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In this week's parsha, Rabbi Fohrman reminds us about a short section we've heard many times, but intriguingly, suggests that the Torah may be suggesting something different than we have ever expected, that actually, the way we ask God to treat us may also be the way we ourselves should treat our children.
One of the problems with having children is that they do not come with instruction manuals. The Torah is a great instruction manual for life. So we might ask, is there an instruction manual within it for parenting? This is Rabbi David Fohrman and welcome to Parsha Naso.
I want to suggest that in this week’s Parsha, there is a parenting manual. It’s only three verses long and in those three verses is just about everything that you need to know, to parent your child or at least the seeds of everything you need to know.
What are the three verses and how do they instruct us? I would like to suggest that they are the verses of [Hebrew 00:33], the blessing of the [Hebrew 00:35] are meant [Hebrew 00:36] to the people of Israel. That blessing was first commanded to Aaron and his sons and in this week’s parsha at the conclusion of the dedication of the tabernacle, the [Hebrew 00:46] to convey a blessing, a blessing from God to the Jewish people. Since that time, parents have adopted that blessing, traditionally on Friday night when we bless our children with those three verses of the [Hebrew 00:58] blessed us as a nation with.
I would like to suggest that those three verses, the three verses that we parents say weekly to our children is not just a blessing. As to how God should treat them but by extension, a kind of manual as to how we should treat our children. Let’s jump in now.
Here are the verses, [Hebrew 01:16], we usually translate this ‘may God bless you, keep you and may he watch over you’. [Hebrew 01:23] ‘let God shine his face upon you and grant you grace’. [Hebrew 01:30] ‘let God lift his face towards you’, [Hebrew 01:34] ‘and grant you peace’.
Now when we think about these three verses, they kind of strike us as biblical poetry. Biblical poetry is hard to understand even under the best of circumstances. Its poetry first of all, it is written in another language, second of all and in very general over [Hebrew 01:49] terms, these verses seem to be suggesting or praying that God should have some sort of positive influence and involvement in our lives but can we nail it down a little bit more specifically than that?
So let’s try it and let’s begin with some very basic questions.
For example, how do each of these verses differ from each other, are they just kind of saying the same things in different words or are they saying three different things and if so, what are they? Notice for example that the expression, [Hebrew 02:17] appears often but it appears only in the second two verses, [Hebrew 02:21] means face, it does not appear in the first verse. Is there a reason for that?
And if we can discern a difference between the three different verses, is there a progression between them? Does verse one lead to verse two in any kind of way, does verse two lead to verse three, how do the verses connect? These are the questions I want to focus on with you.
We answer those questions effectively, we will not just find windows into the textual problems here with how the blessings hang together but we will also understand how they guide us as parents.
Here’s blessing number one, [Hebrew 02:52], ‘may God bless you and keep you’. The first question you have to ask is what does the word ‘Bless’ really mean? It is a nice spiritual sounding word, can we pin it down?
Rabbi [Hebrew 03:03], a principle student of the [Hebrew 03:06], lived a few centuries ago. He writes about this in his classic work [Hebrew 03:11]. Me arguing at the word blessing doesn’t just sort of have vague, spiritual qualities but has a very concrete meaning in the sense of increase.
The word ‘Blessing’ is associated with the idea of multiplying, increasing something. When we ask God to bless something, we are asking him to increase it. So for example, in [Hebrew 03:29], chapter 7, when it says, [Hebrew 03:31], that God will bless the fruit of your womb, will bless the fruit of the earth, it means that he will increase these things. You will have lots of children, you will have plenty of food coming from crops and indeed that notion of blessing has been associated with increase is actually hinted at in the very letters that comprise the word. The word [Hebrew 03:50] comes from the three letter root, [Hebrew 03:52]. Any baby familiar with the notion that the various letters of the Hebrew alphabet or associated with numeric values. Aleph associated with one, Beta associated with two, [Hebrew 04:03] three and so on and if you follow these numerical values known as [Hebrew 04:07] you can see kind of a pattern here in this word [Hebrew 04:09] numerical value as two, [Hebrew 04:11] the numerical value is 200, [Hebrew 04:14] the numerical value is 20. They are all about two’s, two’s are the numbers of multiplicity increasing, increasing in the one’s, increasing in the 10s, increasing in the 100s, it s all about increase.
So if you think about this word in the context of the blessing of the [Hebrew 04:28] and on the context of parenting, you might say that we are asking God to be a wonderful parent to us. What does it mean to be a wonderful parent? Very first thing, it means is to bless your child, to seek to multiply their strength, to build them up in whatever ways we can. It is the fundamental obligation of parenthood. To build up a child’s physical strength, to nourish that by feeding them, to build up their emotional strength, to give them resilience, to build up their intellectual strength or education, to build up their moral strength by helping them to discern right from wrong in all sorts of ways, to build up their own power to provide, to provide for their families by giving them the tools to learn a trade, to learn a profession.
Our fundamental job as a parent is to increase our children in all sorts of ways and whatever ways we can, to help them grow but that’s not the only obligation we have because it is coupled with another one, [Hebrew 05:22], ‘May God bless you and keep you’. [Hebrew 05:26] means to watch over you, to guard you.
The second fundamental obligation of parents which goes intendment with blessing is watching over them, ensuring their safety, keeping them from harm. Sometimes that harm can come from the outside. You give your kid rules, only cross at the [Hebrew 05:46]. Look both ways. Sometimes the harm can come from the inside, children can veer off in irresponsible directions and there the need to discipline the child emerges, to protect them, sometimes from themselves. But discipline is always a function of keeping the child safe in some way or another. It is really the only rational for discipline, you don’t discipline a child for your needs as a parent, you don’t discipline them because they make you look funny in front of them all or what will the neighbors say if junior acts out like this? That is not for the kid, that’s for you. The rational for discipline is to watch over them, so that they can grow. [Hebrew 06:21], ‘Bless and watch over’.
So these are the first two fundamental obligations of parenting but they are not the last. The rest [Hebrew 06:33] outlines the rest of the parenting package, what else it is that we require to do with respect to our child.
I want to complete this puzzle with you next week and I want to leave you with a question, what do you think the next two parts of [Hebrew 06:46] are about? What are the next two fundamental phages of parenting, ‘Let God shine his face upon you and grant you grace’, how is it different from what comes next, [Hebrew 06:57], ‘Let God lift up his face towards you and grant you peace’.
The theory that I would like to suggest to you is that hidden within [Hebrew 07:06]. Expressed within these words are three different aspects of parenting that build on each other. You can’t get to the second phage without doing the first and you can’t get to the third without doing the first two. The fundamentals are blessing and watching over you but that opens up a door. It gives you the ability to move on to the next stage of parenting and once you get there and you master stage number two, it gives you the ability to achieve the third level and to integrate with that to relate with your child as well.
Each of these three phases of parenting, I want to suggest to you is associated with a certain phase in the child’s life. At different phases, different kinds of parenting are more appropriate than the others. So if blessing a child and guarding over them is something we must do as parents throughout a child’s life, is there a particular phase within a child’s life when those obligations are most prevalent. Let me ask you this, when do they begin these obligations, to bless and to guard over? Many of us might say that they begin at birth but I would like to argue that, that’s wrong. They actually begin before birth, they begin in the womb. Indeed that’s what a womb does. The fundamental job of the womb is to increase a child to literally physically build them up to build the child. That is the source of the idea of blessing and the womb is also the source for the idea of guarding, of watching over because the other thing the womb does is it provides a pristine environment that protects the child from all sorts of harm. It gives them a place, a safe place in which they can grow.
Throughout a child’s life we have those two obligations to provide a safe place for our children and help to build them but those obligations start in the womb and in fact if you think about it deeply, those two obligations, [Hebrew 08:54] to bless and to guard, actually boil down to one Hebrew word, a word that is derivative from the word for womb.
What is the word for womb in Hebrew? It is [Hebrew 09:08]. There’s a quality that parents evince towards the child and we call it [Hebrew 09:14], is compassion. Compassion has two sub-categories, what does it mean to have compassion upon someone? It means to nurture them, to help them grow and to keep them safe so that they can grow. That’s what the womb does, that’s what compassion is but compassion is not the only thing that we do as parents. A good parent does more because if compassion is the fundamental building block of parenthood, you can build on those blocks and that brings us to the next two parts of [Hebrew 09:43].
What are they about? Think about that.
We have a comment section below this video. Please use it, give me your thoughts and I will share with you mine, when we come back next week. See you then.
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5. Ki Tavo: Question
6. Ki Teitzei: Answer
7. Ki Teitzei: Question
8. Shoftim: Epilogue 2
9. Shoftim: Epilogue 1
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11. Re'eh: Jewish Slavery
12. Part II: Eikev: What Does It Mean To Be A Good Person?
13. Part I: Eikev: What Does It Mean To Be A Good Person?
14. Va'etchanan: Seeing Layers in the Ten Commandments
15. Devarim: What Does It Mean To Have Faith?
16. Masei: Why Is The End of Bamidbar So Anticlimactic? II
17. Matot: Why Is The End of Bamidbar So Anticlimactic?
18. Pinchas: What Does It Mean To Be Zealous For God?
19. Balak: Balaam, Prophet For Hire?
20. Chukat: Was Hitting the Rock So Horrible?
21. Korach: Can We Influence God?
22. Shelach: Is Hope Irrational?
23. Behaalotecha: A Guide For...Parenting? Part II
24. Naso: A Guide For...Parenting?
25. Bamidbar: Who Cares About Genealogy?
26. Bechukotai: Why Would God Curse His People?
27. Behar: Why Does Land Have To Rest?
28. Emor: Is There A Shabbat In Other Realms?
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30. Acharei Mot: The (Surprising) Purpose of Yom Kippur
31. Metzora: Living Within the Community
32. Tazria: The Bizarre Purification of the Metzora
33. Shemini: Why Did God Reject Nadav and Avihu?
34. Vayikra: Can Leaders Make Mistakes?
35. Pekudei: A Giant Chiasm In Sefer Shmot
36. Vayakhel: What Does It Mean To Be Tzelem Elokim?
37. Ki Tisa: Moshe's Benevolent Chutzpah
38. Tetzaveh: Where Is God In a Physical World?
39. Terumah: Is There a Face Hiding in the Tabernacle?
40. Mishpatim: Female Servitude...Wait, What?
41. Yitro: The Marriage of God and Israel
42. Beshalach: What Does It Mean to Have Faith?
43. Bo: Did God Really Need Ten Plagues?
44. Va'era: Did God Take Away Pharaoh's Free Will?
45. Shmot: If Midrash is Real, Why Isn't It Peshat?
46. Vayechi: Who is Joseph's Real Father?
47. Vayigash: The Epic Confrontation Between Judah and Joseph
48. Miketz: Why Didn't Joseph Write Home?
49. Vayeishev: Who Really Sold Joseph?
50. Vayishlach: Becoming a Person of Integrity
51. Vayeitzei: Consequences of Yaakov's Deceit
52. Toldot: A Conversation For the Ages
53. Chayei Sarah: What Makes For A Successful Life?
54. Vayeira: Abraham's Struggle With Loyalty
55. Lech Lecha: Covenant With God
56. Bereishit: Does Man 'Acquire' Woman?
57. Noach: Why Did God Destroy the World?
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