Parenting with the Parsha — Bereishit

Every year, as we approach the Torah reading of Bereishit, I experience tremendous excitement and anticipation at the opportunity for a fresh start. Like a new year’s resolution, I plan that this year I will manage to keep up to date with reading through the parsha (Torah portion) each week. Some attempts I manage better than others, but each year I relish the chance to begin again.

This year, once more, I aim to read through the parsha. In addition,  I intend to use it as a springboard to explore ideas or insights that will focus on parenting through the lens of the parsha. This is not because I profess to be an expert on either topic. Rather, it is borne out of my struggle with, and passion for, both of these areas.  A way to incorporate them into my life on a regular basis as we move through the annual Torah reading cycle.

Already in this first week, we see not just the creation of the world, of human beings, but also of the first parents. I am a parent of four children. I am also a parent to myself. Rabbi Leib Keleman teaches that we are all parents: our soul is the adult and our physical body is the child that needs to be educated.

However, this first act of parenting was a disaster. Adam and Chava had two sons, Cain and Abel. As the Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, Rabbi Mirvis, points out in a piece he wrote on Bereishit (2016) “one was murdered and the other was a murderer.”

This is shocking, terrible, tragic.  Furthermore, the Chief Rabbi points out that there is no one else around to blame, no family, no peers, not even the media…

Yet I would add that there was also no support available — Adam and Chava did it alone. It is imperative that we find or create our own support network. They say it takes a village to raise a child, yet these first parents certainly didn’t have a community to guide and aid them.

Is it fair to blame the parents? In my favourite line of his essay, Chief Rabbi Mirvis says that “in order to be able parents, we shouldn’t raise a child like Cain.”

It would be hubris and ill-informed to assume that we have full control over how our children turn out. That responsibility must be shared with our children. They are not our possessions, we don’t own or control them. Our children will, and should make their own choices.

However, we also cannot abrogate responsibility. We have a huge impact on our children and can shape their decisions and futures. Taking responsibility is a central theme in this week’s parsha. We see it over and over again, whether it is in Adam and Chava’s response to God after eating the fruit, or to Cain’s reaction after committing fratricide.

There may not be a qualification to attain to become parents, but it doesn’t mean that the skills come naturally. Parenting is not intuitive, it requires instruction, guidance, and practice.  Nowadays we are fortunate enough to have the availability and accessibility of so many books, resources, and courses, we should avail ourselves of them.

It is our job as parents to learn more and become better guides in order that we can do our best to ensure that our children don’t turn out like Cain.

I look forward to sharing this journey of parenting and parsha with you.

Shabbat Shalom

About the Author
Ilana Harris is a teacher and educational consultant. She lives in Jerusalem with her husband and four kids.
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