I’m a father, and I have no idea how to bring up a Jewish boy. All I know is not to do as my father did. Although that’s generally exactly what I end up doing. I want my son to grow up strong in his Jewishness and confident about his own self.
There’s only two short lines you need to know. It’s the first dialogue there is between a father and his son in the written Torah:
Then Isaac said to his father, “My father?”
And Abraham said, “Here I am, my son.”
There’s more, but we need to stop here first, so you can see the forest.
We’ve had those words before—only once before—at the beginning of this same tale. Abraham is answering his son with the same words he used earlier to answer G‑d:
So it was, after all these things, that G‑d tested Abraham, and He said to him, “Abraham!” and Abraham answered, “Here I am!”
And then G‑d asks Abraham to do something that goes against every cell of his body and soul: To harden his heart, turn off his mind, take his son and “raise him up for a sacrifice on one of the mountains I will show you.”
Men know the modality. Numbness. Gotta do what I gotta do. We do it when we go to war and when we go to work, when we fire an employee and when we discipline a child. There’s a small voice inside, screaming, This is not who I am! How can I do this? And we just tell it to shut up so we can get the job done.
We’ve all been there. You’ve got a deadline at work. A major meeting about a big contract. Nudniks to deal with, driving you nuts. Rush-hour traffic stuns your nerves. 7:30 AM the next morning, and you don’t want to go. Not a cell in your body wants to go. But you have to.
Okay, it’s not who you are; you’re a family man with family priorities. But to feed a family, a man’s got to make sacrifices. Don’t feel what you feel, don’t think what you think. To do so would be to drive yourself insane. Smother that voice inside. Be a man, as men have been ever since their feet met the cold, hard earth. Just do.
The dad inside gets turned off. And along with him, so do his kids.
“I’m busy now.”
“Sorry, son, I’m busy. Go talk to Mom.”
That’s what this bizarre world can do to a man: on the way to provide for his family, he sacrifices them on their own altar.
So here is Abraham, in the midst of his greatest test. He can have only one focus: to do what he was told. And that’s where he is, 100 percent. After all, this isn’t just about making a living. This is about hearing G‑d’s voice. And so, Isaac calls out to him, not certain that his father is really there.
“Here I am, my son. All of me. For all of you. What’s up?”
Perhaps that was the whole test. Perhaps, with that alone, Abraham proved that he was fit to be the father of the nation that would bring G‑d’s compassion into the world.
Perhaps. But this I know for certain: With those words, Abraham passed on the torch to the next generation. Because when Isaac saw that his father was all there for him, in the same way and to the same degree as he was there for G‑d when G‑d spoke to him, then he was ready to be all there for his father and for his father’s G‑d.
Those words are all you need to know to be a real Jewish dad. The rest will follow.
“Here I am, my son. All of me.”