To Err is Human, But to Parent is Divine

There is a holiness to parenting. No, really, there is. I found that out when I sat down with Rabbi Jay Kornsgold of Beth El synagogue in East Windsor, N.J., to discuss his recent class on parenting and Judaism. He was covering the subject in an ongoing series on The Observant Life, a massive collection of Conservative Rabbinical essays designed for the layperson looking to delve deeper into Judaism without becoming a Talmudic scholar. For the purposes of this class, Kornsgold referred to the chapter entitled Between Parents and Children authored by Rabbi Daniel S. Nevins.

When God gave Moses the Ten Commandments He intentionally inscribed the 5th, to honor your mother and father, on the same tablet containing the commandments discussing an individual’s relationship with God. The latter five cover our relationships with each other, so why not put the commandment involving parent-child relationships there? Apparently because to err is human, but to parent is divine. “The Talmud explains that there are three involved in the creation of life: the mother, the father, and God,” Rabbi Kornsgold explained. Not only is God involved in the creation of a child’s life, but by teaching that child to honor his parents we are, in fact, teaching him to honor God.

It is important, however, not to get lost in the practice of the mitzvah, but to pursue the understanding of why you should be practicing it in the first place. As Nevins explains, the real goal of practicing any Torah commandment is to grow from “ritualistic obedience of divine instruction to internal transformation and the awakening of love for God.” In other words, don’t honor your parents and God because you have to, honor them because you want to.

But, how do you convey such an intense lesson to your children? Simply by putting it into practice yourself. As Rabbi Kornsgold explains, when it comes to raising children we’re often expected to impart the values with which we were raised. The key is to remember that we aren’t doing this because we have to, but because we want to. We want to teach our children Biblical values because we want them to live good, successful lives. So instead of simply focusing on how to honor our parents (i.e. do your chores, respect their authority) we also focus on the why. “We want to instruct our child to live their life in such a way that they emulate God’s ways, because they were created in God’s image.”

Nevins writes, “…God has made the world in such a way so as to share the glory of the divine realm with parents for the benefit of the entire family.” A great deal of parenting is in the doing, but we can’t let the gift of raising children be defined by dirty diapers or messy bedrooms. As with following the mitzvot, it is through our doing that our children learn not just how, but why it is so important to honor their father and mother, and God. Not just because Torah says so, but because it makes the family and the world a better place to be.