web analytics
January 21, 2017 / 23 Tevet, 5777

Posts Tagged ‘Parent’

On Being A Jewish Parent

Friday, November 11th, 2016

The most influential man who ever lived, does not appear on any list I have seen of the hundred most influential men who ever lived. He ruled no empire, commanded no army, engaged in no spectacular acts of heroism on the battlefield, performed no miracles, proclaimed no prophecy, led no vast throng of followers, and had no disciples other than his own child. Yet today more than half of the 6 billion people alive on the face of the planet identify themselves as his heirs.

His name, of course, is Abraham, held as the founder of faith by the three great monotheisms, Judaism, Christianity and Islam. He fits no conventional stereotype. He is not, like Noah, described as unique in his generation. The Torah tells us no tales of his childhood as it does in the case of Moses. We know next to nothing about his early life. When God calls on him, as He does at the beginning of this week’s parsha, to leave his land, his birthplace and his father’s house, we have no idea why he was singled out.

Yet never was a promise more richly fulfilled than the words of God to him when He changed his name from Abram to Abraham:

“For I have made you father of many nations” (Gen. 17:5).

There are today 56 Islamic nations, more than 80 Christian ones, and the Jewish state. Truly Abraham became the father of many nations. But who and what was Abraham? Why was he chosen for this exemplary role?

There are three famous portraits of Abraham. The first is the one we learned as children. Abraham, left alone with his father’s idols, breaks them with a hammer, which he leaves in the hand of the biggest of the idols. His father Terach comes in, sees the devastation, asks who has caused it, and the young Abraham replies, “Can you not see? The hammer is in the hands of the largest idol. It must have been him.” Terach replies, “But an idol is mere of wood and stone.” Abraham replies, “Then, father, how can you worship them. This is Abraham the iconoclast, the breaker of images, the man who while still young rebelled against the pagan, polytheistic world of demigods and demons, superstition and magic.

The second is more haunting and is enigmatic. Abraham, says the midrash, is like a man travelling on a journey when he sees a palace in flames.


He wondered, “Is it possible that the palace lacks an owner?” The owner of the palace looked out and said, “I am the owner of the palace.” So Abraham our father said, “Is it possible that the world lacks a ruler?” God looked out and said to him, “I am the ruler, the Sovereign of the universe.”


This is an extraordinary passage. Abraham sees the order of nature, the elegant design of the universe. It’s like a palace. It must have been made by someone for someone. But the palace is on fire. How can this be? Surely the owner should be putting out the flames. You don’t leave a palace empty and unguarded. Yet the owner of the palace calls out to him, as God called to Abraham, asking him to help fight the fire.

God needs us to fight the destructive instinct in the human heart. This is Abraham, the fighter against injustice, the man who sees the beauty of the natural universe being disfigured by the sufferings inflicted by man on man.

Finally comes a third image, this time by Moses Maimonides:


After he was weaned, while still an infant, Abraham’s mind began to reflect. Day and night, he thought and wondered, “How is it possible that this celestial sphere should continuously be guiding the world and have no one to guide it and cause it to turn, for it cannot be that it turns itself?” He had no teacher, no one to instruct him in anything. He was surrounded, in Ur of the Chaldees, by foolish idolaters. His father and mother and the entire population worshipped idols, and he worshipped with them. But his mind was constantly active and reflective, until he had attained the way of truth, found the correct line of thought, and knew that there is one God, He that guides the celestial spheres and created everything, and that among all that exists, there is no God beside Him.


This is Abraham the philosopher, anticipating Aristotle, using metaphysical argument to prove the existence of God.

Three images of Abraham; three versions, perhaps, of what it is to be a Jew. The first sees Jews as iconoclasts, challenging the idols of the age. Even secular Jews who had cut themselves adrift from Judaism were among the most revolutionary modern thinkers, most famously Spinoza, Marx and Freud. Thorstein Veblen said in an essay on “the intellectual pre-eminence of Jews,” that the Jew becomes “a disturber of the intellectual peace . . . a wanderer in the intellectuals’ no-man’s-land, seeking another place to rest, farther along the road, somewhere over the horizon.”

The second sees Jewish identity in terms of tzedek u-mishpat, a commitment to the just society. Albert Einstein spoke of the “almost fanatical love of justice” as one of “the features of the Jewish tradition which make me thank my stars that I belong to it.”

The third reminds us that the Greek thinkers Theophrastus and Clearchus, disciples of Aristotle, speak of the Jews as a nation of philosophers.

So these views are all true and profound. They share only one shortcoming. There is no evidence for them whatsoever in the Torah. Joshua speaks of Abraham’s father Terach as an idolater (Josh. 24:2), but this is not mentioned in Bereishit. The story of the palace in flames is perhaps based on Abraham’s challenge to God about the proposed destruction of Sodom and the cities of the plain: “Shall the judge of all the earth not do justice?” As for Abraham-as-Aristotle, that is based on an ancient tradition that the Greek philosophers (especially Pythagoras) derived their wisdom from the Jews, but this too is nowhere hinted in the Torah.

What then does the Torah say about Abraham? The answer is unexpected and very moving. Abraham was chosen simply to be a father. The “Av” in Avram/Avraham means “father”. In the only verse in which the Torah explains the choice of Abraham, it says: For I have chosen him, so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just, so that the Lord will bring about for Abraham what He has promised him.” (Gen. 18:19)

The great scenes in Abraham’s life – waiting for a child, the birth of Ishmael, the tension between Sarah and Hagar, the birth of Isaac, and the binding – are all about his role as a father (next week I will write about the troubling episode of the binding).

Judaism, more than any other faith, sees parenthood as the highest challenge of all. On the first day of Rosh Hashanah – the anniversary of creation – we read of two mothers, Sarah and Hannah and the births of their sons, as if to say: Every life is a universe. Therefore if you wish to understand the creation of the universe, think about the birth of a child.

Abraham, the hero of faith, is simply a father. Stephen Hawking famously wrote at the end of A Brief History of Time that if we had a Unified Field Theory, a scientific “theory of everything”, we would “know the mind of God.” We believe otherwise. To know the mind of God we do not need theoretical physics. We simply need to know what it is to be a parent. The miracle of childbirth is as close as we come to understanding the-love-that-brings-new-life-into-the-world that is God’s creativity.

Judaism takes what is natural and sanctifies it; what is physical and invests it with spirituality; what is elsewhere considered normal and sees it as a miracle. What Darwin saw as the urge to reproduce, what Richard Dawkins calls “the selfish gene,” is for Judaism high religious art, full of drama and beauty. Abraham the father, and Sarah the mother, are our enduring role models of parenthood as God’s gift and our highest vocation.

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks

The Love Of A Parent

Friday, October 28th, 2016

The great Rabban Gamliel had a daughter who was beautiful and fine. As she grew older, many eligible young men sought her hand in marriage. Finally, she chose a fine, scholarly young man to be her husband, and the marriage was celebrated with pomp and great happiness.

All the great rabbanim of the time came to perform the mitzvah of dancing and rejoicing with the bride and groom and each gave his sincerest blessing to the young couple.

When all had finished it was the turn of the father of the bride. Rabban Gamliel placed his hands on his daughter’s head and said, “My daughter, may it be the Will of the Almighty that you never return here again.”

The young woman was stunned at her father’s words and her heart was filled with bitterness at this apparent ill will. Nevertheless, she remained silent and nursed her feelings privately.


A Child Is Born

Time passed, and a baby was born to the young couple. Once again there was great rejoicing throughout the land.

As soon as Rabban Gamliel heard the news, he made his way to his daughter’s home.
When his daughter saw him, she cried out: “My father, I have a son. I pray that you give me your blessings.”

“I am happy to, my daughter,” said Rabban Gamliel. And once again he placed his hands over her head and said: “May the word ‘Woe’ always be heard from your mouth.”


The Daughter Weeps

When the daughter heard this, she could restrain herself no longer and burst into tears.

“What is wrong, my child?” asked Rabban Gamliel. “Why do you cry?”

“I cannot help myself,” replied the young woman. “At my wedding when I asked for a blessing you wished me ill when you said that you never wanted to see me again.

“Today, when my first child is born I once again ask you for a blessing and you curse me by saying that I should never have the satisfaction of not saying ‘Woe.’

“Why, my father, is it that whenever I seek blessing and comfort from you, you curse me and wish me nothing but ill will?’’

Rabban Gamliel Explains

When Rabban Gamliel heard his daughter’s words he quickly replied: “My daughter, you misunderstand me. Heaven forbid that I should ever wish you ill in any form! Listen carefully to my words and let me explain what I meant.

“When I said to you at the time of your marriage that I prayed that you would never return to my house again, it was a blessing that the Almighty lengthen the days of your husband and the peace and tranquility of your house so that, G-d forbid, neither death of your husband nor divorce would ever separate you and force you to return to my house.

“Furthermore, today when I came to your home in this happy hour of the birth of a son, I blessed you from the bottom of my heart when I said to you that the word ‘Woe’ should always be heard on your lips.

“Consider, my daughter. The word ‘Woe,’ which connotes a sigh, is usually uttered by a person in times of trouble and worry and tension. But my blessing to you was that your little child should grow and be well and healthy so that you may be permitted to share with him all the little problems that go with normal motherhood.

“I prayed that you might have him grow and be normal so that you might have the normal worries of a mother who sighs: ‘Woe, my child did not eat his meal; Woe, my son is late for school.”

When the daughter heard the words of her father she rejoiced and said: “Now I realize that the wisdom of my father is as the wisdom of an angel of the Lord.

“Further, you have now taught me not to be like other women who prefer to read into words curses when they could just as easily find blessings.”

Rabbi Sholom Klass

Honoring our Parents: Can We Learn from China?

Monday, August 26th, 2013

It is well known that millions of elderly Americans are neglected at their most vulnerable time. Jewish law, however, requires multiple times and in multiple ways that we honor our parents (Exodus 20:11, Exodus 21:15, Exodus 21:17, Leviticus 19:3, Deuteronomy 27:16).

The ancient exhortations to honor one’s parents endure into our age. As of July 1, 2013, China has required that adult children take care of their parents. The amended Law for the Protection of the Rights and Interests of the Elderly states that adult children must visit their elderly relatives, and they are prohibited from insulting, mistreating, or abandoning them under pain of lawsuit. Wu Ming, the deputy department head in China’s Ministry of Civil Affairs said, “Family members should not ignore and isolate the elderly. And they should come often to visit.” Today, millions of Chinese workers live thousands of miles away from their parents, families are limited to one child per family, and the tradition values of filial piety have become more challenging to put into practice. But those who fail to take care of their parents will now be fined. This act may be in recognition of the aging of the Chinese population: There will be 221 million elderly (age 60 and older) in the country in 2015, and the percentage will reach about a third by 2050.

In Japan, another country with the longstanding value of filial piety, modern legislation assists families in paying for hired caregivers (although they cannot be family members). Elsewhere, many nations mandate some level of care for the elderly. While the Soviet Union no longer exists, some of its policies survive in the areas it used to control. For example, in much of the former Soviet bloc, the elderly can sue their children for child support, and siblings can sue each other to make sure the money is raised and the burden shared. In Western Europe, eldercare is typically ensured through social insurance programs. The most inclusive policy for the elderly can be found in Norway, where all of the elderly are guaranteed long-term care.

How does the United States, which has traditionally been reluctant in implementing social welfare policies taken for granted in Europe, compare with rest of the industrial world? Currently, nearly 10 million adults age 50 and older care for elderly parents, with little governmental assistance. This number has tripled in 15 years, so now about 1 in 4 adult children provide personal or financial care for their parents. A study conducted by a group of insurance, caregiving, and policy think tanks concluded that, taking into account wages and Social Security and pension money, the average adult who becomes a caregiver for an aging parent spends nearly $304,000. In addition, caregivers undergo tremendous stress, and suffer higher rates of cardiovascular disease and alcohol abuse, among other illnesses. On top of this, Social Security benefits here do not increase when personal care costs rise, as they do in some European nations.

One bright spot is that many adults can now take up to 12 weeks off from work to care for an ill parent (or any other family member) without losing their job under the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993. Unfortunately, this does not go far enough, because this leave is without pay and therefore an unaffordable option for nearly all working Americans. Medicare may help pay for some short-term care, and Medicaid can cover expenses for those with in adequate resources, although these are dependent on individual state requirements, which are constantly under attack today. Currently, as the Medicare website notes, private funds are used for eldercare: “About half of all nursing home residents pay nursing home costs out of their own savings. After these savings and other resources are spent, many people who stay in nursing homes for long periods eventually become eligible for Medicaid.” In other words, if you want nursing care as an elderly person, be prepared to lose all your resources. Other programs, such as Meals on Wheels, are also dependent on state funding (with some federal aid that is also under attack), and we cannot assume that it will continue as is in the current atmosphere of austerity. Other options usually rely on independent insurance or health plans that require additional payments.

While the United States remains a wealthy nation, and many can afford their own care, we should heed Jewish law and truly honor our parents. The rabbis tell a story which is codified as law (Shulkhan Arukh YD 240:3).

They inquired of Rav Ula: “How far does honoring/dignifying parents extend?”

He said to them: “Go out and see what one [non-Jew] did in Ashkelon. His name was Dama ben Netinah. Once the Sages sought merchandise for a price of sixty myriads, but the key was resting under his father’s head, and he did not disturb him…. When Rav Dimi came, he said: Once he was wearing a gold diadem and sitting among the greats of Rome, when his mother came and tore it off him, and hit him over the head and spit in his face, but he did not humiliate her” (Kiddushin 31a).

Even when mistreated and shamed by a parent, many demands to honor parents still remain. To be sure, there are limits too!

One whose mother or father breaks down mentally – He must make the effort to behave with them in accordance with their condition until [Hashem] has mercy on them; but if he it is not possible for him to stand it, because they have become greatly insane – he may go and leave them behind, so long as he commands others to treat them properly (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 240:10).

Jewish law wisely and prophetically notes the mental and physical strain that an elderly parent with Alzheimer’s or dementia can have on a family. However, the law also mandates that we provide some degree of proper care for them. We should not force families to go into bankruptcy in order to avoid placing their parents in virtual warehouses where their parents will be neglected and mistreated.

The thing is that this is not only an ossified, unrealistic demand based on an idealized or no longer extant religious society. We see models for contemporary implementation around the world today, in China, Norway, and beyond. Our parents sacrificed so much for our well-being throughout their lives, when we were not able to fend for ourselves. As a society, we must recognize this and provide for them when they are no longer physically independent themselves.

Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz

Fighting The Tuition Crisis With Financially-Driven Parent Volunteer Programs

Wednesday, July 11th, 2012

A recent CNN Money article focused on how more students than ever are requesting need-based financial aid from the private schools they attend. “Private schools are getting flooded with financial aid applications, and a growing number of the parents seeking help are earning $150,000 or more a year,” the article stated. It also pointed out that “overall, the average cost of tuition at private schools across all grades is nearly $22,000 a year, up 4% from a year ago and 26% higher than it was in the 2006-07 academic year, according to the National Association of Independent Schools.”

To make matters worse for private day schools, the recession of the past few years has adversely affected the fundraising numbers in many of these schools, especially in the geographical areas hardest hit. And if that wasn’t bad enough, once again the Obama administration, for a fifth time has proposed lowering the income tax deduction for charitable giving. By decreasing the value of itemized tax deductions for higher-income taxpayers, the president’s proposal would weaken the incentive for the wealthy to give to private day schools and other non-profit organizations.

In light of these developments, schools must consider new and innovative ways to increase income and reduce costs in order to maintain financial stability and fiscal health. One approach that should be considered is to institute a parent volunteer program. There are many schools throughout the country that have established parent volunteer programs. However, the central purpose of many of these programs is to benefit the educational quality of the school. That’s the objective behind Three for Me, a national parent volunteer organization running in thousands of schools across the U.S.

While enhancing educational quality through parent volunteer efforts is certainly worthwhile, schools should consider making financial goals the primary objective of such a program. By using the time and efforts of the parent body, schools can effectively convert hundreds of parent-hours into thousands of dollars in revenue and savings – in essence, monetizing the massive amount of man-hours of the parent body.

Many school administrations are already overworked and understaffed, so in order for such a program to succeed it would need to be low maintenance and easy to manage. Further, in order to generate the necessary volunteer hours to have a financial impact, parent participation would need to be made obligatory (staff excluded). There is a case to be made for making participation voluntary for full paying families while making financial aid grants conditional on participation. It is not unreasonable to ask the beneficiaries of financial aid to give a small amount of their time back to the school each year. However, in many schools, the perceived disparity would be a non-starter.

A little over ten years ago, the school I manage instituted such a program. We made participation obligatory for all families receiving tuition assistance and voluntary for all full-paying families. Staff was exempt. The results of the program are compelling. From a pool of approximately 200 parent volunteers, annual gross revenue raised totals on average $170,000 while annual costs savings total on average $30,000. The program’s methodology has been fine-tuned over the years so that today not only has it become a vital part of our operating budget, it takes a relatively small amount of time to administer.

Either way, undertaking and implementing such a program is a serious commitment. While the program is not difficult to manage once it is up and running, it can be somewhat time consuming to establish. In addition, there is no doubt that many parents will be less than happy with this new obligation. But by having the parents give back a minimum of one or two hours each month, the increase in revenue and cost savings can bring great financial relief to the school especially in these very difficult economic times.

Finally, it should be pointed out that this is only part of an overall solution. Schools need to adapt many of the best practices in corporate management in order to grow and thrive. Foremost is implementing strong and effective internal and financial controls and then training the staff with the knowledge to execute these controls properly. This should be done in conjunction with establishing proper governance and long-term strategic planning with active parent involvement.

Jake Goldstein

A Thousand Arabs For One Jew

Tuesday, October 18th, 2011

I have three grandsons serving in the Israel Defense Forces. If any one of them were, God forbid, captured, I would demand that every Arab murderer be set free so that my grandson would come home alive and well. I would demonstrate, argue, demand, organize marches, cry, fight, and scream that my grandson be freed.

All of the Arabs lumped together are not worth the life of any one of my grandsons.

This was the approach of the Shalit family and it appears, as this is being written, that their son will, thank God, be coming home shortly.

If I were the prime minister of Israel, however, I would not free even one Arab murderer who might return to kill more innocent children or adults.

How could I decide that releasing even one Arab murderer of Jews was justified? How could I ignore the future tears of parents and grandparents of children who would fall victim to any one of these thousand terrorists being released? How could I forget the tears of children already made orphans by Arab terrorists? How could I stand quietly and watch the smiling faces of the murderers being greeted with such joy by their fellow Arabs?

The Israel government’s action of freeing a thousand terrorists to achieve the return of one Jewish son strengthens us morally – but weakens us physically.

As a parent, I understand the Shalit family and believe that what they are doing is right. But as an Israeli and a Jew – and as a parent, grandparent and great-grandparent of Jews living in Israel who will all now be placed in greater danger by these thousand freed terrorists – I cannot believe that any intelligent government leaders would agree to such a deal.

How soon we – and the world – forget what our Arab neighbors are capable of. The 9/11 atrocity is just a few years old. The monument to the thousands who were murdered is still being built, yet the world is already forgetting.

What do you think the Arab terrorists have learned from previous deals and from this deal? Murder Jewish men, women and children and then capture one Israeli soldier and negotiate for the release of any Arab murderers captured by the Jews. They can kill Jews, they realize, because Israelis are so compassionate and foolish that if the terrorists succeed in capturing even one Israeli, they can negotiate the freedom of many of the terrorist murderers.

To understand the Arab mentality, we need only remember the reaction of the Arab “man in the street” when Israel released terrorists in the past and when news came of the destruction of 9/11 – the dancing in the streets, the distribution of candy to children, the granting of pensions to families of terrorists. And then there were all the celebrations, videotaped for the world to see, glorifying the murder of innocent Jewish children and adults.

What does that say about the national character of the Arab world?

I am impressed by the Jewish compassion for even one Jewish soul. But I am appalled by the foolishness of our Israeli government. Jewish leaders are required to be concerned about all Jews. When we free a thousand terrorists – many with Jewish blood on their hands – we are again proving to the Arabs how weak and fearful we really are.

They understand that by capturing an Israeli boy or girl they can generate a huge amount of public pressure among Israelis to trade a thousand of their terrorists for one Jew. We also quickly forget how many soldiers sacrificed their lives in the attempt to capture many of these Arab terrorist prisoners.

If Prime Minister Netanyahu can no longer take the heat of the righteous pressure applied by families and friends of Jewish captives, he should resign and let someone stronger take his place.

It is not easy being a leader. It is very difficult being the prime minister of a Jewish nation. But it is wrong to free a thousand Arab terrorists to roam the world looking for more Jewish victims. Does anyone think Gilad Shalit’s freedom is worth more than the lives of those who, God forbid, will be murdered by these freed terrorists?

The Shalit family left the protest tent in Jerusalem they had occupied for more than a year and headed home after news of the impending release of their son was broadcast. One commentator suggested that they not dismantle the tent because it may, unfortunately, soon be needed by another Israeli family whose son will be kidnapped and held hostage by Arab terrorists demanding the freeing of other murderers.

I am happy for the Shalit family. (As mentioned earlier, this is being written before the actual finalization of the deal for Shalit’s release; I only hope Netanyahu was smart enough to make sure Shalit was alive before freeing any terrorists.) But I am sad for the rest of us. We may yet end up paying an even higher price for their son.

Dov Gilor is a longtime Jewish Press contributor and columnist.

Dov Gilor

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/a-thousand-arabs-for-one-jew/2011/10/18/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: