Does anyone you know speak in a bass tone? Does that make them more likely to enjoy bass fishing? That’s a ridiculous question. In English, we don’t expect words that have two meanings to be related. In Hebrew, however, homographs like these are significant.
For example, a family’s memory is commonly maintained through the male line, reflecting the reality Hebrew reveals by male and memory being the same word, ZaCHaR.
This explains why women and children generally take their husband and father’s family name.
Every Friday night, Jewish men recite the special Sabbath benediction over wine called the Kiddush. Guests often ask me why I say the Kiddush and not my wife, whose Hebrew skills equal mine.
The answer is that the Torah prioritizes certain roles for men and others for women. One often-overlooked benefit of obligating men with Kiddush is giving them a special role in the family. Little children, like most young mammals, develop an instinctive attachment to their mothers. She is the source of food and comfort. It’s not only children. Medics tell me that severely wounded warriors on the battlefield usually call out for their mothers. Additionally, I’ve seen plenty of tattoos heralding love for Mom, but seldom for Dad.
Even in these modern times, fathers abandon their children much more frequently than mothers do. Even when fathers are present, dad might vanish from morning to night, and children don’t always understand what he does for them during those hours. Even women who work out of the house spend more time with their children than many fathers. Children must be taught to develop a feeling of attachment for their fathers, and nobody is better suited to do this than their mothers.
Thus, my wife, who is perfectly capable of reciting the Friday night Kiddush, helps cement the family structure by allowing me that exclusive role. The delicious and leisured family meal, for which we have waited all week, will not start until dad says the Kiddush. My children, who felt dependent on my wife almost from birth, recognize that they need me too. Even more importantly, on some subconscious level, I feel especially needed. Little wonder that Friday night is a special time for Jewish husbands and wives.
The Friday night Kiddush contains the passage in Genesis describing how God completed His work of creation and rested. It continues with a reminder of the Israelites’ Exodus from Egypt, which marks the birth of the Jewish people. Because any nation that loses sight of its origins is doomed, we Jews recall our birth every week.
Thus, the Kiddush is about remembering not only the creation of the world, but also the birth of the Jewish nation. In Jewish life, acts of commemoration are best performed by a male, linking male and memory.
Just as nations must remember their origins, individuals must do the same. The bond between father and child is a crucial distinction between humans and animals. Again, we see the mystical link between male and memory.
A nation preserves its national identity by recalling its origins and can best remain durable by recalling its fathers. Two special nations are blessed with Founding Fathers: Ancient Israel and America. Three times a day, Jews say a prayer that commences with the words “God of our fathers, God of Abraham, God of Isaac and God of Jacob.” America has enshrined the document containing the names of its fathers.
This in no way belittles or ignores women’s contributions. It rather recognizes that without the support of wives and mothers, men can too easily focus on themselves, relinquishing obligations. It would be hard to find a more important characteristic of stable families and durable nations than an ever-present awareness of the value of fathers. Smart wives and mothers know this, as do wise national leaders.
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This week’s Susan’s Musings: Vaccination Views
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