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How to Be a Father

How to Be a Father


Dear Rabbi,

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.

A. Dad

Shalom Dad,

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.

“My father?”

“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.”

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman, a senior editor at, also heads our Ask The Rabbi team. He is the author of Bringing Heaven Down to Earth. To subscribe to regular updates of Rabbi Freeman's writing, visit Freeman Files subscription. FaceBook @RabbiTzviFreeman Periscope @Tzvi_Freeman .
Artwork by Sarah Kranz.
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angie via August 5, 2016

In this example it is not Abraham who teaches us to be there for our kids. This is G-d who taught Abraham to be there for his son. Abraham may be heartbroken but he accepted the sacrifice because he might be familiar with such practice. Indeed many cultures had human sacrifices. But G-d said, no, if you want me to be your G-d, put your kids a priority, do not "do what you suppose to do". That is why you have to put down newspaper and listen when your son comes to you with the question. Reply

anonymous January 22, 2013

Honesty is important Your Statement: "Chabad and orthodox Judaism. It's mainly focused on indoctrination and less on leading by example. Just my observation and no judgement."

Our response:
"Yeah, well, you know, that's just, like, your opinion, man. "-
The Dude from The Big Lebowski Reply

Anonymous January 19, 2013

wauconda It sounds good. You celebrate Shabbat and so your children will celebrate Shabbat. This is quite true in Chabad and orthodox Judaism. It's mainly focused on indoctrination and less on leading by example. Just my observation and no judgement. Reply

Dr. Harry Hamburger Miami January 18, 2013

Son becomes the father Just like moon in sky
is reflection of the sun
father shines light on son
until his job is done

Eventually if father is righteous
son shines brighter than all
brought about by daily study
so start now, don't stall! Reply

Anonymous wauconda, IL January 17, 2013

Putting the effort of trying to be there for your Children It is true what some of the comments above, our children mimic us. Yes, it is great that we go to work and provide for our children. But if we put the effort to try to be their for our children, and it shows them that we love them. Tomorrow when they leave the nest, their wings will be strong for their journey into parenthood if we try do the right thing. According to the Torah, the Shabbat is the day that God rested and we are commanded to keep it holy. It is a day of rest and day of family gathering. And if you keep the Shabbat, they too will celebrate the Shabbat. The meaning of A Jew to me personally is God(God is the center of my life), family and my Jewish community. We are God's Children, we share the same Jewish soul and therefore, we should extend our understanding to a Divorce Jew with out judgement. We are not perfect but try to do what is right. Reply

Dr. Harry Hamburger Miami, Fl. December 12, 2012

To be a good Jewish father To be a good father
one thing important to do
regardless what happened in past
must become a righteous Jew

For sins of the fathers
will forever melt away
when observe holidays with son
and keep the Sabbath day

Do not give him pork
like the alien nations do
keep Kosher with your son
must become a righteous Jew

Know father is a reflection
of what son will be
want him to grow up right
then Jewish father must see

"FYI, many years ago when my first son was approaching his bar mitzvah, I realized that I should be the one teaching him about Judaism. I studied, prayed, wrote religious poetry, and eventually became a Bresleve Rav. Now my boy is 17 and writing college application essays. When he is asked the two greatest influences in his life he always writes, "my mother's Colombian heritage, and my Judaism". Learn to study 1-2 pages a day, and before you know it you will be teaching your son also. Baruch Hashem! Reply

Mark Roseman, Ph.D. delray beach December 12, 2012

Time Away From Children is Ingredient for Child Failure Cheryl had written that she understood and accepted her husband's business travels and absence from Parent/Teacher meetings, children's events and other family time opportunities. I fear for her children. I also fear for him, since as a father, he will likely live to regret his absences. Children do need and prefer their father's presence in their lives. Research shows that children thrive best when there are two parents thoroughly engaged in their children's lives. Should a couple as Cheryl and her husband separate and divorce, the court will show suspicion and impose visitation options that he will not be able to live comfortably with. Should such a father petition for greater visitation rights, the Court will view his past history as showing little regard for the children and likely deny him, especially if the mother attempts to block such access. That blockage happens in more than thirty percent of cases. Cheryl's husband should read Caro's "Laws of the Family." Reply

Anonymous December 7, 2012

before i commented on the bonds of Chese-Gevurah, Hod-Sod for good education and a tight bond. I still cannot accept the Akeida. It was a mistake. G-d also made a mistake at Sinai and Moses rebuffed Him on it. It does not mean that Hashem isn't perfect. It means that He too is a parent, and all the stuff that comes with it. Reply

Meryl Zuckerbrod Palm Beach Gardens Fl December 6, 2012

As a mother of triplets, I find this article comforting because I have always felt that my husband's role as a provider to our family should be considered one of tremendous sacrifice and selflessness. The reality that he can not make teacher parent conferences, plays, sports events does not make him less of a dad but just the opposite. I can not tell you how many times I have been confronted by teachers who inferred that my husband's absence is a sign that he is not involved with his children. Some teachers have went as far as saying your husband should to be here I would then respond sorry your stuck with me because he is out of town on a business meeting. I feel that society and hollywood should stop dictating what our roles as parents should be. After reading your advice to the new dad I realized that perhaps my husband and I got this right. Reply

Reuven Sutin Brooklyn November 2, 2012

Great article...i hope you're reading this Mr. Kroll Great article.
I'm so glad you touched on the idea of educating your child, and connecting it to the akeidah. Besides from just parenting, I think the story of the akeidah brings many lessons to the forefront as to how to educate our child...mainly, that we're putting our own chidren on the spiritual akeidah when offering them, so to speak, to Hashem in the way of Torah and Mitzvot. And when the akeidah is built properly (not that we're going to kill our own child G-d Forbid), then our child will willingly go onto the path we've directed for them. But if we're not in tune with G-d's voice, and the voice of our own child, then the education that we as parents have provided can't really be carried out because our children will simply run away. They'll say, "No way am I getting on that altar man." But when we educate the child according to their way, then we'll be meritorious to have many more children that will carry out the path that's provided for them by us and our forefathers. Reply

andydl007 Los angeles, CA November 1, 2012

Great! I am becoming more religious so I know the weight of those words "Here I Am." It is the same as when Hashem says to Adam "Where are you" and Adam hides, because he no longer is present in paradise. Or when Jeremiah asks "How", how could the temple be destroyed, how did we become corrupt, how did the father who was great 5 minutes ago open a letter from the IRS and now he can't hear his children asking for him to be present? This is a really great post. It reminds us that Torah is that weapon we learn to wield in prayer and deploy when the yetzer hara (evil inclination) focuses dads on the IRS letter instead of our child. "Here I am" reminds us that when our mind is reeling, our child will be left with that memory of how dad handled himself. Abraham & Issac survived that bad time, and dad will survive that letter from the IRS. "Here I am" means Dad is here for you my child, no matter what else is going on. Reply

Paul Onovoh Marietta, GA October 31, 2012

Being a father Great teaching Rabbi! Reply

Mark Roseman, Ph.D. delray beach, florida October 31, 2012

How to be a Dad I think this reply to the new young father is old school and inappropriate for today. The American and likely Western father of today is not so benign, insensitive and unaware as the stereotypical father of former generations.
I would rather suggest that, yes, listen to your inner voice, then act upon that inner voice. Be mindful and action oriented, be trusting of your feelings.
But also, all new and current fathers need to know that they remain fathers, even should they separate and divorce. The Jewish community that I have surveyed nationally is so off the mark, so unsupportive of both dads and moms following separation and divorce, it makes me want to shake our leadership. it also makes me ashamed. We need to raise our consiousness as towards not only makes a parent during the marital schema, but also, what does the parent need to remain a parent should they separate. There must be an overt support of both parents at that time since research shows that best for children. Reply

Yohanon Hollywood, FL October 30, 2012

Be an example Children more or less mimic their parents. If parents lead a "Jewish life" the kids most likely will follow suit. If Shabat is "just another day" and kashrut is something for someone else, the children will get the message. That is not to say the kids won't wander a bit, but if the example is solid, they'll return. Worked for me. Reply

David Kroll La Mesa, CA October 30, 2012

Being there for your child - a further response I have again read all the comments, and seem to be the only one who is critical of taking "Hineni, B'ni" "Here I am, my son" out of the context of the entire Akeda story.
"Hineni", taken by itself, is beautiful.
After the Akeda, however, Isaac is estranged from his father, not brought closer; and Sarah, for all we know, never talks to Abraham again.
Please, let's not turn off our brains. it is not good teaching to use an overall example of BAD PARENTING as a paradigm of good parenting. Context counts. Reply

Levi October 30, 2012

Being There for your Child David, if Abraham wasn't interested in his son since his God was more important, what then was his God trying to prove? That Abraham considered his God more important?

I don't see how the text would imply this. Actually right from the start it specifies, "your child, your only child, the one you love." So when his kid says, "daddy?" and then the father says, "I'm here, my child," it clearly translates in contemporary US English as "Yes, my dear, what is it?"

A well written narrative of any kind, particularly story, leaves an impression on the reader. The writer passes on a feeling. Reading this passage, even a non sensitive person could pick up on the feeling a father has for his son who he loves.

This is about simple reading comprehension, not fancy authorative pirushim or exotic inner meaning transmitted from outer space.

If someone perceives hineny beni as "I'm here. Now what?" As if he's too busy since he's occupied with killing kids, he's failed to comprehend. Read it again. Reply

Mr. David Morris December 29, 2010

As good as it gets With out doubt the best & most simple response to this Father-Son situation ever written. Yet again, the "Written word" proves trump over all situations for mankind.

God bless Reply

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman October 26, 2010

To David Kroll Thank you. I don't believe I said that this was the meaning of the akeida. It may have been an aspect of it. Explaining the akeida was certainly not my intent in this essay. That's been done to various degrees in several other fine essays on our site. Reply

michael Karmiel, Israel October 25, 2010

show them G-d with all our rushed lives-when do we get a chance to sit with our kids? Well we have Shabbos-the best oasis in the week. The Shabbos table is where it's at. Enjoy and savour every moment, even the arguments.
I have tried to instill in my children the idea that Abba (father) is there whenever they need to talk. Kids should never have to carry emotional burdens alone.
Most important to teach children that we have an almighty Abba that we can turn to and ask anything from Him. 24 hours He is there for all-gives us a lot of confidence and security.
When a child is complimented on certain behavior and asked who taught him, the reply is Abba or Ima (mother).
When I ask my kids why they do a certain mitzvah, they say "G-d said."
Keep the connection..... Reply

David Kroll San Diego, CA October 25, 2010

Being there for your child. I have read the many comments which uncritically praise the drash that states that the Akeda is a "beautiful" example of fatherhood. In my view, the drash itself and the comments praising it are examples of mindlessness.
I fully agree that being there for your child is the basic essential for being a good parent.
The Akeda story, however, is NOT a paradigm or even good example for this; and trying to twist it into being one is nothing less than "spin".
Just saying "here I am" is not enough. And taking the words "here I am" out of the context of a situation in which a parent is willing to kill his child is simply willful blindness.
The Akeda has great meaning. Being an example of good parenting is not one of them. Reply

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