Wednesday, October 31, 2012

He's Come To Take His Children Home (Robert Hunter & Jerrry Garcia - "Uncle John's Band")

Now that our daughter’s Bat Mitzvah has passed, life has almost returned to normal. Yes Hurricane Sandy has affected us as several members of our family several friends from the New York Metropolitan area remain stranded with us for the week. However, despite the continued tumult and chaos that arises in these types of situations, we have adamantly tried to get our children back into the normal groove of their everyday lives and everyday schedules. This has been no easy task. They would prefer to be socializing with family and friends. With the fear of missing out on something, getting them to sit down and do homework has been a little more challenging. With the fear of missing out on something, getting them to bed has been a little more challenging. Because we have guests staying with us, our kids are astute enough to realize that we may be a bit more permissive than we ordinarily are. So, they try to push some of the limits, as well they should.  In these circumstances, I tend to play the Big Meany and enforce bedtime and schedules. Yes, this leads to some conflict between me and my children. However it also leads to conflict within me. Sure, I would love to let them stay up with cousins, aunts, uncles and friends. Absolutely, these are not ordinary circumstances, so what is the big deal if they stay up late, go to school a little late, and miss an extra-curricular activity? The big deal is that I would be selfish to keep them up and not have them on their schedule.   

This week’s Parsha is Vayeira. The narrative and adventures of Avraham the Patriarch continue. While healing from his ritual circumcision, he fulfills the mitzvah of Hachnasat Orchim, hospitality. He negotiates with God and reduces the number of righteous people that must be found in S’dom and Amorrah in order to prevent its destruction. The narrative of Avraham is interrupted as we read the narrative of Lot, the two Angels (the same two that had visited Avraham at the beginning of the parsha), the destruction of the city, and the impure relationship that results when the survivors think that world has been destroyed. The narrative returns to Avraham as its focus and he and his wife Sarah give birth to a son (Yitzchak), the banishment of Hagar and Ishmael (Avraham’s first born son and his concubine) and the final test of his belief, the Akeidat Yitzchak – the Offering of Isaac.While the narrative highlights Avraham’s faith in God, and certainly a man worthy of receiving God’s covenant; the Parsha is replete with parent’s ill treatment of children. Avraham was willing to offer his son Yitzchak as a way of indicating his faith in God. Lot, (Avraham’s nephew) was willing to give up his daughter to the Sodomite mob in order to protect his two guests: the visiting angels. Avraham and Lot’s behavior, from a parental standpoint, is reprehensible. Certainly Lot’s behavior is more troubling since his misplaced and extreme display of hospitality came at the expense of voluntarily offering his daughters as replacements for the mobs desire for the guests.

However, as troubling as these examples of negligent behavior are, even more troubling is Hagar’s behavior. Upon her and her son’s banishment from Avraham’s camp are the six verses that describe how Hagar and Ishmael are saved.  The water runs out and Hagar places Ishmael in the shade beneath a tree. VaTeilech VaTeishev Lah Mi’Neged Harcheik Kimtachavi Keshet Ki Amrah Al Ereh B’Mot HaYeled Va’Teishev MiNeged VaTisah Et Kolah VaTeivkShe went and sat herself down at a distance, some bowshot away, for she said, “Let me not see the death of the child.” And she sat at a distance, lifted her voice and wept (Gen. 21:16). On the one hand we can understand the mother unable to deal with the pain of watching her son die. Rashi explains that the term Va’Teishev MiNeged is mentioned twice. It suggests Keivan Sh’Karav LaMut Hosifa l’Hitracheik that she moved even further away from her son. As his moaning and sighing and crying intensified, she tried to move further and further out of earshot because she was so uncomfortable. Rather than setting aside her discomfort and caring for her dying son, she all but abandoned him. The text then tells us, Va’Yishmah Elokim et Kol HaNa’arand God heard the cry of the youth (Gen. 21:17). God did not respond to Hagar’s outcry and her anguish. God responded to the child. Ishmael’s survival was not due to the merit of his mother, but rather because of the merit of his father.

Parenting is no easy task. Quite often it is thankless. As parents we are constantly forced to make choices. Some of our choices are truly tests in our faith in God. Some of our choices leave us feeling that we are stuck between choosing the between “bad” and “worse”. However by abdicating our responsibility, by walking away from our responsibilities and choices, by walking away from comforting our children, it seems that we are fundamentally neglecting our children. As parents we have a responsibility to our children, to pass along morals, values, and Torah. As parents we have the responsibility of passing along life to our children, both physical as well as spiritual. So, I put our kids to bed, and I see how tired they are. They realize how tired they are. They understand that in my own way, I care very deeply about their health and welfare. While they may be upset with me, I tell them that I love them, and they tell me the same.

Rav Yitz

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