Sunday, August 31, 2014 Elul 5, 5774

The Lengths We Go to Protect Our Children

November 8, 2007
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TOLDOT, Genesis 25:19-28:9

It's tough being a parent today. Andy Reid, head coach of the Eagles, knows that well; after all, he manages strong men on the gridiron, but apparently seems to have much more difficulty managing men in his own home.

Yet I empathize with his situation.

The enemies that stalk our children are omnipresent and formidable. Parents today must confront threats on the Internet, bullies in the schoolyard, drugs, television, secularism, narcissism and ever-increasing violence in all segments of society.

Go to any bookstore these days, and you'll find more written on effective parenting than almost any single self-help topic out there.

When we give birth, we are filled with hope and love. Sometimes, hope is dashed, but surely, love never is.

Our patriarchs had an equal amount of tzuris in their homes. Much is written about the family dynamic of our patriarchs -- Isaac, Rebecca, and their twin sons, Esau and Jacob.

Not all of the material is positive, for there were many mistakes made by parent and child alike. Soon after the twins' birth, we learn that the parents played favorites; Isaac preferred Esau, and Rebecca favored Jacob.

In spite of these negative messages, there is another very positive theme that cannot be ignored -- one applicable not only to the figures of our portion, but to all of the patriarchs and matriarchs. They care deeply for their families, their welfare and their success, and they are prepared to make sacrifices in order to secure the best for them.

Setting Them Free
If Vayera deals with the willingness of children to make sacrifices for their parents, this portion teaches us of the sacrifices parents make for their children. Sometimes, there will even be cases of cutting corners in order to make sure that they are protected.

Again, we may not always agree with or be sympathetic to such actions, but we understand their motivations, and can learn much from closely studying these events.

Rebecca is prepared to have Jacob deceive Isaac in order to obtain the blessing that is intended for Esau. She feels that Jacob is more worthy of it than his older brother. So, taking advantage of Isaac's failing eyesight and his growing infirmity, she convinces Jacob to disguise himself as Esau, and thereby receive the blessing of the elder instead of the younger twin.

While we may correctly challenge Rebecca and Jacob for their actions and find them lacking, it is possible to see a positive note in this behavior.

Rebecca knows that Jacob is the correct person to carry on the covenanted relationship. Jacob has a more refined soul, a greater devotion to his heritage, and a strong sense of responsibility to his family and community.

In the end, Isaac and Rebecca agree that Jacob must flee home, not only for his safety (to escape the wrath of Esau), but also to ensure that he finds a suitable wife, which he apparently cannot do locally.

The devotion of Isaac and Rebecca to their son leads them to let go of that which is most precious. Both forfeit their joy today so as to ensure the future. And there seems to be no expectation of personal rewards.

Franz Kafka writes in his Diaries, "Parents who expect gratitude from their children are like usurers who gladly risk their capital if only they receive interest."

When we decide to have children, we never really know how they'll turn out. Of course, we pray that they will bring blessings, but even if they don't, we nonetheless never lose our love for them. A parent's devotion, even when flawed, is inspiration and should serve to inspire us all.

Rabbi Gregory S. Marx is the rabbi of Congregation Beth Or in Spring House.

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