Yossi Goldin
Yossi Goldin

Parenting from the Parsha – Parshat Vayera – Children are a Gift from Hashem

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 fundamental realization regarding parenthood that Avraham must have reached; and that this realization is what 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 that 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 paint a 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. This attitude may manifest itself in harmless ways when they are infants- dressing them up in a certain way, or “showing them off” to those around us. However, as the children get older, this mindset towards our kids may continue, and potentially be damaging to our kids, and to our relationship with them.

Rav Wolbe, in Zria U’binyan B’Chinuch, discusses the potentially destructive of effects of such a general outlook. He points out that if we view our kids are “belonging to us”, then we will naturally feel the need to maintain control over the them.  We may then arrive at certain expectations of, or take certain actions towards, our child in the “name of chinuch”, when in reality these expectations and actions come from a 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, often with regrettable consequences.

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 should form the basis and foundation for our own approach to parenthood and how we relate to our children. 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!

About the Author
Rav Yossi Goldin is a teacher and administrator who teaches in a number of seminaries and Yeshivot across Israel. He currently lives in Shaalvim with his wife and family. He can be reached at yossigoldin@gmail.com.
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