Parashat B'midbar

What Is Parenting?

Transmitting Jewish culture by embodying Jewish practice is part of the responsibilities of Jewish parenting.

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The following article is reprinted with permission from American Jewish University.

One of the greatest mitzvot (commandments) in the Torah, the very first command given to humanity, is that of bearing children. "Be fruitful and multiply" is the necessary underpinning of any Jewish community, since without renewed Jewish people, there can be no Torah, nor any Judaism either.

But parenting is more than simple biology. Any animal can spawn, and most animals have the necessary instincts to guide their young through a relatively brief infancy before the new generation takes off on its own, guided by its own internal barometer. Humans are distinctive in the extraordinary length of our infancy and youth, the extreme degree of dependence of our young, and by a lack of instincts on which to fall back to guide us in raising our children.

jewish parentingInstead of biological drives, we rely on social norms and religious values to guide our parenting and to mold our children. Our friends, our parents, books, rabbis, magazines and popular psychologists all instruct us about how to raise our children and what standards and expectations we can rightly apply to them. Human parenting, then, is executed within a network of other adults, and is guided by the cumulative experience of our own communities.

In this sense, anthropologists also speak of the transmission of a traditional culture in similar terms. A culture is normally passed from one generation to another, from knowledgeable adult to learning child. Since the adult has imbibed the norms and practices of the culture from older acculturated adults, this transmission is often simply through exposure and through example--the stuff that memories are made of, i.e., watching Bubbe lighting Shabbos candles, sitting next to Zeyde at a Seder.

The Torah records that point clearly in this week’s reading. The parashah opens by noting, "This is the line of Aaron and Moses at the time when the Lord spoke with Moses on Mount Sinai. These were the names of Aaron's sons . . . " What follows is a list of Aaron's children and grandchildren.

This strange juxtaposition of Moses' name with Aaron's children raises an obvious question. In the words of the Midrash Bamidbar Rabbah, "Surely, 'the line of Moses' is not required here! Why, then, is it stated?"

The answer provided by the Midrash is that Moses' name is listed alongside that of the natural father, Aaron, "out of respect for Moses, in order not to diminish any of his dignity." Yet, we still must ask, what did Moses do to deserve being listed as a "parent" to Aaron's children?

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Rabbi Bradley Artson

Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson is Vice-President of the American Jewish University in Los Angeles and Dean of its Ziegler School of Rabbinical Studies. He served as a congregational rabbi in Southern California for ten years. Rabbi Artson?is the author of The Bedside Torah and co-author of a children's book, I Have Some Questions about God.