A rabbi was sitting next to an atheist on an airplane. Every few minutes one of the rabbi’s children or grandchildren would inquire if they could bring him something to eat or drink or if there was anything they could do for him. The atheist commented, “It’s wonderful the respect your children and grandchildren show you; mine don’t show me that respect.” The rabbi responded, “Think about it. To my children and to my grandchildren, I am one step closer in a chain of tradition to the time when God spoke to the whole Jewish people on Mt. Sinai. To your children and grandchildren — unfortunately, you are considered to be one step closer to being an ape.”
Are children more inclined to respect their parents if they think they are one step closer to being an ape or if they believe that their parents are one step closer to being created by the Almighty who heard God speak?
No, I’m not taking a cheap shot at atheists but I would like to wake up a few religious people about the commandment to honor parents and what it all means. According to Rabbi Packouz, the original commandment regarding parents and the related scriptures (see Exodus 20:12, Deuteronomy 5:16, and Leviticus 19:13) actually describe two separate commandments:
We see from these verses that there are two mitzvot (commandments): 1) To honor your parents and 2) To revere your parents. Love motivates one to do positive things; fear keeps one from transgressing the negative.
We are to love and fear (revere) our parents. This may seem more apparent when one is a child. As an adult, we may still love our parents, but we typically don’t fear them anymore. After all, can an eighty year old father or mother send their fifty-eight year old son to “time out?”
But then again, we may be missing something about the full implications of this commandment.
And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
–Matthew 22:37-40 (ESV)
We have a Father in Heaven who we are also commanded to love. In fact, in some ways, it’s by having a Father on earth that we can even begin to conceptualize the Father in Heaven. Of course, the analogy is far from perfect. A human Father can be flawed, selfish, distracted, drunk, abusive, overbearing, hostile, wishy-washy, the list goes on. God is perfect and therefore, all of His actions toward us are perfect.
In quoting Rabbi Packouz above, I immediately thought that the Rabbi’s children would only see their Father as closer to God if he acted in a manner consistent with that impression. It’s not like all kids of all Rabbis, Pastors, and other clergy people offer their Dad’s equal reverence. Sometimes it has little to do with the sort of job the Dad has or what the family’s religious tradition is, but children very much are affected by what their father’s actually do, and mold their opinions about him and about Dads in general based whether or not he acts consistently with his stated principles and ideals.
And sometimes how we relate to our earthly Father is how we relate to our Father in Heaven. If we haven’t learned to respect, love, revere, and honor our own Father and Mother, what sort of model do we have for respecting, loving, revering, and honoring our Father in Heaven?
But then, it can work in the opposite way, too. I’ve heard stories of people who have had horrible and abusive Dads, Dads who have sexually molested their children, brutalized them, neglected them, abandoned them. And yet some of those kids have learned to trust their Father who is perfect in Heaven in spite of the cruelty they had to endure from their Father on earth.
I don’t think the Rabbi and the other airplane passenger had different relationships with their children because the children of the former saw him as one step closer to God while the children of the latter saw him as one step closer to the apes. I think the difference is who each person was as a Father and a man and how each one of them treated his children and most likely his wife, the children’s mother. Children are more likely to respond by what they see their parents doing rather than what their parents say or who their parents even are (a Rabbi vs. an Atheist). It’s a little scary to think that how we relate to our kids may strongly affect how they relate to God.
But how we behave as a parent and as a human being depends on who we are, what we believe, and then how we choose to act out of all of that.
Gather together and I will tell you what will befall you at the end of days.
Prior to his death, the Patriarch Jacob wished to disclose to his children the future of the Jewish nation. We know only too well what those prophecies were, and Jacob knew that revealing the enormous suffering that the Jews were destined to experience would be devastating to his children. The only way they could hear these things was if they “gathered together” and, by virtue of their unity, could share their strengths.
What was true for our ancestors holds true for us. Our strength and our ability to withstand the repeated onslaughts that mark our history lie in our joining together.
Jacob knew this lesson well. The Torah tells us that “Jacob remained alone, and a man wrestled with him” (Genesis 32:25). Jacob discovered that he was vulnerable only when he remained alone.
Some people feel that they must be completely independent. They see reliance on someone else, be it others or God, as an indication of weakness. This destructive pride emanates from an unhealthy ego. [There is sometimes an] apparent paradox that a humble person is one who is actually aware of his strengths, and that feelings of inadequacy give rise to egocentricity and false pride.
Not only are we all mutually interdependent, the Torah further states that when we join together, our strengths are not only additive, but increase exponentially (Rashi, Leviticus 26:8). Together, we can overcome formidable challenges.
Today I shall…
…try to join with others in strengthening Judaism and in resisting those forces that threaten spirituality.
-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
“Growing Each Day, Adar 9”
Part of the Rabbi’s “success” as a father in the original quote was his perception of himself as a Rabbi and as a Jewish man. Without his sense of spirituality and his identity as a Jew who is connected to all other Jews, both in the present, and back across history, how he would behave as a Father and how his children would respond to him might be very different. It might also be very different how his children would choose (or if they would choose) to respond to God.
If you’re a parent, teaching your children about the commandments related to honoring and revering you as parents (which extends also to how they should respond to their grandparents) is a very good thing, but you may be having a much greater impact on your kids than you might imagine. In forging a relationship with your children, teaching them what God expects of parents and children, you are also teaching them what they should expect from God and how to respond to Him as a Father.
As a Christian and a parent, you have a specific identity and source to draw from to define yourself and to define the relationship you have with your children based on what you know of God from His Spirit and from the Bible. While the Rabbi’s children were born Jewish (assuming they had a Jewish mother, and I think this is likely), a Christian’s children aren’t “born Christian.” A Christian doesn’t inherit his or her relationship with God the way a Jew does. Although Jewish children can, Heaven forbid, choose to reject their relationship with God and with Judaism, children born of Christian parents are one more step removed because every Christian must choose their path in life, including a path of faith. It’s even more important for us as parents and grandparents to behave in accordance with our stated beliefs and our faith because unless our children actually see that, we have no hope of transmitting Christian faith to the next generation. Even Jewish parents have a tough time transmitting Jewish faith and values to the next generation, so you can imagine what challenges there are for Christian parents.
That’s why we must make sure that God is continually with us so that our children can see that holiness is our constant companion.
When someone walks the street and thinks words of Mishna or Tanya, or sits in his store with a Chumash or Tehillim – that is more valued today than it was when the streets were bright with the light of Torah. We must not go about in the street with a vacant heart. We must have some Torah memorized, to take with us into the street.
Sunday, 9 Adar I, 5703
Compiled by the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Translated by Yitschak Meir Kagan
For a Christian, that means living, eating, reading, and breathing our faith, spending time in the Bible, associating with friends who are believers, and behaving in every aspect of our lives in complete consistency with what we know we should be doing as a Christian. This is also why it is vitally important for Jewish parents to perform the mitzvot, regularly daven, recite the Shema, and keep kosher.
No pressure, eh?
But what choice do we have? After all, our children are watching.