Parenting from the Parsha: Parshat Yitro — ‘Seeing G-d as Our Father’

In this week’s parsha, Am Yisrael receives the Ten Commandments from G-d, engraved on the two Luchot Habrit, the stone “Tablets of the Covenant.”

Many commentaries point out that if we look closely, a pattern emerges within the commandments, a natural split between each of the tablets. The first five commandments, those listed on the first tablet, are mitzvot bein adam laMakom, laws between man and G-d, whereas the latter five commandments, those listed on the second tablet, are mitzvot bein adam Lachaveiro, laws between man and his fellow man. This division, suggest the commentaries, points to the crucial balance that we must develop within our own lives. We are challenged to lead lives that focus both on our relationship with G-d and on our relationship with those around us.

Other commentaries argue, however, that, upon further reflection, this analysis does not compute. While the first 4 commandments do, in fact, fall into the category of commandments between man and G-d; the 5th commandment, “Honor your father and your mother”, seems to break the pattern. This commandment apparently exists within the realm of bein adam lachaveiro, between man and man. Why, then, is the commandment found in the first tablet, which is meant to contain mitzvot that are bein adam lamakom?

The commentaries answer by quoting a crucial idea that emerges from the Gemara Kiddushin 30b. The gemara explains that there are three partners in the creation of man- G-d, mother, and father. Therefore, concludes the gemara, when a person honors his parents, it is considered as if Hashem was also present and therefore honored as well. With this in mind, we can now understand why the commandment of honoring one’s parents is included in the list of mitzvot bein adam lamakom. Due to the unique partnership between G-d and parents, the mitzva of Kibbud Av Va’eim contains elements of both bein adam lachaveiro and bein adam lamakom. In fact, perhaps we can suggest that this mitzvah is uniquely situated as the 5th of the Ten Commandments, at the end of the mitzvot bein adam lamakom, in order to represent the transition between those mitzvot that are bein adam lamakom to those that are bein adam lachaveiro.

This message highlights the fundamental partnership that we as parents have with Hashem. Clearly, G-d does not simply partner with us in the physical creation of our children, but He partners with us in raising them as well. As we mentioned in our piece on Parshat Vayishlach, many aspects of child-rearing are beyond our control — and concerning those aspects, our recourse is to daven to Hashem that He guide us and our children on the correct path.

An even deeper, crucial message, however, emanates from this Talmudic passage. As parents, it is our responsibility to cultivate the sense within our each of our children that G-d is his/her Father.

We relate to G-d in many ways. Perhaps the two most basic of these ways is expressed in the famous tefilla אבינו מלכינו — “our Father, our King”. At certain times in our lives, we relate to Hashem as our King, a higher authority whom we are commanded to obey, and can reward or punish accordingly. Other times, we relate to Hashem as our Father, a caring parent who loves us and takes care of us. Throughout our lives, our connection to G-d vacillates between these two extremes, as life experiences shape the nature of this special relationship.

But what about our children- which image of Hashem should we stress to them- the image of Hashem as a King or as a Father? For while we clearly need to teach them both, where should the emphasis be placed?

In previous generations, the image of Hashem as King was the more dominant theme educationally and religiously. The concept of an all-seeing G-d who oversees a system of “reward and punishment” was central to religious education. We were encouraged to do the right thing primarily to attain a favorable judgment from the “heavenly court.” This approach ultimately led to the proverbial “Jewish guilt” with which we are familiar. One could argue, however, that this was the correct approach at the time- as it encouraged generations of Jews to follow G-d and His mitzvot.

I would suggest, however, that for today’s generation, a fundamental shift is required in how we present G-d to our children. Rather than focusing G-d as King, we must focus on G-d as our Father. We need to raise our children with a sense of deep connection to an Almighty who cares about them deeply, and who loves them as a parent loves a child. Our children must be taught to actively strive to feel G-d’s presence in their daily lives and they must be given the sense that He, in turn, yearns for a deep relationship with them. More than anything else, our children need to feel the warm embrace of G-d.

Of course, we cannot neglect to impart to our children that Hashem is also our King, who has commanded us Mitzvot and has expectations, and even demands, of us as people and as Jews. But we must make sure that this awareness does not turn into a method for “guilting” our children into doing the things. Such a method will ultimately backfire. Rather, we should help them realize that the Mitzvot and demands of our tradition are to not burdens borne in response to Hashem’s authority, but rather as gifts rising out of His relationship with us, and His desire for a connection with each of us.

On a personal note- I mentioned in an earlier piece that each Friday night, after giving each of my children the standard Shabbat bracha that fathers give to their children, I take a minute to share a more personal bracha with each of them. While the content of the personal bracha varies from week to week, I end every bracha with each child with the following words — “and always remember that no matter what, Abba, Eema, and Hashem love you so much”. In my mind, these words capture the message that I feel is so important for the children of this generation- that as parents, we will always love them no matter what, and that Hashem, as their Father in Heaven, will always love them as well.

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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