This morning, I participated in a program for the religious school parents who brought their children to Temple Solel's Sunday morning program. Thanks to Rabbi Kurtz-Lendner for organizing the program, and of course for the introduction and for his participation.
Our topic was "Married With Children" - though we left Al Bundy and his machinations out of the equation.
Instead, our focus was on lessons to be learned from our forefathers and mothers, in the Torah portions of yesterday (Chayei Sarah) and this coming Shabbat (Toldot).
With a merging of drama and discussion, we focused on five points to be learned from the ways in which Abraham, Isaac and Rebekah raised their children.
1. Abraham makes a concerted effort to help his son find a spouse.
While most of us do not experience parental involvement in the choosing of our mate, as parents we can be involved in the process leading up to important life decisions our children make.
2. Rebekah recognizes the different nature of each child
From the time she was pregnant with her twins, she knew each one was different. Even twins can be dramatically different from each other. It is important to recognize the differences and never to assume that just because they are being raised in the same home that the same methods will work for both (or all) of them. And, of course, to relate to each child in a different way, in a way suitable to the needs of the individual child.
We compared this to the Cain and Abel story (interestingly, Esav is a farmer and Jacob is a shepherd, which are the same professions as Cain and Abel respectively). Cain and Abel each brought an offering to God: Abel's was accepted and Cain's was rejected. Abel had brought the choice of his flock, while Cain had brought secondary items.
It was not that God compared Cain's secondary offering to Abel's choice offering. Cain was compared against himself, and what he could have brought had he only cared more.
Children should never be compared to one another. They should only be measured against their own potential.
3. Isaac and Rebekah parent differently - and love their children differently
The Torah tells us that Isaac loved Esav because of the 'food he put in his mouth,' while Rebekah simply 'loved Jacob' - with no reason attached.
While a parent may "prefer" one child over another - and it also may depend on the day - it is never a good idea to express this to children. There are no favorites.
Additionally, love must be unconditional. The moment Isaac receives food from the diguised Jacob, he blesses Jacob, because he loves the bearer of food not for who he is but for what he does.
4. Isaac and Rebekah share a vision of what is best for their child
Recognizing the danger Jacob is in due to the violent tendencies of Esav (and his self-admitted plan to kill Jacob), the two parents discuss and conclude that Jacob's best bet is to go to her brother's home where he can continue his life. They know his presence will lead, minimally, to discomfort in the home, and maximally to his death. Together they come up with a plan that will work for everyone - though the amount of time he stays away (22 years) is not anticipated.
5. Subliminal Messages
One thing Esav did learn from his father is to marry at age 40. The problem is that Abraham establishd a rule for the family that the men marry women from his hometown - Charan - and not from the women of Canaan.
Esav's wives were Hittite women, and they were a tremendous source of anguish to his parents
However, when he heard that his parents did not approve of such marriages, he immediately went and married his first cousing, the daughter of Yishmael.
Sometimes a subliminal or subversive message can get the point a cross in a clearer way, such that the child gets the message without feeling the need to reject or revolt against what is being said and/or modeled in the home.
We had a lovely discussion between us and focused on the need to not only study, but demonstrate and explain to our children that they are not the only ones attending classes and furthering their Jewish experience and Jewish education.
This is the first ingredient in assuring Jewish continuity: creating a culture of continued learning, as we learn lessons from our ancient texts, as they speak to us in each generation.