My Father in Heaven,

Do You hear me? Little me, all the way down here? Do You care about what I’m going through?

You seem so distant. So powerful and removed. Up there. So far away. Infinitely far from little me down here.

Do You see what You put me through—the difficulties I face daily, the challenges that seem so insurmountable to me? Do You care about such small things?

Hold my hand, strengthen me, help me overcome. Comfort me the way a parent soothes her child. Let me feel Your closeness, not Your distance. Let me be surrounded by the warmth of Your presence, not Your indifferent, infinite Omnipotence.

Wipe away my tears. Embrace me.

“See, I present before you today a blessing and a curse. The blessing: that you hearken to the commandments of G‑d . . . And the curse: if you do not hearken to the commandments of G‑d, and you stray from the path that I command you today . . .” (Deut. 11:26–28)

In this week’s portion, Moses reviews some of the fundamental commandments, including serving G‑d, not straying, and living a life of purity in the Holy Land.

Moses puts these commandments into perspective by explaining that the choice of whether or not to accept the Torah in its totality is nothing less than the choice between blessing and curse, between life and death.

Later, Moses declares: “You are children to the L‑rd, your G‑d.” (Deut. 14:1) How are we children to G‑d? In what way is G‑d a parent to us?

The Talmud relates: “Rebbe [Rabbi Yehudah ha-Nassi] said: It is known that a son [affectionately] honors his mother more than his father, because she sways him by her tender words . . . and it is known that a son fears his father more than his mother, because he teaches him Torah.” (Kiddushin30b-31a)

The Talmud also states: “The father is duty-bound to circumcise his son, to redeem him (if he is a firstborn), to teach him Torah, to teach him a craft, and some say to teach him how to swim.” (Kiddushin 29a)

With these statements, the Talmud is teaching us about the mother and father archetypes.

It is important to clarify that we are not referring to mothers and fathers or women and men per se, but rather to archetypes. An actual mother may have some “fatherly” characteristics, and vice versa; and at different stages of the child’s life and development, each parent will necessarily need to adjust their archetypical approach to their child.

The maternal archetype involves being affectionate, playing with the child and showering him with love and tenderness. Paternal love is involved in passing on knowledge, teaching Torah, or helping to acquire a skill.

The archetypical mother never stops being affectionate and loving her child, even when the child is an adult. In her mind’s eye, she cannot forget the fact that this child was once a part of her. She gave her life and blood for this baby and will therefore always see her child as needing her help and protection. Her instinct is to hold onto her child.

The archetypal father is preoccupied with disengaging himself from the child by acting as a teacher and a leader, offering opportunities for the child’s growth and change. Through his guidance in teaching his child, he is weaning him to live independently and responsibly.

Both the mother’s and the father’s relationships are genuine. Both feel passionate love and indisputable affection. Yet each moves in opposite directions vis-à-vis their child. Father moves away from his child, while mother moves toward him.

These two archetypical approaches to expressing love are rooted in G‑d’s relationship with His people.

“You are children to the L‑rd, your G‑d.” G‑d acts as both a mother and a father. He displays both modes of love: protecting and helping, as well as disciplining and teaching. We cry to G‑d like a young child trusting in his mother’s solacing embrace, while we also revere G‑d and serve Him with utmost respect and veneration.

G‑d, as our Father, is at an infinite distance from us, charging us with responsibility to display independence. He demands our courage in making the right decisions in our lives. He expects us to combat evil and rebukes our weaknesses or fluctuations. He orders us to overcome temptations, to “hearken to the commandments” and choose “blessings” rather than “stray from the path” and choose “curses.”

Yet, at the same time that G‑d as our Father decrees divine law, G‑d as our Mother, as the Shechinah, provides divine help. The Shechinah comes down to be together with her children. Nothing, not even sinfulness and disobedience, can sever the unshakable bond between Mother and child.

The more independent and mature the child seems, the more the Mother sees his need for her help, and intensifies her love, cleaving to her child. The Shechinah—“the One who dwells with them in their impurity” (Lev. 16:16)—is always present, ministering to and facilitating for her child.

G‑d provides us with freedom of choice and warns us to choose blessing and goodness on our journey towards independence and spiritual growth. But at the same time, G‑d helps us wipe away our tears and frustrations, tenderly holding our hand.

(The concepts in this essay are further developed in the essay “Torah and Shechinah,” in Family Redeemed by Rabbi J. B. Soloveitchik (Toras Harav, 2000).)