The existential philosopher Soren Kierkegaard famously observed, “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” Often the same is true of Torah. Sometimes in order to understand what is happening now, you have to know what has happened before.
Consider the artichoke for a moment. It is an odd but instructive vegetable. An artichoke is prickly and surrounded by an armor of leaves protecting the soft center, the heart of the food. Boiling or steaming it loosens the protective leaves, permitting you to pick them off one by one, unwrapping the delicious gift that lies inside.
The first conversion I ever performed as a rabbi was for a 45-year-old father of two who was in the final stages of liver cancer.
Yuck, skin disease! This has been the cry of many a bar and bat mitzvah student when informed that this week’s Torah portion will be their Torah reading on their big day. I empathize with them, for I have had the same reaction in preparing this column. But as is so often the case with the Torah (and with skin disease), to get to the root of understanding, you have to go below the surface.
In this week’s Torah portion, we meet a frustrated and dejected Moses. God’s reluctant leader of the Jewish people cannot convince Pharaoh to free the Israelites from bondage, no matter how emphatically he proclaims, “Let my people go.” Pharaoh doesn’t budge; in fact, things get worse for the people each time Moses asks. The Jewish people seem paralyzed by fear and depression, further frustrating Moses.
Parenthood is ultimately about becoming redundant in your child’s life. It’s difficult to comprehend as you hold your newborn baby in your arms, but if you do your job as a parent correctly, your services will ultimately no longer be necessary. The art and the joy of parenthood is how to raise a self-reliant child who grows to become a self-reliant adult. How do we pass on to our children the knowledge, skills, values and beliefs they will need so that the teaching will remain with them when we are no longer ever-present?