“Aba (Dad),” my son asked me, “how will I become an aba?”
The question has many forms, but any one brings sweat to the brow of parents everywhere.
Fortunately for me, my mother had just gotten me the book “Stuff Every Dad Should Know.” The book helpfully informed me that the infamous “talk” is actually several smaller talks that you have with your son at different ages, and the 5 year old version is less intimidating to give over.
Our Torah portion has several mitzvos related to sons, so Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch gives his own answer as to how one becomes a father.
He says that through having a child, you become a father.
On a surface read, this is just stating the obvious, but Rabbi Hirsch is reversing the direction of cause and effect from how most people frame it. He says that my son is the one who turned me into a father. I am the recipient of the transformation into fatherhood.
He points out that you can see it in the word son in Hebrew: בּן (ben). It has the same root as the word build: בּנה (boneh).
That is, our children build us. They teach us how to explain things clearly, so that anyone can understand. They teach us patience in the face of irrational confrontation. They teach us empathy towards those without our capabilities. Perhaps most importantly, they notice any inconsistencies in our words and actions so that we must live up to our own ideals.
In other words, they teach us to become the mature human beings who we thought we already were.
How do you become an aba? Your children build you into an aba. And it is one of the most wonderful things that anyone will ever do for you.
Rabbi Altonaga and the JET Team