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Parenting and Piety

Aug 24, 2023

A father teaching his young son in Jerusalem (Shutterstock.com)

שָׁ֥מְרָ֣ה נַפְשִׁי֮ כִּֽי־חָסִ֢יד אָ֥֫נִי הוֹשַׁ֣ע עַ֭בְדְּךָ אַתָּ֣ה אֱלֹהַ֑י הַבּוֹטֵ֥חַ אֵלֶֽיךָ׃

Preserve my life, for I am steadfast; O You, my God, deliver Your servant who trusts in You.

sha-M'-RAH naf-SHEE kee-KHA-seed a-NEE ho-SHA av-D'-KHA a-TAH e-lo-HAI ha-BO-te-akh e-le-KHA

Psalms 86:2

As it happens so often, my little boy taught me a big lesson in how to relate to God. The other morning, we went food shopping and he put a package of his favorite candy into the cart. I picked it up and said I did not agree to buy the candy.

“But you have to,” he said.

“Why do I have to?”  I challenged.

“Because I am wonderful,”  he answered confidently.

“Oh, are you really?” I asked. “What makes you say that?”

“I look like you,”  he said. “Everyone says so.”

“Maybe,” I said. “But last week, you left your dirty clothes all over the place and I had to give you a consequence.”

“Sure,” he said.  “And that was not wonderful. But I learned and I picked up my laundry every night before I went to bed.”

What could I say? The candy went back into the cart.

This is pretty much what King David did in Psalm 86. He began the Psalm by admitting that he was deficient.

Incline Your ear, O Hashem, answer me, for I am poor and needy. Psalms 86:1

But then, in what appears to be self-contradiction, he claims to be righteous or pious, in Hebrew, a chasid.

Preserve my life, for I am steadfast (chasid); O You, my God, deliver Your servant who trusts in You. Psalms 86:2

The medieval commentator known as Rashi explains that that David is righteous because he hears others deride him for his faults and he remains silent, faithful to God. Or, David is telling God that while other kings sit on their thrones, basking in honor and glory, David’s hands are dirty from doing the practical work of serving God. While the other kings sleet late, David wakes up every night at midnight to pray.

Rabbi David Kimchi, on the other hand, explains that David was pious because, though he was human and would sometimes make mistakes, even when he would sin he would then feel remorse and repent.

The Bible is replete with descriptions of Israel as God’s children. For example, He says in Exodus “Israel is My first-born son” (Exodus 4:22). That is truly high praise, the highest level a person could hope to attain.

Thinking of this reminded me of my relationship with my father. It was a strange mixture of fear and love coexisting in the same space. I loved my father and knew that he would do anything for me. At the same time, he was harder on me than anyone else. Because he knew me, because he understood me so well, he had high expectations. Because of this mixture of love and fear, disappointing him was not an option.

The same is true in our relationship with the Almighty. We are His children, and we are required to both love God and fear God:

You shall love Hashem your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. (Deuteronomy 6:5)

Revere only Hashem your God and worship Him alone, and swear only by His name. (Deuteronomy 6:13)

On the one hand, we are instructed to love God with our entire hearts, our whole souls, and all of our resources. He consistently bestows blessings upon us, and all that we have originates from Him. By recognizing His kindness to us, we naturally grow to love Him. On the other hand, we are also commanded to fear God, who embodies Absolute Power. He observes everything we do and holds us responsible for our actions. Understanding this leads to a profound respect and awe for His omnipotence and justice.

God, in turn, relates to us as His children. Just as a father can see the good in his child despite their errors and downfalls, God continues to see us as pious despite our sins. Especially when we feel remorse and repent as David consistently did.

The simple yet profound lesson from my little boy unveils a reflection of our relationship with God, one characterized by both love and reverence. Through the lens of our own earthly relationships, we can begin to grasp the dualities of our connection to the Almighty, where love and awe coexist, where forgiveness and growth intertwine. David’s journey from deficiency to piety, from sin to repentance, mirrors our own complex paths in striving to be righteous in God’s eyes. Just as a child’s genuine contrition and willingness to learn can melt a parent’s heart, our sincere remorse and earnest efforts to improve are met with God’s unwavering love and acceptance. Our relationship with Hashem is indeed a dynamic and evolving bond, rich in its complexities and filled with the potential for continuous spiritual growth and understanding. By embracing both our love and fear of God, we cultivate a relationship that is as nurturing and profound as the love between a parent and child, continually guided by the timeless wisdom of the Scriptures.

Related Names and Places:

Relate Bible Verses: Chapter 86

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