Last week, my family and I went to Souplantation for dinner. While we were eating, a colleague, Rabbi Morley Feinstein, came over to our table to say hello. He approached my then three-year-old daughter and asked her, “Is there a rabbi around here?” She looked at him puzzled. He responded, “Your mommy is a rabbi.” She responded, “All mommies are rabbis.”
I started to correct her. I explained that mommies could be rabbis or lawyers or doctors or anything they wanted to be. But Morley understood her statement differently. He agreed with her: “You’re right: all mommies are rabbis.”
For each biblical figure, the rabbis had a one word nickname or title. For example, Abraham is commonly called: “Abraham, our father.” Joseph is called, “Joseph the righteous.’ Moses is called: “Moses, our rabbi.” The rabbis considered Moses the model of the quintessential rabbi. Why? All of the patriarchs and matriarchs are spiritual teachers. What did Moses do that was the essence of what they aspired to as rabbis?
This week’s Torah portion begins the book of Vayikra (Leviticus). The project of building the tabernacle and the tent of meeting which consumed the last third of the book of Exodus is now concluded. In this opening portion, God instructs Moses what to teach the people to do in a range of situations. Moses teaches the people how to make sacrifices to atone for intentional and unintentional mistakes and how to bring offerings of wholeness in times of joy. Moses was the prototypical rabbi by teaching the people how to grapple with moments of anguish and celebration.
In reflecting on Hannah’s statement, I realized that’s exactly what parents do too. After the destruction of the temple, each home was considered a mikdash me’at (a small sanctuary). Indeed, parents make a home – a safe place for their children to grow. Within that space, they teach how to reconcile after making mistakes and how to celebrate life.
This Sunday was my daughter’s fourth birthday party. Together, she and I made a Dora the Explorer cake. We made the cake Thursday afternoon, decorated it Saturday night, and served it to her classmates on Sunday. In Vayikra (Leviticus), Moses instructed that the Sh’lamim (wholeness) offering which was given in times of joy was supposed to be eaten that day or the following day or else it needed to be discarded on the third day. This stipulation encouraged the donor to invite many friends to join in the celebration. Likewise, Hannah’s birthday cake was an “offering of wholeness” to celebrate another year of her life.
Being a rabbi (or clergy-person) is one of the most respected professions in our society. Unfortunately, being a “home-maker” or “stay-at home” parent seems to be one of the least-respected jobs. (Indeed, this profession even lacks a good title.) In some ways, clergy and parent seem to be polar-opposite roles. Leading a congregation is a high-profile position, involving lots of public speaking and dealing with hundreds of people. Being a parent is a largely private affair, without much of an audience, focusing intensely on a few precious souls.
Yet the essential task of clergy and parents is the same. Both teach people how to face times of joy and sorrow; and both create sacred spaces where God can be found.
Hannah was right. All mommies and daddies are rabbis.