Father’s Day 2017 – 5777: The Teaching Parent

19225077_10209236683060833_4250001366871363999_n.jpgRabbi Aharon Ziegler has recently published a seventh volume in the series of his monumental work, The Halakhic Positions of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik. Among the various sections of this wonderful book is an entry called The Teaching Parent. The passage speaks about Hashem changing Avraham’s name from Avram, and then he and Sarah being blessed with Yitzchak (I assume this passage can be said about Sarah as well, although it’s not listed here). The Rav asks what the need was to change Avraham’s name in order for Yitzchak to be born. He explains that before the change in moniker, it was assumed that fatherhood and motherhood were natural states. We know that there are inherent biological instincts that are common to humans, and even animals. However, when the letter “hei” was added, explains Rav Soloveitchik, the entire concept of parenthood as it was known was completely altered. This new parent was to be a teaching parent, one who transmits a message to their children.

The passage continues:

The Torah considers a child as a gift bestowed upon parents by God. Man has no right to demand children, for no one is entitled a priori to receive this gift. When a child is born into a family, he does not yet belong to the family. Parents must “re-acquire” the child.

This was the purpose of the Akeidah. Avraham had to prove himself worthy of the gift. Similarly, all parents must demonstrate that they are deserving of their children. God does not demand of us to replicate the Akeidah, but to educate the baby, teaching the child to love and do chesed, and ultimately, to pass on the message of the Torah community to the next generation. The child will then realize the wisdom of “Listen, my son, to the discipline of your father and do not turn from the Torah of you’re mother (Mishlei 1:8).

That is the charge of the responsibility of every Jewish parent. To fulfill the Mitzvah of “Be fruitful and multiply” – “Pru U’Revu,” one must be more than a biological parent. One must be a teaching parent as well.

The message of The Rav is that to truly fulfill the commandment of Pru U’Revu, it requires more than just siring or birthing a child. One must ensure that their offspring have a love and appreciation for what we as a people hold dear.

I felt unsure about whether to write anything publicly about Father’s Day. After my mother’s passing, social media on Mother’s Day can be absolute nightmare, and I don’t mean to rub salt in any still-healing wounds of friends of mine who have lost their own fathers. On the other hand, one is commanded to be makir tov to those who do tremendous things for you.

My sister and I have been truly fortunate to be raised by parents who did their very best to ensure that we would always be on the above-mentioned path. They have forged a derech which at times seems untraversable. I simply couldn’t not publicize my thanks and appreciation for all that he’s done for us. My father a humble, unassuming man, who is most likely cringing if he’s reading this. He has a sterling reputation and has worked hard at everything he’s done in his life. When I once tried to explain what my father does for a living, before I truly comprehended what exactly it was that he did all day, one of my rebbeim remarked “So basically your father is involved in mitzvos all day! That’s amazing!” Totally nailed it. He’s the smartest person I know, serving as my guide in matters pertaining to Judaism, accounting, insurance, and anything else I may have uncertainty about. He takes pride in anything that my sister and I did. He was sure to take time out of his busy work schedule and various synagogue or school board meetings to come and hear Dena and I read Torah or watch me operate the scoreboard at Mizrachi basketball games.

In the last few years, I have been blessed by gaining an extra father, so to speak. My father-in-law is an individual known in his community for promoting and fostering limud haTorah. His zest for yiddishkeit is palpable, and for pointing me to the greatest potato kugel spots, I will be forever grateful.

We are truly blessed to have you in our lives, men who took the mandate of Rav Soloveitchik to heart, and became, with their spouses, “teaching parents.” Thank you for showing us the way, in addition to all that you do for us!

 

 

Belated Torah: Shelach 5777 – Neverending

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One of my most beloved teachers from my time in Israel would implore to his students about the importance of learning Torah on Shabbos. How could we squander the holiest day of the week by sleeping through it? I’m grateful for Shabbos not only because of the time that it gives me to recharge and focus on my loved ones, it also is the day of my week when I am able to learn the most. It’s often frustrating, while studying the parsha over the course of the day, that I find unbelievably inspiring morsels pertaining to the Torah portion that we already read over Shabbos, not giving me any time to share these ideas before we’re reading the next parsha at Mincha. This relegates me to try and write down where I saw these ideas after Shabbos and hopefully remember to use them in my Divrei Torah for the next year. Here, throwing caution to the wind, I will share thoughts that I saw on Parshas Shelach which I found to be very meaningful, regardless of whether or not we’ve moved on from the sedrah.

At the end of the parsha, we read about the mitzvah of tzitzis, something we remind ourselves about a few times over the course of our day.  Rav Shimshon Dovid Pincus writes how although in Pirkei Avos we are told not to measure the importance of the mitzvos we’ve been commanded to keep, as we do not know which are more important, it is clear that the mitzvah of tzitzis is dear. The mitzvah of tzitzis reminds us of every mitzvah in the Torah. The numerical value of the word tzitzis is 600, and with the 5 knots and 8 strings, that is equivalent to 613, the number of commandments we as a people have been given. Additionally, in regard to this mitzvah, there is an extra note about adding a string of techeles in our tzitzis. The Gemara in Menachos tells us this blue thread is important because the blue will remind us of the (vastness of the) sea, which will remind us of the (vastness of the) sky, which will remind us of the Heavenly Throne and the vastness of the Almighty.  Yet, the next two words of the pasuk are just as important as the mitzvah tzitzis being there to remind us of the rest of the commandments. V’Asisem Osam – Not only will we remember the mitzvos, but we must do them! Once we are mindful perform these mitzvos, it’s written “velo sasuru acharei levavchem v’eineichem” that we are not to be lead astray by our own wants or things we see.

Rabbi Elimelech of Lizhensk explains that to merely “do” the mitzvos is not enough. Noam Elimelech says that even though we follow this pattern of seeing the putting techeles on our tzitzis, seeing them, and remembering the sky, ocean, and Kisei HaKavod, and then doing the mitzvos, what happens after that? We do them again! One may think that after following the commandments of Hashem, they are exempt from doing all of them, or any of them again, yet they are sorely mistaken. Just as the ocean and sky are “ein sof”, they have no end, so too does our responsibility to God.

While this adage of the Noam Elimelech makes sense at face value, it’s often hard to find meaning in mitzvos we do over and over again. When I was younger and I would play any video game, my ultimate goal would be to “beat” the game itself. Once I accomplished that feat, the game was no longer interesting to me. Similarly, when I finish a book, more often than not, I will not pick it up again to being reading it cover to cover as I did before. Same with a movie. Not only is it important in finding meaning in everything that we do, the Noam Elimelech continues and implores us that it’s our responsibility to keep ourselves inspired and excited to perform mitzvos. That’s specifically why it says “velo sasuro” that we shall stray, immediately following “v’asisem osam” that we will observe the mitzvos, meaning that even if we feel as if we’re in a rut and do not want to do these mitzvos, we must be mechadesh and find new meaning and significance to what we do.

If one is in the middle of the ocean with water surrounding you for miles, you can feel just how all-encompassing the water truly is. If one stares up at the sky and looks as far as they can in any direction, the sky will keep going even farther than their gaze will grant them. Just like the yam and the rakia are “ein sof,” the Almighty, His Torah and mitzvos are great in their vastness. There is no end to them. As such, explains Rav Elimelech, we must continue to elevate ourselves higher and higher in shemiras hamitzvos. We don’t have to do it alone! There are countless resources, in print and online, that can help us in this endeavor. There are rabbis, teachers, and mentors for each of us. May we all be able to find meaning in every mitzvah.