A quick scan of shelves at the local bookstore will reveal dozens of books on parenting. Bestselling titles such as “Between Parent and Child” and “Parenting With Love And Logic” have sold many millions of copies. The shelves at our nearest Jewish bookstore, too, are stocked with dozens of books by many prolific Jewish authors regarding parenting. Yet we need look no further than the Torah, the greatest book of all, for insights into this very important topic.
The Torah states, in the beginning of this week’s Parashah, “UVaYom HaShemini Yimol Besar Orlato,” “On the eighth day, the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised” (VaYikra 12:3).
There are numerous other laws, in addition to the requirement of Brit Millah, that concern the eighth day. The qualification of an animal for sacrifice is on the eighth day from its birth, and the induction of the Kohanim takes place on the eighth day of the Milu’im process. These Halachot beg the question: What is so special about the eighth day and what is its significance?
The Midrash (VaYikra Rabbah 27:10) explains that Brit Millah is performed on the eighth day so that the child can first experience Shabbat before his circumcision. [In fact, see the comments of the Taz to Yoreh Dei’ah 265:13 who discusses this Midrash and its relevance to the Ashkenazic custom of having a Shalom Zachar.] The Midrash writes that this is also the reason why a newborn animal is to be sacrificed only after its eighth day. The animal must first experience Shabbat before its owner performs the sacrifice.
Rav Moshe Feinstein notes that at first glance, this Midrash is troubling. Does a newborn baby, just a few days old, actually relate to the experience of Shabbat? Does Shabbat really leave a lasting positive impression on a three-day-old baby? And moreover, how does Shabbat impact an animal?
Rav Moshe explains that Shabbat is testimony that Hashem created the world. It is self-evident, writes Rav Moshe, that if one does not believe in the existence of Hashem, any Mitzvot that he performs are worthless. For instance, we do not say Amen to a blessing recited by one who does not believe in Hashem, and a Sefer Torah written by a Min, one who does not believe in God, must be burned. Before we perform Mitzvot, we need to experience Shabbat, in order to plant the seed of Emunah in Hashem. By experiencing Shabbat before one brings an animal as a Korban, one recognizes that the animal, and everything he has, is from Hashem.
The same applies to Brit Milah. The Midrash teaches us that before we begin educating our sons in the way of Torah, they must know the fundamentals of Judaism – namely, that Hashem created the world from nothing. Only then is it possible to proceed with education. For this reason, writes Rav Moshe, the Brit Milah is performed only after the child has experienced Shabbat, which attests to the creation of the world. Then, after he learns about God’s existence in the world, we can attempt to raise him in a life of Mitzvot.
While we all know that there are no guarantees that our children will maintain the same set of beliefs that we do, there is an area, very appropriate for this time of year, in which our actions can certainly go a long way in ingraining certain values in our children.
The Derashot HaRan is bothered by Avraham’s insistence to not allow his son to marry a woman from Benot Kena’an. The house of Lavan and Betu’el is not exactly a house of Tzaddikim. In fact, they are conniving idol worshippers themselves, no better than the residents of Kena’an! The Ran explains that when it comes to one’s beliefs and desire to perform Mitzvot, there is no promise that his or her ideals, beliefs, and religious convictions will indeed be passed down to his offspring. There are many believers, unfortunately, whose children do not maintain their parents’ beliefs, and there are many individuals raised in homes devoid of Hashem and His Torah who find it and embrace it on their own. Avraham is confident that in the right house and in an environment conducive to growth, such as his own home, the family members of Lavan and Bitu’el can thrive in their own Avodat Hashem. However, Avraham knows he cannot take that risk with the Benot Kena’an. The Kena’anim are known for their terrible Middot, and as the saying goes, the apple does not fall far from the tree; it is highly unlikely that a girl raised in a Kena’ani home will have proper Middot. Naturally, Avraham is terrified of the prospect of his offspring retaining those Middot, and he is uncertain whether or not he can effect change in that area. He simply cannot allow his children to go on to establish the Jewish people without being sure that they have refined characters. Granted, Lavan and Bitu’el have many spiritual deficiencies, but their children are raised in a home where an emphasis is placed on behavioral excellence Bein Adam LeChaveiro. This, of course, is extremely important to Avraham and he thus feels confident that a proper wife will be found for Yitzchak from the house of Bitu’el and Lavan.
During this period of Sefirat HaOmer, when we are preparing ourselves to accept the Torah, we try to take the lesson of day eight and educate our children in areas of Emunah. However, we cannot know for certain that we will be successful.
However,Yet, as we also mourn the loss of the students of Rabi Akiva who perished to due to their lack of respect for one another, we can make a difference in areas of Bein Adam LeChaveiro. We can ensure that our children do not make the same error. If we can talk to our spouses, children, parents, and friends in a positive manner, and do our best to treat each other with dignity, we can help our children in the most amazing way possible, guaranteeing their success in this most important facet of our Avodat Hashem.