This year on Father’s Day, besides the regular celebrations, we are also commemorating a significant birthday for my father, the patriarch of our family. I have been tasked with the role of emcee at this event and must now face the daunting task of creating something memorable for the occasion. The part about my dad I can take care of — but I was thinking about putting some Jewish thoughts in as well. Any ideas for a d’var Torah for Father’s Day?
Though it is not a specifically Jewish timeframe, this period we are in between the celebration of Mother’s Day and Father’s Day feels like it should have some designation — kind of like the time between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur or the seven weeks between Pesach and Shavuot. It feels like a distinctly bracketed time in the American Jewish calendar, a time of filial honoring.
Though as the song reminds us…every day is Mother’s Day! It has become appropriate to use these particular days as moments in time to express particular unexpressed sentiments and appreciation for Mom and Dad that might otherwise never be brought to light.
You know the drill: First, we search furtively for the perfect Mother’s Day gift and then plan the day’s gatherings — taking care that all family members are in sync — all the while putting up with the media barrage around flowers and jewelry.
Then the next stage kicks in: There is no mistaking it as we collectively experience the manly onslaught of outdoor cooking gadgets and tool-chest advertising campaigns. The tone is palpable as the mood changes from goodies to gear. We may as well give a name to this month-long period that moves us from brunch to barbecue, from celebrating Mom to fêting Dad.
Some might throw out a name for this 30-or-so-day period along the lines of “Guilt Trip,” but no, not me.
How about “Take Five” — as in Commandment Number Five: Honor your father and mother? Since we all “Take Five,” so to speak, to remember and recognize our parents, this is an everyday obligation and should be a daily practice, but it can’t hurt to have one particular day as a reminder. “Take Five” here we come!
Now, on to the Father’s Day d’var Torah. Some might approach this task pessimistically or even cynically. They might suggest, tongue in cheek, a focus on the sending away of a son, the sacrifice of Isaac, or maybe a discourse on the seemingly lethal preferential treatment of Joseph. Fathers in the Torah? They might skeptically be drawn to speak of the heart-wrenching visceral bellow of the paternally scorned firstborn Esau, “Have you but one blessing, Father?”
Yes, there are those who would take a cursory glance at our famous forefathers and surrender with chagrin. They might step away from this Father’s Day d’var Torah to cite the continued Genesis pattern of filial favoritism. They might toss in references to blessings and a coat of many colors as exhibits A and B. And who would blame them?
But let’s focus instead on the lofty, noble and inspiring father–son moments in our teachings that you might draw on for your Father’s Day d’var Torah.
We shouldn’t forget that the Torah text is to teach and to instruct. If all of our Biblical heroes were perfect, what would we learn? Our holy patriarchs are human and their deeds are recorded to provide instruction and guidance.
Let those short on stamina step aside as we prepare to get messy with the text: Dig deep, probe with determination, and let’s get Dad his d’var!
Three fathers, three powerful messages of paternal passion. The episode of the binding of Isaac is one of the most significant, complex and evocative — no one will debate its centrality in our tradition. It is read daily as part of the morning service, read yearly in the Shabbat portion of the week, and it takes center stage on Rosh Hashanah as the centerpiece to the Torah service and theme for the holiday. Few of us are not perplexed by the issues this portion presents. Perhaps even fewer would evoke its tale on Father’s Day. Let us go where no one has gone before!
So, choose one of three blessings for Dad:
The text describes the walk toward the Binding of Isaac, “and they went both of them together.” Dad, I thank you for believing in something transcendent and timeless — for valuing it and treasuring it with faith. I admire you Dad for never compromising when it comes to belief. Thank you for passing on not only the beauty of our tradition but also the courage to remain loyal to it, even when belief was not a given. As Abraham our forefather walked together with his son Isaac toward Mount Moriah, so too have you walked with me. At those times it was your steadfast presence and unwavering commitment that gave me the confidence to continue on. In an odd way it was your strong silence, your knowing that sometimes there are no words that can communicate more authentically than our walking together. May you be blessed with the length of days as was our father Abraham.
Dad, as a father, I now know the challenge of treating all children equally. Not easy. Dad, forgive me for always thinking your favor was with someone else...anyone but me. Now I have firsthand experience that parent-child relationships are not simple. They are quite complex. There are times when one child needs to be brought close, one child needs to be strengthened. You have always understood that each of us in our own way cries out as did Esau, “Bless me, even me also.” We may have given you quite a run for your money over the years, but you stuck with us. Dad, as Isaac our forefather knew the particular blessing that fit each child, so too you have always known what each of us kids has needed from you.
Whose parenting could be more complicated than that of Jacob? Of all the Biblical figures, perhaps Jacob’s love for his sons is most visceral: A coat for Joseph, a tragic premature mourning for him, and for Benjamin the most striking of all Biblical endearments: “Nafsho keshurah benafsho,” his soul is bound up with his soul. What does this mean to be connected soul to soul? It might be something you know only if you have experienced it. Dad, to be connected soul to soul is to understand and to feel a love so strong it almost hurts. It is to know someone, maybe even better than he knows himself. It is to believe so deeply in him and his abilities that you would spare no effort for him to deeply know the other and to realize his deepest hopes and dreams. Dad, you are that for me — you always have been and I know you always will be.
May we all be blessed to have fathers like Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.