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Your Children Are Not Your Children

15/11/19 09:40:34


“Your children are not your children.

They are sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.

They come through you but not from you,

And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.


You may give them your love but not your thoughts,

For they have their own thoughts.

You may house their bodies but not their souls,

For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,

Which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.”


These wise words of the 20th century poet and philosopher, Kahlil Gibran would surely have been approved of by our great Biblical (and Talmudic) commentator Rashi, who lived 10 centuries earlier.


I am thinking of the sharply insightful comment of Rashi to an event in the early life of Abraham. When Abraham is summonsed by God to leave behind his comfortable home in Haran, he takes his adopted nephew Lot with him and Sarah. Abraham obviously has a close and loving relationship with Lot – this is evident in the text twice emphasising “and Lot went with him” (Genesis 12:4) and “Avram took Lot” (Ibid 5). The first verse also implies a closeness; he (Lot) was with him, he learnt from him, he admired him and sought to emulate his charismatic uncle. This is also picked up in the later verse: “And Avram went up from Egypt…together with Lot” (Ibid 13:1).


Yet, as often happens with sons and fathers (and stepfathers), they drift apart. Lot may well have felt overwhelmed by the large and compelling character of his foster father. So when their herdsmen argue and Abraham suggests they part ways, Lot readily responds moving to the sybaritic Sodom and away from the influence of his uncle.


It is not however Lot’s flawed personality but Abraham’s expansive character that strikes me. Most parents and guardians would be deeply hurt of their children or wards deserting them or choosing a lifestyle antithetical to their’s.


And this is where the deeply thoughtful comment of Rashi comes to the fore: addressing the separation of Lot from Abraham’s words: “If you go to the left, I will go to the right…” (Ibid 13:11) Rashi writes: “This means wherever you may settle, I will not go far from you and I will stand by you as a shield and as a help…” (the verse conveying Avraham’s offer to be there on his right or left).


This is a simple statement but unsurpassed in its expression of solidarity and the meaning of being a parent. To be a parent is to stand by your child no matter what, it is to be a “magen”, a shield and a protector; it is to be an “eyzer”, a helper and supporter. Our children may betray our values, abandon our most precious beliefs, but they are still our children…


They may disappoint and devastate us but we cannot abscond from our love and responsibility towards them. This is the kind of parent God is to us, this is the kind of parent we should try to be to our children – we “house their bodies, not their souls.”


This is also one of the messages of the enigmatic binding of Isaac – Abraham could not, or was not allowed to, ultimately sacrifice him because Isaac was not a possession of his.


Our children are not our children to control and manipulate, but they are our responsibility to protect and support – regardless of their choices. Their souls belong to them and to the future.


Shabbat Shalom.


Rabbi Ralph

Wed, 27 January 2021 14 Shevat 5781