Posted by Rabbi Ilana Grinblat
Buying Mother’s Day cards was hard for me this year. It was the first time I wasn’t purchasing a Card for my mother – who died last year, just a few days after Mother’s Day. Also the store’s selection didn’t include all the types of cards I needed – such as step-mother. The card aisle didn’t seem to know that families could be complex.
In reviewing the cards, I noticed that the cards describing the “perfect” moms who are the “best in the world” were rather sappy and over the top. Hallmark didn’t seem to know that mothers (like all people) might have some faults too. (I know I do!)
This week’s Torah portion sheds some light on the complexity of parenthood. The parasha begins with a genealogy, saying: “These are the generations of Aaron and Moses in the day that the Lord spoke with Moses in Mount Sinai.” Then the text proceeds to list Aaron’s sons. The rabbis rightly wondered: Why was Moses listed as a father of Aaron’s children?
Rashi, the pre-eminent eleventh century commentator answered that the sons were called Moses’ descendents “because he taught them Torah.” He explained: “This teaches that anyone whoever teaches his friend’s child Torah is accredited as the bearer of the child.” Therefore, Rashi understood that the essence of parenthood was not biology – but rather the imparting of wisdom from one generation to the next.
Like all biblical characters, Moses and Aaron had both incredible strengths and weaknesses. Moses was surely the greatest leader of the Jewish people, who received the Torah and led the people through forty tough years in the desert. The Torah also describes Moses as something of a workaholic, who repeatedly put his communal leadership above his family. (Exodus recounts that Moses’ father-in-law Jethro once advised Moses who was previously working from “morning to night” and encouraged him to set up a system of judges to help him.)
Aaron was a great peace-maker and caring priest for the people. He was devoted to family, but he too had his faults. He was overly permissive, particularly when he allowed the people to build the golden calf.
In the Torah, there are no saints – just real characters with great achievements and shortfalls too. Unlike the Hallmark cards, the fathers and mothers in the Torah are far from perfect, but they seem more real. They can teach us more about life, precisely because they are flawed human beings. We learn both from their achievements and their mistakes.
Unlike the card aisle, the Torah understands that our parents may or may not be our biological mother or father. Yet through our parents’ successes and even failings, they teach us how to live. Like the biblical matriarchs and patriarchs, our parents give us the sacred legacy of their life’s story. Write that in a Hallmark card.
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May 5, 2010 | 3:14 pm
Posted by Rabbi Ilana Grinblat
This past Sunday, my family and I went to a carnival for Lag B’omer. The celebration took place in the middle of a major street which was closed to traffic and filled instead with rides and booths. The day was hot, and the sun beat down upon us as we stood in line for the rides. But when the kids went on the rides, they smiled from ear to ear and waved. When they climbed the slide, I was amazed by my three year-old daughter Hannah’s agility and bravery as she scaled up without a second thought. I was particularly glad to see my six-year-old son Jeremy push her up when she needed an extra lift.
The afternoon was a manic experience. Most of the time, I was hot and bored in line, but then I was happy watching them enjoy the rides. Reading this week’s portion also feels like bi-polar mood swings. This week is a double portion called B’har-B’hukkotai (On the Mountain-In My Laws). B’hukkotai lists wonderful blessings for following God’s commandments and gruesome curses for disobeying. The blessings are absolutely beautiful and uplifting to read, and the curses are downright disgusting and depressing.
The balance also seems out of whack. The blessings are eight verses long while the curses go on for 27 verses – outnumbering the blessings by more than a three to one ratio. The rabbis wondered why the portion dwells on the negative. Several commentators noted that although the curses outnumber the blessings, the blessings outweigh them in quality. The good counts more than the bad.
Indeed, in reviewing our afternoon at the carnival if I added up the number of annoying minutes compared to the joyful minutes, the irritating moments would certainly win by a wide margin. We probably spent 30 minutes waiting for every 2 minutes on the ride. Likewise, if I were to honestly tabulating the experience of parenting as a whole, the moments of frustration would outnumber those of joy. (For example, during pregnancy I spent most of the time feeling sick and miserable, but had some few moments of wonder at how my body was changing. During my children’s infancy, I spent most of an exhausted fog – with some incredible times holding and nursing the baby.)
However, life is not a simple math problem. The good moments mean more. The image of Jeremy helping Hannah on the slide is one I will carry with me long after I forget how hot and bored we were in line.
The next morning, I overheard Jeremy say to Hannah, “Remember how we went on the slide together yesterday? Wasn’t that fun?” She nodded and I smiled, and thought the commentators were right. The blessings of life surely outweigh the rest.