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Ha'azinu 5782: For Me or For You?

Ha'azinu (Deuteronomy 32 )

by Rabbi Yitzchak Zweig

GOOD MORNING! To the delight (and immeasurable relief) of parents all over the world, most schools re-opened this fall. As one of my friends recently put it, “I am really going to miss my son when school begins in 9 days, 19 hours, and 47 minutes from now.” Parents know summer is about to be over when they start feeling the way their kids’ teachers looked back in June.

Still, there’s no such thing as a free lunch and the price a parent pays for having a quiet house during the day is the chaotic morning routine of trying to get the kids off to school. Yep, nothing quite gets the blood pumping in the morning like yelling at your kids for 20 minutes straight to get out of bed and get dressed.

Somehow, our kids – who for the entire summer were watching cartoons “bright eyed and bushy tailed” at 5:30 am – cannot manage to drag themselves out of bed at 7 am on school days. Anyone who has ever had to get kids off to school in the morning can relate to Rodney Dangerfield’s comment: “My mother had morning sickness after I was born.”

Somewhere between trying to ignore your child’s Oscar-worthy performance of “I’m sick and can’t go to school this morning” and running down the street barefoot in your pajamas chasing the school bus while frantically waving your kid’s lunch box, you begin to contemplate your life choices.

Oddly enough, this week’s Torah portion teaches us a crucial life lesson on how we should conduct ourselves when waking up our children in the morning.

In this week’s reading, the Torah describes the kindness and mercy of the Almighty by likening it to how an eagle treats its young; “Like an eagle arousing its nest, hovering over its young, it spreads its wings and takes them to flight by carrying them on its pinions” (Deuteronomy 32:11).

The great medieval Biblical commentator Rashi (ad loc) explains: An eagle is merciful toward his children in that he doesn’t enter the nest suddenly and startle his sleeping young; rather he flaps his wings and goes around them from branch to branch to gently rouse his young and not overwhelm them. In addition, he gently touches them and then withdraws and touches them again, without ever putting the full force of his weight on them.

Rashi goes on to explain the second attribute: An eagle carries its young on its wings because it is unafraid of winged predators for it flies higher than any other birds. The only danger that it fears is man’s arrows, and so the eagle carries its young on its wing. The eagle’s rationale is, “Better that the arrow should pierce me and not strike my children.”

So too, Rashi explains, when the Jewish nation left Egypt they were being pursued by the Egyptian army who caught up to them and proceeded to shoot arrows and catapult stones at them. However, the Almighty sent an angel who acted as a shield between the Egyptians and the Jews, and absorbed the full force of the assault, just as an eagle would for its children.

Rashi continues, just as an eagle gently hovers not to startle its young, so too when it came time for God to appear on Mount Sinai to deliver the Torah He was careful not to overwhelm them.

Although the analogy is pretty clear, these two concepts still require further explanation. The end of the verse demonstrates that an eagle is willing to suffer pain and even sacrifice itself for the sake of its children, as it is willing to take the blow of an arrow to protect them. This is understandably an incredible commitment on the part of the eagle. But how are we to understand the greatness of the virtue that it gently wakes up its young? If an eagle is willing to sacrifice itself for its children, what is further added by the fact that it gently wakes them?

The Torah is teaching us an incredible life lesson here, one that will surely be appreciated by anyone who ever had to rouse children in the morning. Usually, when parents come into their children’s room to wake them up in the morning, they knock loudly on the door and project their voice. Then, when the children are slow to get out of bed, parents tend to raise the volume of their voices. Pretty soon they are yelling at them to hurry up, get dressed, etc.

Why do we yell at our kids in the morning? Is it because the parent really cares if their children get to school on time or is it that if the children are late and miss their bus or car pool then the parent has to drive them? In some homes the parent takes their children to school on the way to work, and when the children are late then the parent also becomes late, which, of course, creates additional pressures.

Almost always, the stressful morning experience isn’t for the children’s sake, it’s about the parent’s frustration at being inconvenienced by their dawdling.

What most parents fail to realize is that you can’t fool your kids; a child always knows when a parent is acting in the interest of the child or in the self-interest of the parent. My father likes to illustrate this point with an incident that he was called in to resolve.

One Saturday night, about midnight, my father gets an urgent call from a member of the community who is very distressed. The man explains that for the last three hours he has been in a yelling match with his teenage son, which of course led to a loud argument with his wife, and he is beside himself.

My father asked, “What happened?” The man explained that he and his son were in synagogue for the evening service ending Shabbat and his son left early to go home. The father did not notice his absence until one of the other congregants turned to him and asked him where his son was.

The man then realized that his son was no longer in the synagogue and when he got home he confronted his son about leaving the service early. That led to huge argument and much yelling and screaming, which went on for hours. The father was now calling for advice about what to do.

My father said, “Let me ask you a question. On the other nights of the week do you take your son to synagogue?” The man replied that he does not. “Do you know if he even prays?” The man once again replied that he does not.

My father explained to him that the reason he was upset wasn’t because his son left the service early and perhaps didn’t pray, inasmuch that for the rest of the week he didn’t even know if his son bothered to pray at all. The reason he was upset was because his friend (who had his children with him) embarrassed him by asking him where his son was.

The reason he was yelling at his son wasn’t about educating him on the importance of prayer, it was because he himself was embarrassed and he was venting frustration for being embarrassed by his son’s absence. Of course this led to a huge fight because children are very perceptive. They know when a parent is criticizing them for their own good and when they are being criticized because the parent wants them to behave differently for the parents’ sake.

This is a key point and is perhaps the source of most conflict between parents and children. When criticism of a child is for the child’s sake it leads to growth and eventually a child will appreciate it. When the criticism is perceived as being in the parents’ self-interest the child feels controlled and manipulated.

That is what the Torah is teaching us. Of course the eagle does everything it can to protect its young. But is it doing so because that is in the eagle’s own self-interest inasmuch as the young represent continuity and the preservation of its species? Or does its devotion and self-sacrifice stem from its care for the children themselves and their best interest?

The verse therefore tells us that an eagle gently wakes up its young. This remarkable concern for the emotional health of its children in not wanting to startle them teaches us that an eagle’s protection is motivated by what’s good for the offspring, not in the self-interest of the eagle itself.

This is a life lesson for dealing with our children and it does not end when a child leaves the “nest.” A parent expressing disappointment in a grown child’s chosen profession or spouse often stems from their own unhappiness, and inexorably leads to lifelong parent-child issues. The best advice one can give to parents of adult children is: “Keep your mouth shut and your wallet open.” In this way the child knows that the parenting isn’t about control – it’s about genuine love.

Torah Portion of the Week

Ha'azinu, Deuteronomy 32:1 - 31:51

The Torah portion is a song, a poem taught to the Jewish people by Moses. It recounts the trials and tribulations of the Jewish people during the 40 years in the desert. Jewish consciousness, until the present generation, was to teach every Jewish child to memorize Ha’azinu. In this manner we internalized the lessons of our history, especially the futility of rebelling against the Almighty.

The portion ends with Moses being told to ascend Mount Nevo to see the Promised Land before he dies and is “gathered to his people.” By the way, this is one of the allusions to an afterlife in the Torah. Moses died alone and no one knows where he is buried. Therefore, “gathered to his people” has a higher meaning!

Candle Lighting Times

“Every day I wake up and wait for my mom to put up coffee and make breakfast. Then I remember that I am the mom.”

Dedicated with Deep Appreciation to

Robert Tolbert



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