Selfish Parenting By Rabbi Mendy Brukirer

November 17th 2017

As a parent, the moment I dreaded most was shopping with my 3 year old daughter while attempting to educate her about the dangers of candy. She, in that confident manner of small children everywhere who know when they have all the power, would make sure that everyone else in the store could hear her clearly enunciated "No!" 

This week we are introduced to our great uncle, the evil twin of Jacob. Right from the start there is a sense that this child is different this boy is born with a full coat of hair (Gen.25:25) and is given the name Esav. His name, derived from the Hebrew word עשוי, means “complete”. His response to anyone telling him what to do was a educational nightmare: No. An attitude that from birth said no need for me to learn any ethics or morals, I am perfect. 

As Esav grows up we begin to hear of his aggressive ambition and his relentless pursuit of physical comforts. He views the ideals of his family as obstacles to his success. Compassion and sensitivity to others are just in the way, roadblocks to his accumulation of wealth. An end that began to justify all means including murder. Esav cares little for the other it's all about little old me. 

With this knowledge of Esav it's surprising to find that there was one area where Esav is held up as an example to us, specifically in Kibud Av (honoring his father). We are told that Esav would wear his fancy dress clothes when taking care of his elderly father!    As the Sages tell us (Bereishis Rabbah 65): Our teacher Shimon Ben Gamliel stated: “All of my days I served my father, and I didn’t accomplish even 1/100th of the degree to which Eisav honored his father."

High praise indeed. Yet this seems to fly in the face of everything we know about Esav. What was different about his relationship with his father that he was able to focus on someone else's needs besides himself? 

Rav JB Soloveitchik explains there are two separate mitzvot (commandments) for every child pertaining to their relationship with their parents. One is Kibud, honoring them, the other is Mora, revering them. Kibud is making them dinner, giving them a ride, taking care of their physical comforts. Morah denotes respect which comes from recognizing our parents authority. Kibud can only be done during the parents lifetime while Mora is forever.

An act of Kibud may stem from a self-serving thought, a instinct. After all, the day will come when I require my child's services to take care of me. Mora is more of a understanding, an ability to relate with love and humility.

So we show Esav as the master of Kibud as he shows his children the amazing way he takes care of his parents, after all one day he's going to need their help. Wonderful, yet still selfish.

My daughter is now 4 years old, and the sugar inspired tantrums are more or less a memory of the recent past. She has learned to respect her parents judgements with love. Do I hope that she will be a child attending to our every need as we age? Of course! 

However it is worthy to note that Mora also means to teach, and that allows me to understand that the true test of our relationship will not be in my lifetime, rather in how she perceives my role in giving to her the ethics and morals of our tradition that I've been entrusted with and in her teaching that to her own children, selflessly.