Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah–Acharei Mot 2
How many parents out there have felt the need to remind a child who the parent is? I mean, it should be obvious which is the child and which is the parent, but for whatever reason, there are times that we have to look at our children and say, “I am the parent.” I once made the mistake of accurately (but perhaps inappropriately) responding to my father when he felt it necessary to remind me of our relative status. I was in our pool at a time that I was not supposed to be. He kicked me out of the pool for 10,000 years (he was serious). I asked how he could do that (meaning 10,000 years). He responded, “I am your father, and I make the rules.” My response; “I am a child and younger, so you won’t be around long enough to enforce the rule.”
In the midst of this Torah portion, God says to Moses, “Speak to the children of Israel and tell them that I am God.” Ok, we have just been delivered from Egypt. We safely crossed the Reed Sea. We have manna in the morning. We have this great Tabernacle. We have survived plagues. We have even survived “God’s” temper tantrums. We see the cloud descend on the tent of meeting when Moses is there, and we see the pillar of fire and cloud protecting our encampment day and night. Now, out of the blue, God says, “Moses, tell them that I am God.” What will follow are lists of relationships that God allegedly does not like, and religious rituals to be prescribed and proscribed.
Even as we know that parents express parental love, most often we default to dreading the conversation that begins, “I am your parent,” even when it is God speaking. Why do parents need to remind us of their role in our relationships? Does one really ever forget? Could I ever look at my mother and forget that she is “mom?” No. With all that Israel has already experienced, does one really believe that God needs to be reintroduced? Of course, not.
So, again, why do parents need to remind us? Perhaps they are not reminding us; they are reminding themselves. Being a parent is an insecure endeavor. We watch our children learn and mature in ways we could not have imagined, garnering skills we could never anticipate needing. We were all children once. I once thought that my parents were hatched at “old,” but being there myself, I realize that I need to cut them more slack.
We have all lived, served, learned, ached and aged. Along the way, our experiences frame the conversations that we share. Too often, even when we think that we are on task and relevant, if we are paying attention, we innately fear missing part of an oar as we row through the sea of parenting. The great difficulty that we face, though, is that we express our rules or concerns within the social, cultural, and millennial framework. Put otherwise, to tell a five-year-old how to make a 3 point turn in a car would be as irrelevant as trying to teach my mother how to “Face Time” on an I-pad. To speak to a 21st-century group of American teenagers about the proper way to attach a sharpened stone to a staff for hunting and security would be as irrelevant as telling George Washington to worry about e-mail hacking.
I tell my children that they did not come with instruction manuals. I confess to making mistakes and to not understanding, and I commit to trying to fix what I cause to go awry. It is a good lesson to teach our children who will make the very same errors as they become parents.
For God, in this text, perhaps even while the people know that God is God, the Biblical authors try to demonstrate that even God sometimes is insecure in God’s own ability to understand creation. Moses and God often argue about how much God does or does not understand. Throughout the text and tradition, in those moments depicting God as “over-reacting,” there also exists the next story of God trying to somehow fix where the relationship went wrong. God’s responses are also good lessons for all who, claiming to be holier than even God, misjudge or maltreat those with whom he/she engages.
So, I think that we have to realize that, just as we are not infallible, the Biblical depiction of God (and our limited real world understanding of God) is not either. The author did not intend to portray a perfectly omniscient and omnipotent deity. Rather, the goal was to provide us with stories and characters with whom we could relate, spiritually converse, and relevantly grow. The parental God of text is not God and is not perfect. So too, our parents, even as the authoritarian figure in our lives, are also not perfect. As I am now looking to become a grandparent in several months, I have to be okay with doing the best that I can. I must accept that my parents did the same and that even God … (as best as I can tell) does the same. I need to know that even as I set forth rules with the utmost of sincerity and integrity, I know that they will be heard, misheard, adhered to and ignored in a host of different ways. Still, though, God is God; I am Dad; and somehow, we do well enough that we continue to propagate these relationships. Maybe if we better appreciated and accepted our own limitations, we would be better able to accept those of others, and better appreciate the ways in which we can share the successes and failures in the world … journeying together. Shabbat Shalom.