Tag Archives: parents

Tetzaveh: Our Children Are Watching

The Rebbe and the ChildA 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?

-Rabbi Kalman Packouz
“Shabbat Shalom Weekly”
Commentary on Torah Portion Tetzaveh
Aish.com

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.

children-watchingI 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.

Genesis 49:1

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”
Aish.com

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.

family-praying-picnicAs 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.

“Today’s Day”
Sunday, 9 Adar I, 5703
Compiled by the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Translated by Yitschak Meir Kagan
Chabad.org

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.

Good Shabbos.

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They Are All Our Children

In 1972 I was part of a group of young internationals who travelled to Israel to help defend our land and our people. Communication was rough; we were from South Africa, Britain, Australia, Poland, Argentina, America, France and Russia, and most of us could hardly speak or read Hebrew.

The IDF (Israeli Defense Force) designated me a Nahal soldier – a sort of part pioneer and part fighter farmer. Our base was located halfway between the yellow-bricked, fly-infested Egyptian town of El-Arish and the Suez Canal.

We tramped through sand and desert scrub, looking for any signs of landmines or intruders. I liked to be assigned to the watchtower. No one would bother me up there and I loved to look at the mountains and wonder which one was Mt. Sinai.

For the most part it was blessedly quiet. Our biggest excitement involved a Phantom jet roaring 100 feet above us heading to the Canal.

During basic training I obtained a small prayer shawl, tallit, and a prayer book in Hebrew and English. On Shabbat I would go off on my own to pray.

I wanted a set of tefillin, the black ritual boxes (containing the holy shema prayer) donned on weekdays…I wanted to feel the binding on my arm and the weight of the tefillin on my head. I wanted to be reminded that G‑d is above me. But at Nahal Yam there were no tefillin.

-Jerry Klinger
“Tefillin in the Sinai Desert?”
from the “First Person” series
Chabad.org

I suppose this could be just me quoting a random article because of my support of Israel and my attraction to Jewish religious and faith practices.

But it isn’t.

I recently read another story about the American Girl in the Bunker, a young Jewish woman from New York City to has volunteered to serve with the IDF among 85 combat soldiers on the border of Gaza and Sinai. She’s seen a little more “excitement” than Jerry Klinger did back in 1972:

Three days ago we were just minding our business when we heard a huge explosion that literally shook the ground. I know the floor moved because our coffee spilled.

I didn’t think it could be a rocket or bomb because the warning siren, the tzeva adom, had not sounded. We all ran out to see what the noise was all about, and in the distance, maybe 2 kilometers away, we could see the telltale plume of smoke.

Seconds later, the siren rang and we all ran to the nearest shelter. The shelter is windowless. The room is built to hold 30 people, but somehow we managed to squeeze 70 inside. Luckily there was air conditioning, but it leaked everywhere and no matter where we sat, our bodies were splattered. People were pushing themselves up against the bunker walls to make room for the latecomers. In this chaos, it was my job to get a head count of my whole unit and make sure everyone had made it.

After three hours, we were told by the head of the base’s intelligence that it was safe to leave. It wasn’t for long, though. BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! Three more rockets fell minutes later, this time even closer to us. The tzeva adom rang, but there was no time to find safety. Two seconds after the siren’s scream we felt the earth shake beneath our feet. We were totally vulnerable.

The nights are hell. I cannot sleep. I lie in bed, fully clothed, boots and helmet on, waiting to hear the alarm, waiting to dash out of the room to safety.

-Talia Lefkowitz, volunteer soldier with the Israeli Defense Force Paratroopers Brigade

My son David served in the Marine Corps for four years. On his deployment to Iraq, he was fired on by mortars on numerous occasions but wasn’t in a position to be able to fire back. I can’t imagine what the experience was like, but I can imagine what it’s like to have one of your children in that position, in harm’s way, in combat, at risk, where he could die.

And there was nothing I could do about it.

There was nothing I could do about it the day David told my wife and me that he was joining the Marines (though we tried very hard to talk him out of it). There was nothing we could do the day he left for boot camp. There was nothing we could do the day he graduated from boot camp, except be very proud of him. There was nothing we could do the day he left for Iraq, the day he left to go to war, the day I knew that I might never see him again.

Except pray that God would watch over him and bring our son safely home.

And He did.

Mostly.

Like a lot of veterans, David suffers from various injuries, not as a direct result of combat, but of the conditions he had to serve under. He has a body that seems much older than his almost 26 years (his birthday is just two days away as I write this). We work out together five days a week. I watch him as he tries to repair a damaged ankle, a damaged knee, a damaged back, the pain he can never escape.

He also struggles with numerous emotional issues as a result of what he’s seen and what he’s experienced. It’s not like his personality is different, but his personality is being forced to filter and manage what it was like when people were trying to kill him with mortars, when people trying were trying to kill him by hiding explosives under pieces of trash so he’d drive over it, making it (and him) blow up, when he had to watch people all the time to make sure they weren’t going to shoot him.

This isn’t movie combat like you see in films such as Saving Private Ryan or gaming combat like when you play Call of Duty. This is real life where real people are holding real guns, getting ready to shoot other real people, listening to explosions, feeling the real fear of what could happen to them, and waiting for the next “boom” and wondering if they will be hurt or killed.

But David came home. He came home more or less intact. He’s married to a loving, compassionate wife and has a wonderful, three-year old son. And he struggles everyday with the consequences of having served in combat zone as a United States Marine.

I talked to him recently about Israel and the IDF. He has a great admiration for the IDF and, as a Jew, he supports the nation of Israel. If things had been different, if he had been a little more mature in years gone by, a little more in tune with a plan, he probably would have done what Jerry Klinger did or what Talia Lefkowitz is doing.

Or what Shayna Detwiler is about to do.

I met Shayna at a conference I attended last May. In fact, she was the co-ordinator for the conference and the person who made sure that I had a room, transportation, and everything else I needed to make it possible for me to attend the conference.

And she’s only twenty years old.

I don’t know what to feel. I don’t really know her, but she seems like a nice person. She young, energetic, friendly, outgoing.

Did I mention that she’s young?

I’m not really old. Not like my father, who just turned 80 is old. But I’m older. I see younger people through the eyes of a father and grandfather. I sometimes look at younger people and try to remember what I was doing when I was their age.

But mostly, I look at people like Shayna and remember the day when David went off to war. I hoped for the best and planned for the worst. Thank God the worst never came, but war is war. You never walk away from it exactly the same person you were when you walked into it.

Jerry Klinger told us what he remembers about his experience with war and in many ways it is very uplifting (read the whole article to find out why). Talia Lefkowitz is the girl sandwiched into a bunker with 85 combat soldiers, listening to the explosions and wondering if the next one is for her. David Pyles is still telling me his stories, even though he’s been honorably discharged from the Marines for a few years now.

David is my son and I listen and I become retroactively scared when he tells me something I didn’t know before about what happened to him. I sometimes get scared when he tells me something that’s happening to him now, which might be a flashback to something that happened years ago, and yet it is also happening to him now.

Shayna has parents and grandparents who love her and are probably worrying about her right now. I can’t help them. I’d be worried, too. In fact, I am worried too, even though I barely know her.

But I don’t have to know her. I have a son who served in war but in the end, they are all our sons and daughters…our brothers, our sisters, our fathers, our mothers. When someone goes off to war, they are all our family, and they all belong to us.

And may God go with Shayna and with all of our young men and women. And may God bring them all home again so that we can continue loving them.

I am a New York City girl who came to Israel to defend the Jewish state. I am proud of my service and of all the remarkable young men I have met who risk their lives every day to keep this country safe. I am the girl in the bunker, and I can tell you that these rocket attacks are a big deal.

-Talia

They are all our children.

Damaged Peace

One FleshHonor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you.Exodus 20:2

Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother” – which is the first commandment with a promise – “so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.”Ephesians 6:1-3

Some Rabbis were renowned for the remarkable respect they paid to their mothers. Of one it is told that ‘when he heard his mother’s footsteps he used to exclaim “I stand up before the Shechinah”‘ (Kid. 31b). Several stories are narrated of R. Tarphon. It was reported of him that ‘whenever his mother wanted to ascend her bed, he knelt down and she stepped on him; and she descended from the bed in the same way’ (ibid.).

As recorded in Everyman’s Talmud: The Major Teachings of the Rabbinic Sages
by Abraham Cohen

I love my parents. I’m not writing this blog post today to insult or denigrate them in any way. However as husband, adult son, parent of young adults, and a grandfather, it is “interesting” to find myself colliding with different commandments regarding being a son and being a husband.

I suppose in one sense, you could say that as a non-Jewish disciple of the Jewish Messiah (i.e. a Christian), the commandment to honor my parents does not apply to me. After all, the Mosaic covenant is specifically applied to the Children of Israel; the Jewish people. Yet we see the Apostle Paul teaching the same principle, doubtless from the same source, so I think the commandment crosses over from traditional Judaism to modern Christianity. The Master himself taught us to honor our parents and rebuked those who don’t:

And he continued, “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions! For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and mother,’ and, ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’ But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is Corban (that is, devoted to God) – then you no longer let them do anything for their father or mother. Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that.” –Mark 7:9-13

While Christianity pretty much leaves it up to the individual to interpret how to “honor your father and mother”, Judaism is a tad more specific, as Abraham Cohen writes in Everyman’s Talmud:

‘Scripture places the honouring of parents on an equality with the honouring of the Omnipresent’ –Peah I. I

Besides the quote from Cohen I posted above, there are many other references in the Talmud to making great sacrifices and even enduring insults from your parents for the sake of obeying the commandment to honor them. However, there’s another commandment that seems to “struggle” with the first:

That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh. –Genesis 2:24

“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” –Matthew 19:4-6

There’s nothing in scripture that says once you leave your parents and become “one flesh” with your spouse, that your duty to honor your parents ceases to exist. That brings me to my “morning meditation”.

My wife, son, daughter, daughter-in-law, grandson, and I traveled to St. George, Utah to visit my parents over the long holiday. I know that my parents, though I love them very much, can occasionally be a bit trying. It’s usually pretty minor stuff, such as telling an embarrassing story about something I did in childhood for the thousandth time. They also have questionable taste in restaurants (all-you-can-eat buffets), but for the sake of my folks, I keep my mouth shut.

During our visit, the issue of eating out became a concern, particularly with my wife and daughter. They keep a form of kosher but it’s not so strict that it prevents us from eating at non-kosher restaurants, however we do like to eat at higher than “bargain basement” places. Unfortunately, my parents made one of their “questionable” eatery decisions. We were hoping they wouldn’t.

It wasn’t that big a deal or at least it shouldn’t have been. However, the evening after we ate out and periodically, during the drive home from Southern Utah to Boise, both my wife and daughter brought up how I should have pulled my parents aside and convinced them to pick another place.

I know, it sounds silly, but family arguments are often made of silly stuff.

My wife didn’t want to offend my folks by making the suggestion and neither did my kids. I honestly don’t remember anyone asking me to talk to my parents about it and in fact, until we arrived at the place (it was a Chuck-a-rama), I thought we had decided on eating at a completely different restaurant.

It didn’t occur to me to try to question my parents’ decision because this is what they wanted and, after all, they’re my parents. There’s a certain amount of tolerance that needs to be expressed. I’m sure my kids put up with some of my idiosyncracies and will do so more as I get older (my parents just turned 79). Unfortunately, my wife chose not to see it this way, and I got an earful of it more than once on the drive home…a ten hour drive home.

Between honoring your parents and cleaving to your wife, what’s the right thing to do? I don’t know. I chose to honor my parents and to keep my mouth shut when being criticized by my wife.

I know that it’s a small thing, but these small things can add up.

Men and women are different by God’s design, not only in our physical make up, but in who we are:

When the Infinite Light emanated a world, It did so with two minds, two states of consciousness. One mind sees from above to below—and so, all is insignificant before it. From above to below, there is no world, only One.

The other mind sees from below to above—and so all of creation is G-dly to it. From below to above, there is a world to point to the Oneness.

At the nexus of these two minds, at the crux of their paradox, there shines the very Essence of the Infinite Light.

The first mind descended into man; the second into woman.

That is why the man has the power to conquer and subdue, but he lacks a sense of the other.

That is why the woman feels the other. She does not conquer, she nurtures. But her light is tightly constrained and so she is full of harsh judgments.

As they bond together, the man sweetens the judgment of the woman and the woman teaches the man to feel the other. And in that union shines the very Essence of the Infinite.

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
Two Minds
Chabad.org

According to Rabbi Freeman, her mind is full of “harsh judgments” but at least in this case, I wasn’t successful in “sweetening” those judgments. Peace in the home is of high value in Judaism and probably in Christianity as well, yet there isn’t always peace. Sometimes two valued principles clash and you have to decide between one or the other. Honoring parents or cleaving to your spouse. I made a decision. It wasn’t a disaster. It’s not like my wife stopped speaking to me. But peace was damaged for a time.

Men and women are different. The difference between my wife and I is punctuated by the fact that I’m a Christian and she’s Jewish, but that isn’t the issue here. This sort of misunderstanding or disagreement could happen in any marriage. It happens in marriages a lot and it happens in my marriage a lot. It doesn’t always revolve around a “conflict” between the scriptures but from my point of view, this time it did. I have no idea how to resolve the difference except to let it blow over and move on. It was over a little thing. If it were a big thing, maybe I’d be more proactive. This time, I’ll let it be.

True peace is not a forced truce, not a homogenization of differences, not a common ground that abandons our home territories.

True peace is the oneness that sprouts from diversity, from a panorama of colors, strokes and textures. From the harmony of many instruments each playing a unique part, not one overlapping the other’s kingdom by even the breadth of a hair. There, in the most delightful beauty of this world, there shines G-d’s most profound oneness.

Those who attempt to blur those borders, they are unwittingly destroying the world. Beginning with the crucial border between man and woman—for this is the beginning of all diversity, the sharpest focus of G-d’s oneness, shining intensely upon His precious world.

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
A Different Peace
Chabad.org

God’s unique Oneness is expressed in the unity of marriage. God cannot know discord in Himself but human beings can. We aren’t a perfect reflection of His perfect, infinite light. Where is peace in the home? Where is peace in the soul? Where is peace with God? I’m writing to try to find the answers. Pray that I do.