Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Between Mothers and Fathers

Have you ever noticed, while we find blessings being given by men on numerous occasions in the Torah we don't find a single instance of a woman's blessing. Moshe blesses, Yaakov blesses, Yitzchak blesses in this weeks parsha and they give blessings more than once. Yet we have no record of Sarah giving a blessing nor of any of the matriarchs. Why?

I asked my Rebbe, Rav Yehoshua Cohen, who knows all shas and beyond as I know my address, if there is record of a woman giving a blessing in the Talmud. He could only come up with one vague instance where a woman gave Rav Papa a blessing when he came to a strange town and asked for a certain talmid chacham. Not knowing Rav Papa to be the great authority he was she told him "you should be like him".

At the chupah prior to the wedding the custom is for the father to bless the kallah. I have seen where the father-in-law blesses his new daughter to-be as well. But I have never seen a mother's blessing.
And in most homes on Friday night their is a custom for the father to bless his children. Rare is the practice that the mother blesses the children.

Why? Why is the blessing of children reserved as the prerogative of the father?

I don't believe this is an accident. There is real reason why blessings belong to the father and not the mother. And the reason is rooted in the respective roles mother and father play in the life of a child. Mother is the nurturer and protector of the child. She makes the child feel safe, secure, esteemed as s/he is. Mother validates the child and affirms his/her intrinsic goodness.
The mother's love for her child is not based on anything s/he does. It does not need to be earned. A mother's love is unconditional and simply based on who the child is.

The father's role is to challenge the child, to encourage the child to grow and become. He is like a coach inviting the child to push his/her boundaries, to strive and to mature. He wants for the child to realize his/her potential. While of course, he too loves his child without condition, its different than with the mother. He has expectations. And those expectations motivate the child to believe in him/herself and to take the risks necessary to grow.

We need both influences in our life to realize our capabilities. We need the mother's love that affirms us for who we are and forges our self-esteem. And we need the father's love to help us believe in our capacity to be more than we are now, to grow and become. (Of course its not that each parent gives one type of love exclusively. But these are the respective roles in family life and in the life of a child).

Look at this weeks parsha. We see the different roles of father and mother played out dramatically. Rivka loves Yaakov. She seeks to protect him. She loves him for who he is. She insists he claim the blessings he is entitled to even if it means he has to put on a huge deception. She sends him away when she hears his brother Esav has plans to kill him.Were it not for her fear for his life she would never have wanted him to leave.

Yitzchak on the other hand loves Esav. And here, unlike Rivka's love for Yaakov where the Torah gives us no reason, the Torah tell us why. Yitzchak loved Esav for his accomplishments, "for he was able to hunt and take care of himself". Like Rivka, Yitzchak too sent Yaakov away at the end of the reading. But the sending is oh so different. He sends Yaakov not to protect him but for him to find a wife, to make his way in the world. Yitzchak wanted Yaakov to go out and become, to leave the "tents" (the Torah describes Yaakov as one who "sat in the tents".) and make something of himself.

Why don't we find women giving brachot? The answer is because a blessing is essentially a challenge to a person to stretch their boundaries, to go and realize their gifts, to become. Blessings express the encouragement for the person to fulfill themselves. They are prayers that s/he know success in his/her initiatives. That sentiment belongs to the fathers role within the family. He is the one who invites the child to grow beyond who s/he currently is. The mother's role validates the child as s/he is. She affirms the child as a person, as good and whole independent of what s/he does. Its not for her to bless. She offers the love that says "no matter what you do or become you are already good enough".

Truth is we need both the message of Yitzchak and Rivka for our healthy maturation. We need both nurture and challenge. We need mother and father. Sometimes one more than the other, but always both. And we who play that role in the lives of our children need to know that as parents we may not always be on the same page, as Yitzchak and Rivka were not. As mother and father we bring different energies to our children and at times we may feel our roles divide us. As father and mother we share the role as parent, but not necessarily its application.
Accepting the reality that as parents we may rightly feel different from one another goes along way to resolving tensions between parents in the home.

Did Yitzchak and Rivka love each other? Of course. But that did not mean they always thought and acted alike. As parents they felt and acted differently from each other. And we, their children, are grateful for the unique contribution each brought into the life of Yaakov and through him to us.

Shabbat Shalom

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