Every so often, something about popular culture hits you like a brick wall. Much about Western society has its seductive pitfalls and some of its craving can contrast Torah’s morality and values. However, life is never clear cut and at times one learns a thing or two, a valuable lesson from the unexpected. When I was a teenager I heard the lyrics of a song, the words were so profound that it had made an impact on my life to this very day. Although, Rock ‘n roll is, for the most part, all about pursuing love that you can’t have which can frustrate and depress you to no end. This song by Harry Chapin titled “Cat’s in the Cradle” is very different from the usual generic cesspool.
And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon
Little boy blue and the man on the moon
When you’re coming home dad, I don’t know when,
But we’ll get together then
You know we’ll have a good time then
My son turned ten just the other day,
He said thanks for the ball, dad, come on let’s play
Can you teach me to throw, I said not today
I got a lot to do, he said that’s OK
And he, he walked away, but his smile never did, and said
I’m gonna be like him, yeah
You know I’m gonna be like him
Life is busy and in order to survive one has to spend much time and sometimes overtime to make the buck to support the family. Hey! Money doesn’t grow on trees you know! It seems like the father doesn’t spend time with his son. The first part of the song is expressing those sentiments.
Interestingly, there is a strong question to be asked on one of the most famous statements in the Torah of “Honor you father and your mother for you will have a long life” (Shemot. 20:12)
One should be aware, there are only two commandments in the Torah that a reward is attached to it. Honor your father and your mother is one of them. The other is Sheluach haken, where there is a commandment in sending away the mother bird before taking her young (Devarim 22:6) Both rewards are long life.
On a side note I heard a reason why this is such an important commandment that the Torah equites it to Honoring parents and is rewarded long life. When the mother bird is sent off and comes back she flies all around to find her children. She goes to G-d and complains. “Where are my children?’ G-d becomes upset. Then, G-d remembers from this mother bird & asks “Where are my children?” This big mitzvah reminds G-d that His children are still in the diaspora and should bring us back home, to the nest, the Beit Hamikdash,
The sages ask a profound question through a story. Once a father asked his son to perform the commandment of Sheluach haken. The boy climbed the tree to shoo away the mother bird to then grab the young hens where he slipped and fell tragically to his death. The Sages asked where the long life is. As a matter of fact he performed two of the commandments for long life and was taken from this world rather suddenly!!
In this week’s parsha there is a familiar scene, one where human weakness is glaring and through this negativity, one can learn a valuable lesson where one can literately take home.
And they said, “We will build sheep pens for our livestock here and cities for our children.” (32:16)
Moshe berated them for letting the others fight to conquer Canaan while they settled down in their ranches. Furthermore, their reluctance to cross would have a demoralizing effect on the others.
“This is what we want to do,” they said to Moshe. “We want to build sheep pens for our livestock here and towns for our children. Then we will go quickly at the head of the army and fight until the land is conquered and apportioned. Only then will we return to our homes.”
“All right,” said Moshe (32:24), “build towns for your children and pens for your sheep. And make sure you keep your word.”
Notice that Moshe reversed the order of their priorities. They wanted to “build sheep pens for our livestock here and towns for our children.” First let us take care of the livestock. Let us make sure we have pens in which to keep them so they don’t wander off into the hills and get lost or stolen.
Cows and sheep are valuable assets, and we have to take good care of them. Then they spoke about building “towns for our children.” Then we will provide our children with a place to live while we are at war.
Oh no, Moshe replied. You have it backwards. First of all, “build towns for your children.” Make sure you have attended to the needs of your children. Afterwards, you can also build “pens for your sheep.” First you take care of your children, and then you worry about your cattle.
When we look at this incident, we say to ourselves, “How foolish can people be? How warped can their values be? How can anyone put the welfare of his cattle before the welfare of his children?”
Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident, something bizarre that happened thousands of years ago. It is an everyday phenomenon. People become focused on their livelihood, on developing a business, on advancing professionally, on building a practice, and their kids get lost in the shuffle. They don’t realize that they are making the exact same mistake as the tribes of Gad and Reuven. But it is true. It happens all too often.
Rashi writes (32:24) that the tribes of Gad and Reuven did not return home to the Trans-Jordan until after the seven years of conquest and the seven years of apportionment. They remained in Eretz Yisrael for a full fourteen years. Those little children they left behind — let’s assume they were 3 or 4 years old — how old were they when their fathers returned home? Teenagers! Practically adults! The Midrash tells us that their fathers were shocked to find that their sons had long hair, that they were indistinguishable from their pagan neighbors.
This is what happens when parents give priority to their wealth over their children.
The Ktav Sofer raises a question with the latter part of Moshe’s words. After helping the tribes of Gad and Reuven get their priorities straight, he told them, “Make sure you keep your word.” Why was this necessary?
The answer, says the Ktav Sofer, is that Moshe knew with whom he was dealing. People who could even think of protecting their money before they protect their children cannot be trusted. They are so intent on their wealth that they can do anything. Therefore, Moshe had to exhort them to keep their word.
The quest for wealth can become more obsessive than any other quest. All too often, the children are the price of the wealth.
In parshat Vayera we learn that G-d wanted to share a secret with someone very dear to Him and that person was Avraham. The secret was what He intended to do to the people of Sedom and Amorah, which was to annihilate them. The Sages explain why Avraham was so dear to G-d; it was because “he (Avraham) will command his children”. In other words what the Sages were implying was that Avraham will raise his children properly and pass down the concept of G-d which his offsprings dutifully complied.
Interestingly, the world was a world of Idol worshipers. Avraham stood out from the crowd and was known as “Lone Ranger”. He became the ambassador to G-d and professed the monotheism concept. It was strange to say the least in the eyes of the public. This action was unprecedented at that time. Avraham pushed the concept. He had chutzpah!! Secondly, let’s not forget his famous trademark kindness. His door to his tent was open on all four sides for passerby’s to enter. Avraham sets the rules on the concept of kindness. And yet, he is cherished by G-d, not for those standout achievements but, for his ability to transmit his legacy to his children. That overrode everything else?! That struck a sensitive cord in G-d that He proclaimed that Avraham is His love?
Avraham was a “hands on” dad. He was close to his children. He went out of his way to communicate to his children; he was there for his kids.
When the Torah states honor your parents for you will have a long life, long life means your life will be extended through your children. They will follow your philosophy; they will pass down your legacy. They will cherish what was important to you.
However, there has to be an investment into the children and that is to spend time with them!! Why would this work? Although there is no guarantee, however, one has to play the percentages. Since children’s intellects are not fully developed, they function mostly from their emotions rather than from logic. The result is that they learn and absorb more from what they see than from what they hear. Therefore, showing one’s children how to properly do things in person has a greater impact and influence than telling them so. This is what they take with them into adulthood. The fond memories of the parents physically there. Now let’s take this a step further.
There is a strong connection between keeping the Jewish faith and bonding with parents. Our Torah is passed down by tradition which we call the chain. The home is where this platform occurs. So it’s imperative; it’s Jewish survival to have a good parents- child relationship.
Interesting to note, as parents we are seduced by “making money” and we use it as an excuse to avoid our precious children. Our children, though, have a seductive outlet as well. With the creation of media and these days’ social media there is a stronger connection outside the home then inside the home. One now can have their primary social outlet outside the family framework. That is dangerous.
Personally, when I was growing up the media had a tremendous impact on all of us. I can just imagine what the pressure the average teenager goes through today. Our dinner table was disrupted daily by the giant television which was present. That contraption alienated my parents and I. What saved the relationship was Shabbat where we were forced to sit and talk to each other without any electronic gadgets and business dealing on the phone.
So besides being a slave to the business one now has an added servitude, they’re a slave to the media.
We have to savor the moment with our children. They grow up fast and before one knows it they’re out of the house.
Speaking about the media and popular culture the last two stanza of the song is something that is etched in my psyche forever and has helped me deal with my family with the utmost sensitivity.
Well, he came from college just the other day,
So much like a man, I just had to say
Son, I’m proud of you, can you sit for a while
He shook his head, and he said with a smile
What I’m feeling like, dad, is to borrow the car keys
See ya later, can I have them, please
I’ve long since retired, my son’s moved away
I called him up just the other day
I said I’d like to see you if you don’t mind
He said I’d love to dad, if I could find the time
You see my new job’s a hassle, and the kids have the flu
But it’s sure nice talking to you dad
It’s been sure nice talking to you
And as I hung up the phone, it occurred to me
He’d grown up just like me
My boy was just like me
And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon
Little boy blue and the man on the moon
When you’re coming home son, I don’t know when,
But we’ll get together then, dad
We’re gonna have a good time then