Natural Parenthood The Bible tells us that “The man called his wife’s name Eve (Havah) because she was the mother of all living things (hai)” (Gen. 3:20). But man’s name is not identified with fatherhood; he is called adam or ish, but not av. His role as a father was not portrayed symbolically by his name, while Eve’s role as a mother was; nothing reflects Adam’s task as a father. In contradistinction to Adam’s, Abraham’s fatherhood did find an expression in his name. God added the letter hei to his name in order to make Abraham’s fatherhood universal, to make him “a father of many nations” (Gen. 17:5). Why did a change take place when Abraham, the father of our nation, appeared on the scene? Apparently a new idea of fatherhood that was unknown to Adam was revealed to the world with the arrival of Abraham. Adam was the father of the natural, unredeemed community; Abraham was the father of a redeemed, spiritual community. Adam sinned and acted contrary to God’s will; Abraham proclaimed God’s word as the highest law for man to abide by. Adam lost the paradise; Abraham wanted to restore the paradise to man. Apparently, the role of the father within the confines of the natural, sinful-egotistic, pleasure-minded and power-oriented community differs from that within the redeemed, covenantal, ethical, love-oriented and humble community. Within the first community, founded by Adam, the father’s role is of such minimal significance that it is not worth being demonstrated by the name, while in the covenantal community the role is redeemed and elevated, infused with new meaning deserving of emphasis and mention. In the natural community, the woman is more concerned with motherhood than the man with fatherhood. Motherhood, in contrast to fatherhood, bespeaks a long-enduring peculiar state of body and mind. The nine months of pregnancy, with all its attendant biological and psychological changes, the birth of the child with pain and suffering, the nursing of the baby and, later, the caretaking of and attending to the youngster–all form part of the motherhood experience. In a word, the woman is bound up with the child and she experiences her motherhood role in all her thought and feeling. The father, if he wants, can deny his fatherhood and forego responsibility. The mother is bound up with the child; the father can roam around forgetting everything. Motherhood is an experience—unredeemed and hence brutish, yet an experience. Physically, fatherhood implies nothing tangible and memorable. The male, bodily and mentally, does not experience his fatherhood. In short, within the natural community the mother occupies a central position while the father is relegated to a role that is intangible and vague, since it does not imply any restrictive bonds. Motherhood is a fact that is foisted upon a woman. That is why the name of the woman was derived from her role as a mother, while Adam’s name has nothing in common with his fatherhood. “Can a woman forget her baby or disown the child of her womb?” (Isaiah 49:15). Redeemed Parenthood With the emergence of Abraham and the founding of a new kind of community, the covenantal one, the vague role of fatherhood and the all-absorbing experience of motherhood were redeemed. New commitments were accepted; man began to live not only for himself, but for others as well. He became concerned with the destiny of others, and discovered in himself responsiveness not only to biological pressure but to the call of conscience, through which God addresses Himself to him. The fatherhood idea was redeemed, purged of its orgiastic-hedonic element, infused with life, and turned into a central reality on par with that of motherhood. What is fatherhood in the covenantal society? It is the great educational commitment to the masorah, the tradition, the freely assumed obligation to hand down, to pass on to the child the covenant, a message, a code, a unique way of life, a tradition of mishpat u-tzedakah, of justice and charity. In the covenantal community, the father is promoted to teacher, and his role ipso facto is shifted from the periphery to the center on par with that of the mother. That is why Adam—as the representative of the natural community—was not aware of his fatherhood. Only with the emergence of the covenantal community and with the formulation of the doctrine of father-teacher was the fatherhood commitment suddenly revealed to us. Motherhood expresses, as I explained before, a natural, unalterable reality, a factum. The woman becomes involved with her child within the natural community, while the man freely accepts fatherhood only in the covenantal community. However, not only did the role of the male undergo a change in the covenantal community, but that of the female did as well. Abraham personified fatherhood as a great commitment. Sarah became the first mother in the sense that her motherhood stemmed not only from instinctual involvement due to biological pressure but from free commitment as well. What was Sarah’s commitment? The same as Abraham’s: an educational masorah commitment to hand down and teach the covenant, God’s word, the way of a covenantal life of hesed u-tzedakah, of kindness and charity. Mother’s job changed into a great mission; her preoccupation with the child was endowed with ethical meaning. She not only nurses the child physically, she brings him up; she assumes the role of educator. Motherhood is not only an experience but a commitment as well. At this juncture motherhood is hallowed on account of another idea which is linked up with the spontaneous free choice of motherhood on the part of the woman in the covenantal community. As “mother-teacher,” the woman is no more connected with only the fruit of her womb, with the child she bore. As long as motherhood, like fatherhood, was rooted in biological facticity, its confine was very narrow and extended only to a clan. One can experience biological motherhood only in respect to one’s own child. However, when motherhood was transformed into a commitment and being a mother was equated with being a teacher, an apostle of God, the carrier of God’s covenant, His prophet, then motherhood, like fatherhood, was elevated to a universal spiritual level. Instead of being just the father and mother of their offspring in a clannish sense, Abraham and Sarah accepted responsibility for the multitudes, for the world community of the committed. The father and mother of the clan were promoted to father- and mother-teachers of the entire covenantal community with all its universal aspirations. The letter hei was added to both of their names, signifying a transformation to universality. God promised Abraham that he would be “a father of many nations” (Gen. 17:4) and that Sarah “shall give rise to nations; rulers of peoples shall be of her” (17:16). Sarah replaced Eve. The freely committed universal mother supplanted the instinctually involved natural mother. Eve was “the mother of all living”; Sarah, the mother of nations and kings. Eve’s motherhood consisted in giving life in a natural sense to her child. It lacked, however, the element of leadership. Her motherhood was a result of a biological pressure, the consummation of a natural process. Sarah’s was due to great vision, to a new mission she took on. She and “all the persons they had acquired in Haran” (Gen. 12:5)—her children/pupils—formed a covenantal community, one founded on education, a living tradition and commitment. Sarah redeemed the motherhood experience by taking a factum, a natural reality, and changing it into a commitment. Passive involvement became an active commitment; natural entanglement was elevated to a normative choice. The woman herself rose from a receptive to an active role. And the most important dimension which was added is that of universality, the capacity to assume motherhood vis-a-vis all children. No more should a childless couple feel desolate and forsaken because the Almighty has not blessed them with an heir. The barren woman may lack the natural motherhood experience, but she can attain covenantal if not natural motherhood by choice, by commitment, by helping others, by contributing toward the strengthening of the covenantal community, by exposing children of other parents to the word of God. The Romans—to whom the idea of covenant was alien, who, in spite of their advanced technological achievements, never freed themselves from the bonds of the natural community—tried to compensate the childless man and woman by establishing the institution of adoption. Judaism did not need to create such an institution. The letter hei added to Abraham’s and Sarah’s names symbolized the exalted idea of covenantal fatherhood and motherhood, one which is realized not through natural but through spiritual-educational media which transcend the boundaries of a clan and extend into the open spaces of universality. The Need for Sacrificial Action However, any act of redemption is bound up with sacrificial action. A physiological reaction changes into meaningful hallowed action at any time the individual displays courage and the ability to answer the violent, orgiastic, hypnotic call of nature in the negative, thus incurring pain and suffering because of his refusal to cooperate with biological pressures that have not found their total release. Judaism identified sanctity with sacrifice, this identification being reflected in the status of utter and immutable sanctity, kedushat ha-guf, assigned halakhically to a korban. One cannot hallow anything unless one is ready to surrender, give up, and be defeated. Let us analyze from this viewpoint the redeeming passional action of the covenantal mother. Motherhood per se, even at the level of naturalness, is described by the Bible as a passional experience. On the one hand, the woman pays a much higher price than the father for engaging in sex. While the father is permitted by nature to walk off free, the mother becomes burdened with responsibilities for many long years. She loses her freedom and ability to order her life in accordance with her desires. In fact, she must give the whole of herself to the child. To be a mother—even at a natural level—means to shift all other responsibilities and concerns to the periphery. Even the most primitive motherhood experience is fraught with pain and suffering. On the other hand, the woman, discriminated against by nature and charged to carry the heavy load of motherhood alone, is not ready to give up her role as mother and cast off the burden. This compulsive will in the woman to be a mother at all costs emphasizes the pathos in her role. The tragedy of the woman becomes the more pronounced the less she can avoid it. The woman in the Bible yearns for a child with her heart and soul and is not able to suppress the urge for motherhood. The experience would not be so sorrowful if it could be dispensed with, if the woman felt happy without it. However, the Bible denies that such a possibility exists. The woman wants to be a mother; she cannot get along without involvement in this kind of a passional experience. The longing for children, for a home, for the parent-child community, is by far more intense in the woman than in man. The lot of the unmarried woman is by far more miserable than that of the unmarried man. The impact of sexual loneliness upon a woman is more devastating, both physically and mentally, than it is upon a man. The woman finds herself in a paradoxical predicament. On the one hand, she craves a husband and child; on the other hand, this longing, which penetrates into the very depth of her personality, can be fulfilled only by means of pain and suffering. The story of creation describes this role in a short verse. “To the woman He said, ‘I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your conception. In sorrow you shall bring forth children; and your desire shall be to your husband, and he shall rule over you’” (Gen. 3:16). In other words, the desire of the woman is tragic, masochistic. On the one hand she yearns for children, a husband and a home; on the other hand, she pays the high price (in terms of her freedom, safety and leisure) for the attainment of this desire. With the emergence of the covenantal community and the change of the mother role from an inevitable experience to a free commitment, the passional component of this experience and the tragic dichotomy were redeemed. I say “redeemed” and not liquidated or eliminated, since there is no power in the world which can nullify God’s will. The pain and suffering involved in being a mother can never be eliminated. However, it is subject to redemption, to infusion with meaning and purposiveness. While Eve suffers, her passional experience is absurd, purposeless, a waste of energy and human feelings. While Sarah suffers, her experience is hallowed as a sacrifice for a great, exalted idea: the perpetuation of the covenantal community. The Yearning for Children Let us analyze the covenantal mother and her redeemed passional experience. She wants a child. Her yearning for children is perhaps more powerful than that of the mother in the unredeemed natural community. Rachel exclaimed in utter despair, “Give me children; if not I shall die” (Gen. 30:1). Hannah’s story (I Samuel, chapter 1) is replete with tenderness, human tragedy, suffering and faith. She is a woman in distress, a woman who thought that she had lost everything in life, that she had boon completely forsaken by God and men, a woman who felt a great poverty, the absurdity in living. She sought relief in prayer, for from a human viewpoint, the situation she found herself in was hopeless. No doubt her yearning for a child was by no means less intense than that of Eve. Yet there was a basic difference. Eve’s yearning for a child was not related to a great goal. It was purely egotistic, instinctual, primitive desire. Eve wanted to be a mother because she felt a need not only to be loved but to love, to shower someone with affection. As long as this desire is not redeemed and purged of its instinctual elements, a mother wants a child only to satisfy her desire for loving and caring for someone. She wanted a child because she was in need of giving vent to emotional pressure, to gratify a per se good instinctual drive, that is, to shower someone with love. What this leads to was irrelevant for Eve. The purpose is fulfilled in dandling, hugging, or kissing anything. However, in the covenantal community the urge to love is purged of its egotistic instinctual elements and turns into a need to serve, to sacrifice, to participate in the great adventure of being a people of God and a messianic community. The woman is no more a dandling, playing mother. She is a mother who teaches, educates, trains, and consecrates the child to God. The covenantal mother’s desire and craving for a child flow from the deep recesses of her personality where God’s image is engraved. She tries to imitate the Creator. Jewish mystics asked: Why did God create the world? Does God, the Almighty, infinite, eternal, omniscient and transcendent, need a frail, finite, transient, and conditioned world? Yes, they said, He needs the world in order to have somebody on whom to practice kindness and mercy, in order to let somebody share in the great I-awareness of being, in order to give love and bestow hesed. God did not need the world for Himself; He wanted it in order to give man the possibility of attaining greatness. So, too, the covenantal mother needs a child to make happy, to have the latter join the great community of the covenant, to serve the great cause, to consecrate the child to God. She is required to surrender her child. Jewish covenantal training is basically identical with an act of consecrating the child to God. A mother can be affectionate—Judaism has never condemned the manifestation of love by a mother. But covenantal mother has to withdraw from her child; her total possessive claims are curtailed in the covenantal community. For dedication to the covenantal cause and unlimited affection are mutually exclusive. Hannah is the woman who proclaimed that motherhood asserts itself in consecration of the child, in giving him away, in surrendering him to God. “O Lord of hosts, if Thou wilt indeed look on the affliction of Your handmaid and remember me and not forget Thy handmaid but wilt give to Thy handmaid a man-child, I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life …” (I Samuel 1:11). And what did Jewish mothers do throughout the millennia if not exactly the same thing that Hannah pledged? What does a Jewish mother do now when she brings her child to a yeshivah? Jews introduced a system of public compulsory education 2100 years ago, while the so-called Western world was roaming the forests in Northern and Central Europe. “It was enacted to establish teachers of young children at every city and town, and to bring the children to them at the age of six or seven” (Bava Batra 21a). The child used to be taken away from the embrace of his mother at a very tender age and brought into a new world of Torah, teaching and training. Even now a Jewish child leaves home early in the morning and comes home late in the evening. When Hannah said, “For as long as he lives he is lent to the Lord” (I Samuel 1:28), she did not mean that he would retreat into some cloister; she did not think of physical solitude or a monastic life. Judaism has always opposed an unnatural life. What she had in mind was a life of service to God by serving the covenantal community. We are all still practicing this. Let us recapitulate. In the natural community, the woman is involved in her motherhood-destiny; father is a distant figure who stands on the periphery. In the covenantal community, father moves to the center where mother has been all along, and both together take on a new commitment, universal in substance: to teach, to train the child to hear the faint echoes which keep on tapping at our gates and which disturb the complacent, comfortable, gracious society. Two Complementary Missions There is a distinction between mother’s and father’s mission within the covenantal community, since they represent two different personalistic approaches. Father’s teaching is basically of an intellectual nature. Judaism is to a great extent an intellectual discipline, a method, a system of thought, a hierarchy of values. In order to be acquainted with all these aspects, one must study, comprehend, acquire knowledge and be familiar at least with its basic principles. Let me confide: it is not too easy a task. The teaching must be strict, exact and conscientious. If the father cannot accomplish it all by himself, he must see to it that his child obtains the necessary instruction. However, Judaism is not only an intellectual tradition but an experiential one as well. The Jew not only observed but experienced the Shabbat, the Jew experienced Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. He did not only recite prayers on those days. The seder was not just a ceremonial, but a great experiential event. There is beauty, grandeur, warmth, and tenderness to Judaism. All these qualities cannot be described in cognitive terms. One may behold them, feel them, sense them. It is impossible to provide one with a formal training in the experiential realm. Experiences are communicated not through the word but through steady contact, through association, through osmosis, through a tear or a smile, through dreamy eyes and soft melody, through the silence at twilight and the recital of Shema. All this is to be found in the maternal domain. The mother creates the mood; she is the artist who is responsible for the magnificence, solemnity and beauty. She tells the child of the great romance of Judaism. She somehow communicates to him the tremor, the heartbeat of Judaism, while playing, singing, laughing and crying. Leadership in Times of Crisis While intellectual involvement is important, in times of crisis and distress the experiential commitment is indispensable. Were it not for the mother, the Jews would not have been able to defy and to survive so many crises which threatened to annihilate our people. Again the contrast between the natural and covenantal mother is striking. The natural woman, Eve, becomes involved involuntarily, not only in natural motherhood, but also in many human situations. She is vulnerable to the smooth but evil tongue of the serpent, sinks easily into her receptive role, into her quest for pleasure, and loses her independence of mind and will. She cannot resist the satanic persuasive arguments and false promises. “And the woman saw that the tree was good for food and that it was pleasant to the eyes… she took of its fruit and did eat…” (Gen. 3:6). The natural mother, Eve, abandoned her freedom of choice based on critical scrutiny; she let herself be easily hypnotized by the serpent, seduced by him. She could not rise to the heights of a courageous personality; she yielded. In crisis, she displayed weakness, confusion and fear. By redeeming the motherhood experience, Sarah restored the dignity of the woman. A new task was given to her, namely, to rise heroically in moments of dismay and spiritual chaos, when man, notwithstanding his great intellectual prowess, finds himself entranced and is about to fail in the implementation of his fatherhood commitment. The mother in times of crisis assumes the role of her husband’s keeper, his guardian and teacher. In the covenantal community, motherhood is a more powerful spiritual force than fatherhood. The shy, modest, reserved mother turns into an active personality whenever critical action is called for. Man’s mind roams about in a world of abstractions and twisted ideas. He is at times too critical, too skeptical to realize the simple truth which brooks no interference from the oversophisticated intellect. That is why the Bible has always portrayed the woman as the determining influence, saving the male from committing grave errors. She quite often changed the course of destiny. The woman is a crisis personality. In normal times, when routine decisions are reached, the man makes up his mind and the Biblical woman follows him. However, in times of upheaval and transition, when the covenantal community finds itself at crossroads and the choice of alternative courses of action is about to be made, a choice that will shape destiny—it is then that the mother steps to the fore and takes command. The greatness of the man expresses itself in everyday action, when situations lend themselves to logical analysis and discursive thinking. The greatness of the woman manifests itself at the hour of crisis, when the situation does not lend itself to piecemeal understanding but requires instead instantaneous action that flows from the very depths of a sensitive personality. “God gave woman binah yeterah, an additional measure of understanding over men” (Niddah 45b). Motherhood and the Covenantal Community Sarah is responsible for the survival of the covenantal community. Abraham had two sons, Ishmael and Isaac. The covenant was confined to Isaac and not given to Ishmael. Why? Because the mother of Ishmael was Hagar, and the mother of Isaac was Sarah. Let us just read the Biblical text pertaining to the event of the covenant and the birth of Isaac. And when Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him: “I am the Almighty God; walk before me and be perfect, and I will make My covenant between Me and you and will multiply you exceedingly... As for Me, behold my covenant is with you, and you shall be a father of many nations. Neither shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for a father of many nations have I made you… And I will establish my covenant between Me and you and your seed after you in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto you, and to your seed after you” (Gen. 17:1–7). We do not yet know whether God refers to Isaac or to Ishmael. However, God qualifies his statement by saying: “As for Sarah, your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name, and I will bless her and give you a son through her, yea, I will bless her that she shall give rise to nations…” (Gen. 17:5–16). The covenant is restricted to Sarah and her offspring, and does not include Ishmael. Abraham feels embarrassed and he begs God that Ishmael may also be admitted to the covenant. “O that Ishmael might live before Thee” (Gen. 17:18). God, however, rejects Abraham’s plea and He says: “Sarah, your wife, shall bear you a son indeed, and you shall call his name Isaac, and I will establish My covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, and with his seed after him. As for Ishmael I have heard you. Behold I have blessed him… But My covenant will I establish with Isaac whom Sarah shall bear unto you…” (Gen. 17:18–21). God lays emphasis upon Sarah’s role in the realization of the covenantal society. Abraham’s offspring are not taken into this esoteric community if their mother happens to be Hagar and not Sarah. Later, when Sarah demands the expulsion of Ishmael, and Abraham is not eager to comply with her request, God tells him in terse terms, “Let it not be grievous in your sight because of the lad, and because of your bondwoman; in all that Sarah has said unto you, hearken unto her voice, for in Isaac shall your seed be called” (Gen. 21:12). Rebecca is responsible for the covenant being transmitted to Jacob instead of Esau (Gen. 27). Isaac had contemplated entrusting the spiritual heritage to his oldest son. At the hour of crisis Rebecca intervened and thereby determined the historical destiny of the covenantal community. She sent Jacob to Haran to marry her nieces. Miriam is responsible for the emergence of Moses as a leader and redeemer of his people. If not for her, he would have never been imbued with great passionate love for his poor brethren. She suggested to the princess that a Hebrew wet-nurse be employed for the infant, preventing Moses from disappearing in anonymity and ignorance: “And his sister stood afar off, to know what would be done to him… Then said the sister to Pharaoh’s daughter, ‘Shall I go and call for you a nurse of the Hebrew women…,’ and the maid went and called the child’s mother” (Ex. 2:4, 7, 8). Similarly, Deborah saved the people from oppression and slavery when she organized the rebellion under the military command of Barak (Judges 4–5). And the Aggadah relates that the women refused to contribute to the Golden Calf (Pirkei de-Rabbi Eliezer 45) while they gave generously to the Tabernacle (Ex. 35). The woman is both a demonic and Divine crisis personality. Eve and Delilah represent the woman-demon; our matriarchs, the Divine individuality. The destiny of mankind and of the covenantal people was shaped by the woman. The Book of Proverbs dedicated its last section (31:11–31) to the woman of valor in whom the heart of her husband trusts. Valor as a trait of the feminine personality was born in the covenantal community where motherhood, instead of being a factum, became a challenge and an ideal. The Tragedy in Motherhood And yet the story of the Biblical woman, the covenantal mother, ends with a tragic note. The very moment she brings her job to a close, the instant she completes her task, when the crisis is over, she returns quickly to her tent, draws down the curtain of anonymity and disappears. She is outside of the hustle and bustle of the male society. Abraham sits “in front of the tent” (Gen. 18:1). His name appears in the press and many know him; he is the leader, the father, the teacher; his lips drip honey; he enlightens the minds; he fascinates the passersby. Hardly anyone knows that there is a Sarah, humble, modest, publicly shy. Somewhere in the tent is the person who is perhaps responsible for all the accomplishments credited to Abraham, for all the glory that is bestowed upon Abraham, who is superior to him, who leads the leader and teaches the teacher and guides the master, who inspires the visionary and interprets his dreams. Sarah, the Biblical woman, is modest, humble, self-effacing. She enters the stage when she is called upon, acts her part with love and devotion in a dim corner of the stage, and then leaves softly by a side door without applause and without the enthusiastic response of the audience which is hardly aware of her. She returns to her tent, to anonymity and retreat. Only sensitive people know the truth. Only three travelers inquired about her. These travelers were not ordinary people whose eyes see only the surface. They were the angels of God. Their glimpse penetrated and apprehended the image of the true leader, teacher, prophetess, to whom everything should be credited. Nonchalantly they remarked, “Where is Sarah, your wife?” (Gen. 18:9). In other words, we know that without her you could not play the part that God assigned to you. Where is she? Why do not people know the truth? Why has she been just trailing behind you? Why did she not march in front of you? After all, the covenant cannot and will not be realized without her. Abraham answered tersely, “She is in the tent” (Gen. 18:9). Indeed she is enveloped in mystery. It is quite interesting that although Abraham survived Sarah by thirty-eight years, his historical role came to an end with Sarah’s passing. Isaac leaves the stage together with Rebecca. Jacob relinquishes his role to Joseph with the untimely death of Rachel. Without Sarah there would be no Abraham; no Isaac were it not for Rebecca; no Jacob without Rachel. And yet, and here the tragedy manifests itself with all its impact, we say, “God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob,” but not “God of Sarah, God of Rebecca, God of Rachel and Leah,” even though they had an equal share in Borei Olam, the Creator of the World. The Halakhah was cognizant of the greatness of the covenantal mother when it formulated the rule that Kedushat Yisrael, one’s status as a Jew, can be transmitted only through the woman. The Halakhah was also conscious of the loneliness and the tragic note in the feminine commitment when it accepted a contradictory rule that the child takes his father’s name and family status. The Duality of Fatherhood A question arises in the Mishnah and Tosefta Bikkurim whether a proselyte may, when praying, address himself to God as “our God and the God of our fathers.” The Halakhah has accepted the viewpoint of Rabbi Judah in the Jerusalem Talmud (Bikkurim 1:4) that the proselyte may recite the fixed text of the Bikkurim portion, including “which Thou didst swear unto our ancestors” (Deut. 26:15). Maimonides writes, relative to this problem: “The proselyte brings [bikkurim, his first fruits] and reads [the portion in Deuteronomy 26] for it was said by God to Abraham, ‘and you shall be a father of many nations’ (Gen. 17:4). Thus he [Abraham] is the father of the entire world that enters under the wings of the Divine Providence” (Maimonides, Hilkhot Bikkurim [Laws of the First Fruit Offering] 4:3). Maimonides did not interpret the phrase “a father of many nations” in the sense of natural fatherhood, that Abraham will be naturally fruitful and fertile, the progenitor of many peoples. He saw it rather as denoting another kind of fatherhood, the spiritual. Abraham is the father of all those who gather under the wings of the Shekhinah, the Divine Presence, of those who cleave to the God of Israel and commit themselves to His teachings. The change from Abram to Abraham is symbolic of the transition from the relationship of biological progeny and offspring to that of metaphysical father/teacher and child/disciple. When a man begets a child who is biologically his, a natural being becomes an Abram. This role is not a distinct privilege bestowed upon man exclusively. Procreation is a natural function of man and beast alike. But fatherhood that is rooted in the great idea-experience surpasses by far fatherhood due to a natural process of fertilization of the ovum. This message was conveyed to us through the covenant with Abraham. The covenant freed our ancestor from the natural restrictions of nature and widened his fatherhood experience to universal proportions. Whoever in the hour of enlightenment decides to return to God is embraced by Abraham as a beloved child. In a word, fatherhood is a double experience, a natural and a personal-metaphysical one. At the first level, man is procreative and sues for a status of fatherhood which is doomed to failure because he will never develop the proper relationship with his offspring. He will have to resign himself to unmitigated contempt on the part of the son or daughter, as the young will always resent and despise the old; or he may have to establish a veritable tyranny in his home, a result of a meaningless and absurdly resentful relationship. At the second level, father and child form a relationship which adds a new quality to their existential experience. They form an ontic community, a community of being, within which man is relieved of the loneliness which lashes him with untold ruthlessness and existential insensateness. Only within this fellowship is real fatherhood found. However, when I speak of the Abrahamic fatherhood which is attained through education, I understand the latter not only in terms of technical training of the child, of the development of his aptitudes and talents, of actualizing the child’s full natural potential, of exercising his or her innate physical and intellectual capabilities. However important and essential this type of education is to the full realization of the child, the idea of Abrahamic fatherhood implies a new dimension, one which is to be found beside the realm of education as it is understood by philosophers and pedagogues. The service Abraham rendered to Isaac did not consist in educating him in skills and aptitudes in the Platonic sense, in bringing out what already was endowed in him, but in introducing him to a new existence, a covenantal, redeemed one. Abraham ushered Isaac into the covenantal community consisting of four personae, I, thou, he (lower case) and He (upper case). Abraham revealed to Isaac the regenerating Law of God, or His ways. Abraham became a part of the scheme of revelation of God’s Law. While education aims only at being human, Abraham is within finitude involved with Isaac as to the latter’s trans-humanitas. He gave him something which lies beyond and above the finite reality. He discovered for him the idea of self-transcendence and self-redemption, of catharsis. “For I have known him that he shall command his children and his household after him that they shall keep the way of the Lord, to do righteousness and justice, so that the Lord may bring upon Abraham that which He had spoken of him” (Gen. 18:19). Fatherhood expresses itself in a testamental act, in transmitting the great experience and law of revelatio Dei. Not only does the father prepare his children for life, not only does he adapt them to an existing reality, as the naturalistic theory interprets the educational activity, but he also commits them to a higher transcendental reality. The fatherhood of Abraham is covenantal and was firmly established at the Mount Moriah with the Akedah drama, his willingness to sacrifice Isaac (Gen. 22). Many a modern father who tries to give his children an excellent technical education fails to become Abraham, to re-experience his fatherhood in letting his children discover a new reality of a committed, redeemed existence. Clan and Nation When God changed Abraham’s name from Abram, He changed his task as well as that of his children. Abraham’s role was changed from that of a private person, an individual, into that of a father of a nation. The land was granted not to a father of a clan but to a father of a nation. The promise was related to a nation: “I have made you the father of many nations… I will make nations come out of you” (Gen. 17:4,6). He will no more be just the head of a clan, of a tribe or many tribes. He will be the father of a nation, of an aboriginal covenantal entity. The father personifies the nation; he is a nation disguised as an individual. Abram denotes the natural link, the father of a family; Abraham signifies the existential link between a father and his offspring when he experiences ontological unity, oneness of being, and comity, as if he lived in them in a future generation, as if he will continue to exist through them. A nation is not a clan. It is an entity per se, a personality, an individuality. It is not a collective thing integrated of the many, but an aboriginal unity. Keneset Yisrael, corporate Israel, is a being. It exists in the same manner as I, you and he exist. For instance, we believe that the promised land belongs to us. To whom? To me, to you, to him? To all of us? No! It belongs not to one of us, nor to all of us in partnership! It belongs to Keneset Yisrael as an individuality, an original being. Keneset Yisrael may encompass all of mankind, since everybody can join through gerut, conversion. No racial legitimation is required. Once the children of Abraham will form a nation, once Abraham will be elevated to the father of a people, a nation, another question arises: who will be the mother of the nation? A clan can be formed by having a common ancestor, either a father or a mother. It is a purely biological blood link. A nation, however, is not dependent upon a blood relation. A nation has a common father-teacher. The father of a nation passes on to future generations not just genetic characteristics but a spiritual heritage, a way of life, a morality, an accumulation of values—in a word, a great world, a specific existential experience; he wills his own self to the generations, creating a sense of ontological unity, “…that he shall command his children and his household after him that they shall keep the way of the Lord, to do righteousness and justice” (Gen. 18:19). The Torah has emphasized that both father and mother were created in the image of God and that both of them express themselves by using their respective image-consciousness in a unique way. Together they reflect the total glory and majesty which God invested in them. Hence, the nation cannot come into existence and become God’s own nation unless the nation receives the moral code from the mother as well as the father. God speaks to his people either as a father or as a mother. He entrusted teaching to both. Hence, a nation must have a mother. That is why the Torah tells us that Sarah could not bear a child (Gen. 11:30, 16:1). Without her, there will be no birth of a nation. The whole covenant would have been null and void if Sarah had not been involved. Abraham turned into a spiritual father, a universal teacher, or into an idea; so did Sarah. She became a mother of people, not a mother of a clan. She was transformed into an idea. Of course, she will teach her children the same moral code that Abraham formulated. However, she will interpret the same code in the unique style which only a mother knows. Abraham interprets events in his individual fashion. Sarah interprets events and things under the aspect of involvement and sharing. How beautifully the Torah tells us the story of a father whom God charged with the mission of forming a nation and who could not implement his assignment because Sarah, the choicest of all women, could not join him since she was barren. God had to resort to a miracle in order that a charismatic nation be formed. Sarah will be the mother of the nation. “I will bless her and give you a son through her. I will bless her that she shall give rise to nations; rulers of people shall issue from her” (Gen. 17:16). The Almighty reemphasized that without Sarah there will be no covenant with a nation. The great historic task was entrusted to two people. They reflect the greatness of man in toto. Through them the great nation will achieve completeness.
Family Redeemed: Essays on Family Relationships [New Jersey: Toras Horav Foundation, 2000], pp. 105–125. Reprinted with permission of the publisher
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