NOTE: On November 16, the AJRCA community gathered in learning as faculty and alumni shared texts and music to bring healing and focus to confront the ongoing devastation of war in Israel. Please follow this link to watch the video and access other resources to gain a deeper understanding of this moment from a variety of perspectives. More opportunities for learning and healing together will be happening in the coming weeks.
Rabbi Joshua Hoffman
By Rabbi Joshua Hoffman
A parent’s pride exists wherever their children can express their independence. More than a sense of prosperity, the knowledge that a child can thrive in the world on their own is one of the greatest joys a parent can experience. After all the conflict and the dramatic turns of Laban’s relationship with his daughters and son in law, the question Laban poses to Jacob in this week’s Torah portion should not simply be read as a sign of defeat. When he asks, “What can I do for my daughter’s today, or the children they have borne?,” (Gen. 31:44) this expression is a full measure of pride. He has nothing more to offer and he’s fulfilled his duty as a parent.
The preamble to this question is misleading. Laban makes a proclamation that all he sees belongs to him, but then seems to evaluate his possessions and ask what more could he provide for his daughters. This intensely human moment reveals the power of the parent and the influence of divinity. The parent wants to verify all that has been provided to his children, and now recognizes that what the children need is their own space. It’s tough to let go, since the parent(s) has devoted a significant portion of their lifetime ensuring the health and prosperity of their child. And, it is the letting go that enables the child to affirm that health and prosperity pave the future paths they take.
This narrative becomes a part of the Torah to enlighten the human dimension of divine acceptance. The divine influence of this moment is that both Jacob and Laban realize their prosperity has emerged from their letting go – Jacob letting go of his indentured servitude, and Laban letting go of his claim on his childrens’ lives. What makes letting go so challenging is that the very definition of divine influence, the privilege of creating and cultivating life in a child is analogous to the creation of the entire universe. And, the recognition that with all our very best efforts to create and sustain a universe for our children to thrive, there is the discovery of God’s universe that is meant to be taken alone. Letting go of loved ones to empower them to seek the presence of God in the world is difficult. And yet, it is precisely the capacity to seek the presence of God that stirs up the sense of pride in the parent.
This is affirmed by the pact Jacob and Laban make, following Laban’s acknowledgment. They make a pact, ensuring that Jacob will continue to provide for Leah and Rachel’s wellbeing. Then, Jacob makes an offering to the God of Israel and they partake in a meal. The celebration of this moment is that parent and child have separated well. It may also be why Jacob will eventually call the space, “Makhanyim” – “God’s Camp.”
We have echoes of this epic moment in our days too. The wedding celebration is the culmination of preparations for the child to create the world anew with a loving partner. The parents have the privilege of letting go of their children, however difficult, and the blessing of their union is a promise of divine acceptance by all.
This teaching and other questions are found in Rabbi Joshua Hoffman’s book, The Holiness of Doubt, available for purchase at www.rowman.com. Enter RLFANDF30 for a 30% discount.