We are in the midst of trying to understand why kibbud av va’eim is classified as a mitzvah bein adam laMakom. We have seen that the Torah equates honor and reverence for one’s parents with honoring and revering Hashem Himself! We have also seen the words of Sefer Hachinuch, who essentially says that these mitzvos vis-à-vis one’s parents is a training ground for one’s relationship with Hashem. Let us not forget that we are actually called banim laMakom, children of the living G-d.
Therefore, it seems clear that we can make our obligations towards Hashem into a template for our obligations towards our parents, and vice versa. Moreover, this will be the very best parenting and chinuch source in existence. To wit, let us look at Hashem as the parent and ourselves as the children, and then extrapolate from what we know about that to our teachings and attitudes in chinuch and parenting.
We will begin with a well known Gemara, cited by Rashi in Chumash: One’s natural inclination is to respect one’s mother more than one’s father [as I wrote last week, ‘respect’ does not mean obedience per se; rather, it refers to filling needs the parents may have, serving the parents as a function of honoring them, as a function of their being, as it were, on a pedestal]. Since the mother is the nurturer, the child more naturally is inclined to show her his or her gratitude for having been provided for. Therefore, the Torah mentions the father before the mother in the fifth commandment, “Honor your father and your mother. . .” as an emphasis and an insistence on having that kind of relationship with one’s father as well. The Torah was well aware that one would hold one’s father in greater awe and reverence that one would one’s mother. This is because the father is the primary Torah teacher, the primary instiller of values, the primary mechanech. This role is more likely to evoke reverence, awe, and perhaps a bit of fear. Certainly, this creates ‘hope’ in the child that the father approves of him or her. However, a child needs to have that attitude towards the mother as well. Therefore, the Torah writes, “A person must fear (or: be in awe of) his mother,” and only then does the passuk mention, “his father.”
These are the two primary emotions that govern our connection to the Ribbono shel Olam as well. We know these as ahavas Hashem and yir’as Hashem. And this is precisely how we should feel. Hashem is our nurturer, our provider, and thus we show gratitude and thankfulness towards Him, and love Him. And Hashem showers us with His love–for everything that exists is a function of Hashem’s love and bestowal of goodness upon humankind.
Nevertheless, Hashem is a stern Father as well. Hashem teaches us right from wrong. Hashem guides us, trains us, and demands that we choose wisely. He punishes us if we do not, but only out of His love for us! This evokes our awe, our reverence, our fear of G-d. This is yir’as Hashem. Hashem is our Father, our Teacher, the Divine Disciplinarian who ensures that we learn His lessons and absorb them. Hashem is our Mother, our Nurturer, our Provider, who showers us with love and kindness. And we, too, fear and love Hashem. As Bartenura writes in Pirkei Avos, love Hashem and fear Him. One who only shows love ultimately risks rebellion; for at some point a boundary must be set, and such a person is accustomed only to a love-relationship. As such, you must also fear. However, if there is only fear, this can all too easily turn to resentment – even hate – and so you must cultivate love!
And so too is it with Hashem towards us; He showers us with love, and teaches us –sometimes sternly –right from wrong.
This is how your children should view you, and this is how you should view your children.
Which means–that (just like Hashem!) for these aspects of parenting to work, it must all be based on love. For even when Hashem disciplines, it is out of love. For everything He does is out of love, even the punishments –fierce though they may sometimes be. If love is not the basis of our relationship with our children –or even if the child simply does not realize this and feel it as well –it simply will not work!
The child in turn must be taught that he too is to love and fear (be in awe of, have reverence towards) his parents. They are to serve as “mini-Gods” for him, for they emulate Hashem in what they do as parents.
This is the basis, the yesod, the foundation.
Here are some of this principle’s logical conclusions:
- A child must learn –as we must all learn with Hashem –not to take his or her parents for granted. Parents are not there to give you what you want; they give you what you need, and dole it out in appropriate measure, at appropriate times, when it is best for you.
- Children should realize the chessed their parents constantly do, and say ‘thank you’ by honoring them and doing what their parents need done. A child needs to revere and honor the parents –not the reverse. Although sometimes the child seems to be the center of the parents’ universe, it should not actually be that way. On the contrary, the parents should be the center of the child’s universe, and as such, the child should never fail to appreciate, and should forever be grateful. For even though the parents seemingly serve the child, at the same time they are teaching the child eternal values, while painstakingly measuring out the discipline needed to make it stick. And so, the child is to be grateful for that as well!
Now think of Hashem and yourself.
- Ironically, the more one gives one’s child, the greater the danger there is of ‘ןורושי ןמשיו טעביו’ –a full stomach, counter-intuitively, is a potential cause of straying. The less a child has (if taught the right attitude), the more grateful he will be, and the more value he will assign to the things that he does have.
- Hashem is more ‘focused’ (so to speak) on character. The rituals are there to form, mold, and shape one’s ethos. So too, parents should be the primary source of middos and derech eretz
–behavior and character. . . The school should teach skills. The reverse, where we have come to rely on the school to teach values and mold character, is not a step forward, but backwards.
Conclusion to come, in Part III