several years ago by Rabbi Barbara Borts: One of the most touching conversions I ever did was a young girl of 11, brought to me by her mother, to discuss Judaism.
The mother was a widow, living back at home with her mother and her father, who was a minister. This girl had done some research on Hanukkah for her school class, and in the process both loved what she learned and discovered that her late father’s grandfather was a German Jew.
I asked her mother why she would support this. Her response was that her two daughters were no longer going to church, and she was delighted that one of them had found a religious home. When I said that I could not imagine doing what she was doing if the positions were reversed, she said, ”It’s different for Jews, after the Holocaust and all.”
So, the girl started Hebrew school classes, and attending services. I moved a couple of years later, and bequeathed her to the next rabbi. Some years later, we met up again when she was in University.
She had converted, changed her name permanently, was an active member of a Jewish student organization, and planed to become a Rabbi; she may even now be in rabbinical school.”
So I urge the tens of thousands of devoted Jewish families who may have been blessed by a non-Jewish spiritual mother or grandmother to celebrate their mazal on Mother’s Day.