As I prepare resignedly to download and mail off my usual application for an IRS tax extension, I won’t hide from you that in this period of recession money is a worry with our family. Thank God I have a job. And thank you, as well, to the Discovery Institute that values my thought and writing. Still, there’s cause for anxiety. At least in my mind there is.
In fact, this morning I found myself musing about when our oldest boy, 7-year-old Ezra, will be old enough to go work at one of our numerous local Starbucks locations. Does that make me a bad father? Coincidentally, yesterday my wife Nika was reading aloud to me from the back cover of a review copy of Rabbi Shmuley Boteach’s latest, The Broken American Male
Why do American husbands come home from work too exhausted to interact with their families? When did a healthy quest for prosperity become a twisted game no one can win?
“Sounds like you!” says Nika, who was half joking but only half.
Surely 9 years old isn’t too young for a Barista?
With such thoughts on my mind, I sat down earlier this morning for a look at Samson Raphael Hirsch’s Torah commentary, opening to the passage following the last one I read. Just “random” Bible study. Sure enough, as so often happens, what I read applied directly to what was on my mind when I opened the book.
Hirsch is writing about the birth of Noah to his father Lamech. “And he called his name Noah, thereby to say: only this can console us from our work and from what our hands have had to renounce from the earth which God hath cursed” (Genesis 5:29).
When Adam and Eve sinned, it wasn’t they but the earth that was cursed because of them. You see the evidence of this in whatever “field” you choose to make your living. As my friend Rabbi Daniel Lapin always points out, that a field can mean either your profession or a plot of land is no coincidence. Making a living then became the source of worry and frustration it has been ever since. There is only one consolation for this: your children. In Hebrew, a son is called a ben, a word that shares a root with the verb “to build.” “Because from him the world is built,” the ancient rabbis suggest.
Hirsch teaches that for all that our worldly plans are likely doomed to frustration, we have the opportunity, in our children, for hope:
There is only one thing that can console us, only one thing in which we find the goal of all our efforts and that we can, without obstruction, bring to the complete height of its designation, and that is “this,” our child, our ben, the “brick,” the building stone for all the future of the world. For just because no curse lay on mankind, with every human being, in every age, the very loftiest stage in life can be reached, so that children are always, to use the words of [King] David, “arrows in the hand of a mighty man” [Psalm 127:4] which we can aim, give the direction to become “builders of the world.”…
They complete where our hands failed.
That last sentence is really a consolation. I don’t seriously want to send my kids off to work at age 9, though supporting one’s family is a big reason why economically challenged people from ancient times to the present have valued large numbers of offspring. It’s why affluent societies typically experience a drop in fertility.
But in all candor, I don’t often enough think of my children as future builders of an edifice that I am very likely to fail to complete, given the state of the world from Adam down to Obama. That’s not about making money. It’s about whatever mission you or I choose as our own in this world.
What a different conception of fatherhood and motherhood that is from the depraved secular vision of a person like biologist Richard Dawkins who sees people as nothing more than survival vehicles for our genes.
My son has the opportunity to “complete” where I failed, or at least to come closer to completing it than I will have done. But only if I labor to keep in mind the wisdom of the Hebrew Bible, that a child is indeed a “builder of the world,” an “arrow in the hand of a mighty man.” Only if I am that “mighty man” will he be that “builder.”