Torah Portion offers guidance on child-parent relationships

Rabbi Suzanne Brody is Middle School Judaics Coordinator at Saul Mirowitz Jewish Community School and a member of the St. Louis Rabbinical Association.

By Rabbi Suzanne Brody

Last week, I read an article online that left me feeling horribly guilty and upset with myself.  It made me feel that not only was everything I do as a parent completely wrong, but also I was scarring my children for life. The next day, clearly not having learned the lesson “do not clink on links to parenting articles shared by friends,” I read a second article that seemed to be telling me that the best way to parent was to do exactly the opposite of what the first article had said. 

These two articles, each describing the best and only way to raise children, left me feeling puzzled and lost. Even with so much information (and misinformation) available at our fingertips online, it’s hard to know how best to approach and navigate parent-child relationships.

This week’s Torah reading, parshat Kedoshim, approaches this most complicated of relationships from the opposite direction.  Rather than providing advice to the parents, as is found in most of the articles circulating today via various social media, the Torah instead instructs the child how to approach his or her parents.  “A person should revere his mother and his father … (Leviticus 19:3).”  In so doing, kedoshim t’hiyu, “you will be holy” (Leviticus 19:2).

The Hassidic Rabbi Yehudah Aryeh Leib Alter (Poland, 1847–1905), better known as the Sfat Emet (based on the title of his most famous book), points out that the word kedoshim, holy, is in the plural in the Hebrew. In contrast, in Isiah’s famous vision of the angels praising G-d (Isaiah 6:3), the angels use the word kadosh, holy, in the singular. He explains that the use of the plural teaches us that while angels have only one way of becoming holy, Jews have two different ways of attaining holiness. Both angels and Jews can achieve holiness by doing what G-d commands.  Angels follow G-d’s commands by serving as G-d’s messengers. Jews strive for holiness by following the commandments that G-d has given in the form of mitzvoth.  However, when we are being honest with ourselves, we might admit that while we strive to follow this path, we are not always able to do all of the mitzvot as intended.  Fortunately, we were given a second path to holiness.  According to the Sfat Emet, the second method we have to achieve holiness is the Torah.  Through Torah’s multifaceted teachings, its stories, lessons, and traditions we can open up a whole variety of avenues through which we can strive for and encounter holiness.

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There is more than one way to be holy.  Multiple methods and means are all equally acceptable.  They all help us to achieve the same goal.  Similarly, there are multiple right ways to be a parent. And in reading between the lines of the Torah, we can infer that they are all valued.  We are required to revere our parents regardless of which parenting methods they employed.  Sometimes we accomplish this by listening and obeying them; other times by emulating their behavior and choices or by relating our parents’ values through the stories we tell our own children. The bond between the generations is not dependent on parenting style, but is cemented through transmission of Torah and shared performance of mitzvot.

Unlike the relentless barrage of online articles that leave me feeling guilty about all of the things they tell me that I should (or should not) be doing, when it comes to striving for holiness, there is no judgment on G-d’s part.

Kedoshim t’hiyu. A simple declarative statement. You will be holy.  Whichever route you take, it is within your power to be holy, and I know that you can do it.

Shabbat shalom.