Rabbi 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!