High Holy Days

Relating to God in Elul, on Rosh Hashanah, and on Yom Kipur: The Father Son Relationship

The father does not expect his son to help him to realize his goals. In a certain respect, he even expects his son to set out on a new path, and is curious to see how his own nuclear potential will find new expression in his son under different conditions and in a different generation.

However, the deepest insult to parents is to forget them. Often, children desire to shake off the ropes that bind them to their parents. This natural inclination is expressed in Genesis 2:24: "Thus a man shall leave his father and his mother and he shall cling to his wife…."

For a child to mature, he must necessarily disengage from his total dependence on his parents. For this reason the Torah commands us to always honor our parents. Even though a child must strive for independence, he is obliged to always continue to honor his parents and to give them weight in his life.  In Hebrew, the word for "honor" is kabed, which shares a root with the word kaved, which means, "weight." When a son continues to honor his parents, he gives them weight and recognition, and they remain eternally in his consciousness.

Solidity and Weight

The words for "father / son" in Hebrew are av / ben. When these words are written as an abbreviation they spell even, which means "rock." Thus, the image of a rock creates associations with the father / son relationship.

The two main features of a rock are its solidity and weight. The father gives his children solidity — firm faith in God and in their heritage.

The children give their father weight. When the father sits as the Shabbat table surrounded by all his children, they add potency and mass to his very presence.

Our Relationship With God

Often a person senses that his main sin is not in actually transgressing, but rather in his ignoring and forgetting God. If a person does honest soul-searching,he realizes that at a certain point in his relationship with God, he has left Him and created his own world, in which God is not the focal point. He has fashioned his world into a fortress, where he can continue to safely live his life far from God (even while performing the commandments)  — without the need to awaken the memory of where he came from and Who created him.

"Pardon Us"

When we ask God to forgive us for leaving Him out of our lives, we say, Selach lanu ("Pardon us"). The letters of the word selach — samech, lamed, chet — are the same as the word for "eradicate," chasal. Deep in his heart, a person knows that he is the one who should be "nullified" to atone for his inclination to nullify anyone who impinges on his private world and demands his attention. We thus beg that God eradicate our haughty feeling of yesh, of being "something," and will replace our rigid and contracted heart of stone with a soft, expansive heart that has room in it for another.

Even the common expression "pardon me" points to this concept. When we say, "pardon me" to another person, our intent is to ask the other not to be offended that we infiltrated his world, upsetting his feeling of infinite expansion. In other words, when we ask for pardon, we are expressing sensitivity to the reality of the other, giving him honor and a place in our world on his own terms.

When we ask God for pardon, we ask Him to forgive us for not recognizing His (all-encompassing) place in our world.

Other chapters in this series:

  1. Introduction
  2. The Father-Son Relationship
  3. The King-Servant Relationship
  4. The Husband-Wife Relationship
  5. Relating to God in Elul
  6. Relating to God on Rosh Hashanah
  7. Relating to God on Yom Kipur

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