- Rabbi Yosef Goldin
Parenting from the Parsha- Parshat Vayera- Children are a Gift from Hashem
- Rabbi Yosef Goldin
- Oct 19, 2021
How was Avraham able to do it?
No matter how many times we read the famous story of Akeidat Yitzchak, the question continues to leap off the page.
Avraham spent his whole life davening and hoping for a child, together with his wife and life partner, Sarah. Finally, at the age of 100, G-d gives him the precious gift of a son- and all of Avraham’s hopes and dreams for the future of the Jewish people are pinned on this one child. Suddenly, seemingly inexplicably, G-d commands Avraham to do the unthinkable- to kill his precious son and offer him as a sacrifice to G-d.
How did Avraham carry out this Divine demand? As great as Avraham was, and as unique a relationship as he had with Hashem, how was able to garner the strength and willingness to carry out a command that goes directly against our nature as parents, which desires to protect and care for our children against all?
While, ultimately, we will never know what went through Avraham’s mind during the moments of this ultimate nisayon, perhaps we can suggest one specific realization regarding parenthood that Avraham must have reached; a realization that enabled him to fulfill G-d’s commandment.
Avraham understood profoundly that, ultimately, his son did not belong to him. He recognized, in a real way, that every child is in truth a gift from G-d. And while he was privileged to play a role in the child’s creation, and in raising, loving, and caring for that child throughout its life, the child did not “belong” to him. And just as G-d gave Avraham the gift of a child as He saw fit, He also had the right to demand that Avraham return the gift when He deemed it appropriate.
This realization did not mean that Avraham loved his child any less, or that fulfilling G-d’s command was easy for him. While the text of the Torah itself is silent regarding this issue, the Midrashim do paint a clear picture of Avraham struggling internally over his obedience to G-d’s commandment. Avraham was clearly torn. Yet Avraham’s awareness of God’s true rights to Yitzchak lay the foundation for his ability to carry out this seemingly impossible command.
We noted last week that as parents, we are privileged to take part in the creation of our children, and are also given the opportunity to give to them unconditionally and endlessly. One byproduct of this reality is that we sometimes tend to view our children as “objects” that we own and control. Rather than viewing each child as a gift that G-d has entrusted us with, we view them as belonging to us.
Rav Wolbe, in Zria U’binyan B’Chinuch, points out that when parents take this attitude toward their children, it can be incredibly destructive. As a result, the parents feel that they have the right to maintain a sense of control over the child. They may then arrive at certain expectations of, or take certain actions towards, their child in the “name of chinuch”, when in reality these expectations and actions come from a very self-centered and egoistic place. He brings a number of very poignant examples:
- Jealousy- If a parent sees a neighbor’s child acting in an exemplary way, he may become jealous and want to show himself and others that his kid is better. He will then force his child to act in a certain way not out of a desire to educate him, but simply because he is jealous of his neighbor.
- Kavod- If a parent is expecting guests, and he may require of his children that they talk and act in a specific way, in order to impress these guests. As a result, the impressed guests will praise the parents, enhancing the parents’ own self-image.
- Anger- If a person feels that others are disrespecting or disobeying him, he can easily be moved to anger. The potential for anger within the context of parenthood is therefore very great, as parents may feel that their child must obey everything they say. When that inevitably does not happen, powerful anger can result.
In each of these examples, the parents could easily defend their actions by claiming that they are simply trying to be mechanech their kids and treat them to act and behave appropriately. It all depends, however, on the attitude and motivation driving the parent’s behavior and actions. If parent acts out of sincere desire to educate their children and teach them how to behave correctly, then the actions taken are correct. If the underlying motivation driving the parents is a belief that their children are their “objects,” whose function is to make the parents, themselves, look better and feel better, then there is a fundamental flaw in the perception of the parent- one that will ultimately taint the way that the child is educated.
It is safe to say that had we been tested in the way that Avraham was, we would have failed miserably. Yet imbedded in the greatness of Avraham’s action is a fundamental approach to parenthood that must form the basis and foundation for all that we do as parents. We must realize and recognize deeply that our children are gift from G-d whom we are commanded to love, shepherd, and take care of like no one else in the world. But ultimately, they do not belong to us.
Wishing everyone a Shabbat Shalom!
Each time we read the story of the Akeida, the question jumps off the page. How was Avraham able to do it, to overcome his natural parental instinct and be willing to sacrifice his son for Hashem? There was one underlying important perspective on parenting that Avraham had that enabled him to pass this test. This perspective is crucial for us as parents today as well