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Who’s Your Daddy?

Who’s Your Daddy?

Why is the sad month of Av named “Father”?


If you were naming the months, would you call one of them “father”?

The Greeks and Romans named the months after their gods. The Islamic calendar refers to warfare, weather and camels, among other things. Though the Chinese named their years after various animals, their months are much more pedestrian and are just numbered from 1 to 12. However, in the Jewish calendar we’re entering the new month of Av, which is literally translated as “father.”

Each name seems to perfectly capture the spirit of that season.

The other months seem to have much more significant name associations. Nissan, the month of nissim (miracles), is when we celebrate our exodus from Egypt. Rosh Hashanah and the High Holidays are in Tishrei, the time of new beginnings (tishrei is the Aramaic word for “let it begin”). And Adar, related to adir (“mighty”), is all about the strength and good fortune that is Purim. Pregnant with meaning and redolent with spirituality, each name seems to perfectly capture the spirit of that season. But what relevance does fatherhood have to this sad month, in which we commemorate the most destructive and terrifying events that have happened throughout Jewish history?

Even if you explain that the father in question is our Father in Heaven, you’d have to wonder why the calendar makers would choose a month of mourning over our national calamities, including the destruction of the Temples in Jerusalem, to memorialize our relationship with G‑d.

Firm, But Fair

I was listening to a lecture the other night, warning about the worrying growth of Internet addiction in society. The speaker is an ex-cop currently touring Australia with a message of prevention and protection. He spoke about Facebook and pornography, and gave advice to parents and guidance to rabbis. It was simultaneously fascinating and terrifying.

During question time, one of the mothers asked him to clarify his advice about putting appropriate safeguards on children’s Internet access. She was worried that if she were to insist that her kids “friend” her on Facebook and tell her their e‑mail passwords, she’d “upset her children, and they’d see it as a lack of trust.”

A family is not a democracy; if anything, it’s more like a benevolent dictatorship.

The presenter wasn’t buying it. Obviously, he pointed out, each case is different, and each family has to work out its own age-appropriate rules; but he questioned whether she wasn’t confusing her role of a parent with that of a friend.

Friends are there for empathy and absolute acceptance. Parents are supposed to provide direction. It is our job, as parents, to lay down clear behavioral expectations and guidelines. A family is not a democracy; if anything, it’s more like a benevolent dictatorship.

It’s a funny thing, but experience shows that those people who spend all their time and energy trying to buy their kids’ love will often end up with neither affection nor respect, while those who exercise authority, in a loving and fair manner, have a far greater chance of maintaining their children’s friendship and admiration.

Nobody enjoys doing it, but sometimes you’ve even got to punish your children for their own good. If a child is convinced that his parents love him absolutely, and have nothing but his best interest at heart, he’ll be more willing to accept admonishment. No child enjoys being disciplined, but if the emotional boundaries have been clearly set out in advance, kids will have the wherewithal to acknowledge their parents’ perspective on the issue.

It’s easy to show love when the kids are behaving, but children have to know that we love them under all circumstances. Saying “yes” to everything buys a child’s temporary appreciation, but the true test of parenting is how they react when you’ve said “no.” Do you love your child because he’s happy, or is he happy because you love him?

This is the month of Av, when we, the Jewish people, misbehaved and were duly punished for our mistakes. The Temples were destroyed as punishment for our immorality and misbehavior. Because of our sins we were exiled from our Land. We disappointed Him, and he responded in (un)kind, but He always remained our Father. No circumstance or sin will ever break the essential connection between Jew and G‑d, because a real parent remains a parent forever.

The other months are full of fun and laughter. G‑d created our world and saved us from Egypt; He’s gracious and constantly giving: what’s not to like? But it is during this month of Av, when we let Him down so badly and He laid down the law of diminishing returns, that He truly shows himself to be our Father, and we, in turn, submit to His loving authority.

Rabbi Elisha Greenbaum is spiritual leader of Moorabbin Hebrew Congregation and co-director of L’Chaim Chabad in Moorabbin, Victoria, Australia.
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Capt GJ Singh Bangalore, India July 30, 2014

A family is not a democracy-Congratulations-Great Article Dear Rabbi Elisha Greenbaum

I agree 100% with Richard Appelbaum that this fine article needs to be widespread in the public media. Great saying, "A family is not a democracy; if anything, it’s more like a benevolent dictatorship.

David Alan Northam Ajax March 17, 2014

I think the fifth commandment has hindered mankind since its inception. And only when we are free of it shall we be loving in our actions thoughts perceptions. You can not justify my fathers violence. Nor can I justify my of lack of calming myself prior to chastising my child. I am not G-d so I have no right to inflict ventrication nor any fear of those I love and share life with. I had been asked to not take my son to the mountain and slay him to keep From being embarrassed for not teaching G-d laws to be followed. Our fathers do not live in our times and their ways although brought our survival has not allowed us to enjoy the freedom from persecution of the right to live and learn in our own each individual life and its effects on those we are surrounded in our daily lives. Trust is built a person at a time. My trust to my father was of little value. My trust from my children is my only value for it bears the fruits of my communication of my word. David Reply

Sasha July 16, 2013

Isn't the reason the month is named "Av" because during the Babylonian exile we borrowed their calendar? That's why, for instance, last month is named after an idol. Reply

LJ Brisbane July 22, 2012

Well said! Good article, keep them coming! Reply

Anonymous Apollo, PA July 20, 2012

Benevolent Dictatorship "A benevolent dictatorship" -- I would never have thought of expressing such this way but love it as authority is needed within the household and children must learn to obey that authority. They also are more secure within boundaries! What better (hopefully via the benevolent part) place to learn with parents who love them, so they will be prepared for such when they leave home. People are always under authority; and one learns, hopefully in this aspect as well, that God is THE authority that ultimately is to be obeyed as was indicated. Great article! Reply

Richard Appelbaum Ft. Lauderdale July 19, 2012

Parenthood and discipline This fine article needs to be widespread in the public media. As a college prof, I have seen too many products of homes where Mom and Dad want to be friends of their children, provide for every whim of the child, and do not discipline the child for fear of creating an ugly scene. Too many T.V. programs and commercials feed right into this nonsense as well. The result, too many times, is a child without direction in life and/or a monster for other people to deal with. We are doing these princesses and princes no favor when we provide a life of ease full of material goods but a lack of understanding life's bumpy road and reality. The result is that they and the parents end up in a psychiatrist's office wringing their hands and wondering where they went wrong. Reply

anonymous Baltimore, MD July 18, 2012

very nice! Very nice, but very difficult to digest..., that is the temple we lost. Even in this week's haftorah, the posuk at the end says something similiar, about calling out to our Father. Although we were "losing our way", sinning big time, G-d says he will never abandon us, we should call out to our abba. Reply

Hadassah Miami, FL July 17, 2012

great perspective The idea behind this article is not new but I really enjoyed how you put it all together. As a teacher and parent I really notice it when parents are fearful of disciplining their children. We all need structure and limits and will feel more confident and secure knowing what our boundaries are. Thank you for tying it all together for us. Reply

laurie goldstone woodmere, ny July 13, 2012

great inspiration I just found your articles and love to read them. I will look for them from now on. Straight to the heart of the matter, you are an incredible thinker and writer. Reply

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