Vayeira is easily one of the most profound and challenging of portions. We are introduced to the mitzvot of bikkur cholim (visiting the sick) and hachnasat orchim (hospitality) in the first verses as Abraham welcomes strangers into his tent. We meet, in this portion, the drama of Sodom and Gemorrah, the rather disturbing story of Lot and his daughters (19:4-11), the birth of Isaac and the drama with Sarah,. Hagar and Ishamel (21:6ff). The portion ends with one of our most famous passages, the Akedah (22) and the binding of Isaac. What a portion. The role of parents is so evident in this portion. Often behaving badly, at times being challenged and, at other times, doing the challenging. One of the more interesting commentaries to chapter 22 is that Abraham decided that after God’s call to sacrifice Isaac, he would call God’s bluff and see if God really would follow through.
The issue of parenthood is so different when we read this story when we are younger. No doubt you have heard so many comments over the years, most of which focus on how we parented our children when they were young. But what about now? One of the challenges we face as we get older, and this comes up in discussion at almost every session we do, is how do we parent our adult children. They have grown, often have families of their own, at times live a distance away and are, we hope, independent. Yet, that tug and pull never goes away. These are moments of great transition for us and for them as we each chart new territory and new ways of behavior. How do we allow them their “space”? When is it right or OK to inject our views? Are there ground-rules for dealing with in-laws and the often repeated, how much can I inject my views on how they raise their children? On a recent Seekers of Meaning podcast, we interviewed Dr Ruth Nemzoff, from Brandeis, on her book on how to deal with and relate to our adult children. (see the Seekers of Meaning section on jewishsacredaging.com)
In reality, this is another aspect of our own aaging and another instance of that tension about which we have written, that of holding on and letting go. Of course , with every “letting go” we let go of a part of our own self. We hold on to memories, but also, we hope, the reality that, in watching our adult children, we are watching the work of our lifetime and the foundation of our legacy. Being a parent remains a sacred calling, no matter what age that child may be. The sacred power of that calling I witnessed again last week as I watched two sisters make seriously hard choices regarding the medical care of their dad. In those moments it was crystal clear that these daughters, adults with children of their own, had learned the values and beliefs that allowed them, in a most challenging circumstance, to bring honor and respect to their father. Choices are hard, letting go is hard, holding on to what is true helps make our journey sacred.
Rabbi Richard F Address