by Evan Wolkenstein: Director of Experiential Education, Jewish Studies Teacher 

Some years ago, I spent a weekend with a friend, a stay-at-home dad. His wife was away, leading a local Jewish Congregation, and we were confined to the home. He washed loads of clothing. He nudged his daughter to turn off the television and use the craft basket. He fed the baby “beek” (which, I learned, means “grapes”), and insisted, with a stern expression, that “beek” does not belong on the floor. I watched and wrote. My friend is creative and independent and struggles with his burdens like any man would, and though he is not the international Rock and Roll legend he once dreamed of being, he’s still sculpting a masterpiece: working always, advising often, recording sometimes, and being a father, twenty-four-seven.

The Jewish calendar during this month brings us an important message about parenting. First, we meet Mosh Rabbeinu’s father-in-law, Yitro. Yitro unites Moses with his wife and children; he’d been caring for them, during the dangerous days of the pre-Exodus. Yitro greets his son-in-law warmly, and after seeing Moses’s techniques in national leadership, instructs plainly:  “The thing you are doing is not right. You will surely wear yourself out, and these people as well. For the task is too heavy for you; you cannot do it alone. ” (Shemot 18:17-18).

Moses takes a lesson from Yitro, and changes the way he judges: he appoints major chiefs and minor chiefs. In short, as Yitro describes, he shares the burden. 

While this alone could be a lesson for any parent, an interesting Kushia emerges two books later: in Bmidbar, Moses begs Hovav Ben Re’uel (ostensibly another name for Yitro) to please join him and his people as they enter the land of Israel. Though nudged thoroughly, Chovav-Yitro refuses. The ambiguous text does not declare it outright, but it seems that Moses loses the argument, and his Father-in-law departs, never to witness personally the fruition of the advice he plants within his son. Why does Yitro leave at this fragile moment?

Two millennia pass, and we meet a man named Honi, the Circle Maker. During a time of drought, Honi begs – nudges – insists that God provide rain. He is no mere holy man, concedes the Nasi of the Sanhedrin, but more like a spoiled child whose parents are willing to submit to his demands. (M. Taanit 3:8)

This same Honi goes on to meet a farmer planting a carob. He finds it difficult to believe that anyone would plant a crop for the benefit of descendants 70 years down the line.

Side by side, we see a repetition: Honi is brilliant at getting his needs met, but he thinks only about the present moment. As we know from the chronicles of Elijah and others, drought is an emergency not only for the now but also, bodes poorly for the big picture: God demands teshuva for something deep and lurking. Honi, on the other hand, addresses the need for rain without questioning the cause of the drought. Similarly, he cannot fathom the smiles on the faces of the farmer’s grandchildren, far in the future, sampling the sweetness planted long before.

Yitro, too, is focused on the now. He advises Moshe and departs, leaving while most of Moshe’s burdens lie on the road ahead. One chapter later, the Israelites encounter tensions that will eventually result in a national tragedy. Moses has learned how to handle the responsibilities of a judge, but not those of a parent. Moses even cries out to God, “Did I conceive of these people, did I bear them, that You should say to me, ‘Carry them in your bosom as a nurse carries an infant?’ (Numbers 11:12). He could probably use a parent figure at this moment.

Like Honi, like Yitro, I have never been very comfortable with the future. I lesson plan early in the morning instead of the days before. I buy my plane tickets too late to get the best prices. And left on my own, I’d probably spend my days taking my kids to playgrounds and drinking coffee and never think about what’s next. Admittedly, there is freedom and joy in this. And I remember well when my friend and I had to put our instruments down because the baby was crying for “beek,” I remember the pang of annoyance on my friend’s face. The sacredness of the moment was broken. 

But I waited and watched, and when he picked up his baby and chomped on her cheeks, I learned a lesson that serves me well this day, as a father of two: that as a parent, not everything must be a delayed gratification, an investment in the future. The joys of parenting – like the joys of teaching and learning, teaching – can be enjoyed in the moment.