A Father’s Responsibilities (Shlach)
One father is more than a hundred schoolmasters. -George Herbert
The people of Israel had just been punished with a decree of forty years of wandering in the desert. After the people’s lack of faith following the spies evil report about the Promised Land, God had had enough. The people whom He had taken out of Egyptian slavery, the people whom He revealed Himself to at Mount Sinai, the people whom He had cared for miraculously through their sojourn through the harsh desert had rebelled, had complained and had tried God’s patience one time too many. That generation would die in the desert. Only their sons, the next generation, would merit to enter the Promised Land.
It would not be an exaggeration to say that the people of Israel were crushed and despondent due to God’s punishment. Immediately after the narrative regarding the harsh forty-year decree, God transmits a seemingly unconnected set of laws. He starts talking about when they will come to the land and types of sacrifices they will bring.
Rabbeinu Bechaye on Numbers 15:2 (Shlach) explains that God is comforting the people of Israel after His harsh decree. He is promising them that the next generation will enter the Promised land, that the sons will inherit the land that their fathers were supposed to conquer.
Rabbeinu Bechaye goes on to explain that God was consoling the sons and looking after them as a father. He gives examples as to the different ways that God took care of the children of Israel as a father takes care of his son. Rabbeinu Bechaye takes the opportunity to discuss a father’s responsibilities to his son and goes on to enumerate what those five responsibilities are:
- To perform the Brit Mila (circumcision).
- To teach him Torah.
- To redeem him from the Kohen (only applicable to non-caesarian firstborn sons of non-Levite descent).
- To teach him a trade.
- To marry him off.
To perform the Brit Mila and to redeem his son from the Kohen are straightforward one-time events. To marry off a child is also generally a one-time event though it takes much more time and effort. To teach a trade is for (hopefully) a limited period, the purpose of which is to lead the son to financial independence. However, there is one obligation that can endure for the life of the father-son relationship: that of teaching the son Torah. The Torah is endless, and hence the obligation to teach one’s child Torah is one that can last a lifetime.
It is not dependent on the age or the circumstances of the son. The son can be an adult with his own children and grandchildren, yet there would still exist that obligation, that divinely ordained responsibility to stay connected to our children through the teaching of Torah.
May we have divine assistance and success in fulfilling all of our parental responsibilities.
To the memories of Milly Buller, as well as Prof. Baruch Brody. Each was a parent of exceptional children. May their families be comforted among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.
To the engagement of our son, Akiva, to Orelle Feuer of Netanya. Mazal Tov!