A father’s legacy
By Rabbi David Burstein, Temple Beth Or
I am here to tell you that Father’s Day is important. Although it often pales in comparison to Mother’s Day, which garners much attention (definitely appropriate), Father’s Day actually is meaningful for us dads. It is nice to have our own day. And it comes indirectly, minus the ties and power tools, from the Torah.
Throughout the Torah we are given many examples of fathers. The text does a good job of expressing the dichotomous nature of fatherhood. It is often a realistic portrayal of a father’s inherent humanness. For in the Torah we have examples of good fathers and others who struggle. Sometimes they were the same man. There were great men who were great fathers and great men who were not.
King David, who was a great leader and writer of the Psalms, was a success as a king but he was a failure as a father. There were fathers such as Jacob who loved his sons intensely but created jealousy amongst his sons by favoring Joseph. The Torah takes a position of realism. And that is where the true teachings lie for us.
Our biblical forefathers are often fallible and struggling to figure out this dad thing just like many of us. They struggle with favoritism, with disappointment, with being good husbands. In other words they bring a humanity to the role of the father. But they each try their best. They each teach their sons to the best of their abilities about what a father’s role should be in their sons’ lives.
One of the greatest responsibilities of being a father is to teach your children to learn from your own experiences. This may not mean your career path or your personal choices or even from the path of material or social success, but the path of leading a life of service to God by serving the world around you.
God says to Moses: You must spread your prophet abilities. God tells him to take 70 elders and gather them and then God takes the spirit of Moses and places it upon the elders (Num. 11:17). Rabbi Avraham ibn Ezra explains that the process was akin to lighting many flames from a single flame. When we take the energy from a candle, we are able to light another flame without diminishing the first flame. And we keep the new flame lit until it burns strongly. God teaches Moses: focus on lighting the flame until the child’s flame is steady and strong. This is the sign of a good father.
And the Torah teaches that even though we give, it will not detract from our own light. Just the opposite, the more light we give off, the more we get additional energy. We are energized by giving off light.
We share our light when we volunteer to coach. We share our light when we make time for our families. We share our light when we love our partners and hug our children. We share our light when we honor our own parents.
Last month I lit a yahrzeit candle for my own father. It has been five years since he died. And I think of him often, especially on Father’s Day.
Although a brilliant physician and a scholar, the thing that stood out for me most at his funeral was how he was honored for being a great man. An honest man, a loyal and good friend, a kind soul, a supportive and loving husband, and a wonderful father. My Dad raised us three sons with an understanding that we needed to give back to society and treat others with compassion, non-judgement and kindness.
He taught us through example to be humble and how to love your partner. Each of us was able to speak to his role as a father with a sense of pride and joy. That day was a type of Father’s Day. As have been all the days afterward when I have wanted to pick up the phone and talk to him; the days where I need his advice. And the days when I am aspiring to be a great dad to my own children and a loving and supportive husband to my wife. And so perhaps inherent in Father’s Day is the legacy that we create, the seeds that we plant for future generations.
It was told that one day many years ago, Honi the circle maker was walking on the road and saw a man planting a carob tree.
Honi asked the man, “How long will it take for this tree to bear fruit?”
The man replied, “Seventy years.”
Honi then asked the man, “And do you think you will live another 70 years and be able to eat the fruit of this tree?”
The man answered, “Perhaps not. However, when I was born into this world, I found many carob trees planted by my father and grandfather. Just as they planted trees for me, I am planting trees for my children and grandchildren so they will be able to eat the fruit of these trees.”
So maybe Father’s Day is about realizing that being a dad is about more than a day or a title. It is about accepting the responsibility of not only our children but also our grandchildren. May your day be one of connection, of love and of light.