Banished and Vanished

For a while in middle school, I was friendly with a boy whose father attended school events as frequently as mine did; which is to say—never!  Ours was a natural alliance between two outsiders who turned to one another for company while other boys dallied with their dads.  His father was a doctor while mine was a rabbi.  His weary response to everyone asking about his father was, “With patients.”  Mine was, “With congregants.”

I remember wondering why lawyers, stockbrokers, and plumbers were always there at games with their sons.  How come they weren’t with clients and customers?  What was it about rabbis and doctors?  Not until later did I realize that some jobs really are more like ministries and missions.  Under normal circumstances, bookkeepers, car dealers, and social workers are home with their families for dinner.  For certain medical specialties and for clergymen, normal circumstances are helping a person in need rather than heading home because the clock says dinnertime.

Naturally, there is a price to be paid.  Nothing is for nothing, so it sometimes does happen that the children of parents who are super-dedicated to their work suffer.  It goes without saying that there are compensating benefits.  I did learn what commitment to one’s obligations means and understood the idea of having a life purpose. I respected my father immensely.

Nonetheless, the syndrome I describe is so well known that my Christian friends use the term, PK.  This stands for Preacher’s Kid and, among other things, means that you often get less of your father’s attention.  I am sure that the same is true for children of American presidents, military offspring and others in similar circumstances.

This reality is not new.  People who feel an obligation to a large number of individuals or feel themselves summoned to a higher calling have always invested less time in their families than is optimal.

Moses had two sons, Gershom (Exodus 2:22) and Eliezer (Exodus 18:4).  You might think that growing up as the sons of one of the greatest Israelite leaders ever would confer tremendous advantages in life.  Yet, this is not what happened.  In fact, we hardly hear of them again; they lapse into obscurity.  Clearly, they enjoyed less of their father’s attention than did members of the congregation of Israel.

Let’s peer into a day in the life of Moses and his family.  We join them after God has successfully persuaded Moses to leave his father in law, Yitro, priest of Midian, and return to his suffering people in Egypt.

And Moses took his wife and his sons, mounted them upon the donkey,
and he returned to the land of Egypt…
(Exodus 4:20)

So eager was Moses to undertake his mission that he neglected one of the very first obligations he had towards his second son, Eliezer.  He neglected to circumcise him.  God was about to punish him severely when his wife, Tziporah saved the day. She grabbed a sharp stone and performed the circumcision.

And he was on the way…and the Lord…sought to put him to death.  And Tziporah took a flint and removed her son’s foreskin…And He released him…
(Exodus 4:24-26)

The very next verse has Aaron, Moses’ older brother, coming to greet him as he arrives in Egypt.  Whereupon the two brothers immediately get to work holding the first meeting of the future deliverance.

The Lord said to Aaron, “Go toward Moses, to the desert.” And he went and met him on the mount of God, and he kissed him…And Moses and Aaron went, and they assembled all the elders of the children of Israel.
(Exodus 4:27-29)

But what happened to Tziporah and her two sons?  The next time we see them is 14 chapters later.

And Moses’ father in law, Yitro, heard all that God had done for Moses and for Israel…And Yitro, took Zipporah, Moses’ wife, after she had been sent away,   and her two sons, [and they] came to Moses…
(Exodus 18:1-5)

It seems that after the circumcision incident Moses and Tziporah separated.  Ancient Jewish wisdom confirms that Moses sent her and his sons back to live with Yitro, his father in law.  This was quite possibly necessary to allow Moses to concentrate upon his mission, but it carried a price on the family front.

Former prime minster of Israel, Golda Meir ruefully reflected upon the sacrifices made by her family on account of her single-minded devotion to the welfare of the young Jewish state.  My own great-uncle, with whom I myself was privileged to study Bible, raised many hundreds of disciples. However, he sacrificed relationships with his own sons on account of his devotion to his many students who often felt closer to him than his sons did.

Sometimes, for very real economic reasons, there is no alternative but to devote excess hours to work. Other times, our families would be better off with less money and more of us. Sometimes our work is so important that normal family obligations just don’t apply.  Sometimes, we are simply nourishing our ego by feeling that way. The Bible isn’t a fairy tale. Instead it reflects reality. We might be called to sacrifice family, but we should be aware of the price. Realizing this forces us to assess our decision and proactively minimize the damage. It also obligates us to offer gratitude and aid to those who make those sacrifices on our behalf.

11 thoughts on “Banished and Vanished”

  1. Avril Amanda McFarlane

    People are in every stage of brokenness. There are so many reasons to account for the fact that we fail each other as human beings. Sometimes the gaps seem impossible. i appreciate the teaching The Atonement. Maybe we could just simple admit to each other that we failed. Apologise. Request forgiveness. That is the best we are able to do. Oftentimes, it is pointless to try to explain and to clarify.

  2. It is difficult to imagine you, dear Rabbi, as a typical P.K., with slingshot in back pocket, bent on mischief untold. However, thanks for the apt illustration that those humans who are spiritually dedicated and absorbed also must face their human tendency toward misdirection through failure to balance spiritual concerns against practical earthly realities. Your story resonates with me, for my own late, sainted father oft missed many of my personal triumphs, so I was also in your shoes. But he did it to remain financially afloat AND to serve others.

    Your Thought Tool reminds me of another parallel which I find both apt and amusing. Once upon a time we resided in a city in America’s Midwest Rust Belt which was also a great Catholic town. Down the street was a mother who was glued to her catechistic Media. She was so obsessed with what Our Blessed Mother was doing in Yugoslavia that she became oblivious to what Her Blessed Daughter was doing in the back yard! To me this underscores your message, that spiritual enlightenment must have solid grounding in the practical realities of our earthly abode. Here are realities which we dare not ignore or neglect. As you said before, it matters not who leans too far out of a twentieth story window. Both saint and scoundrel will fall to their destruction.

  3. One of the many reasons our family started to homeschool was to work around my husband’s crazy work schedule for our kids, another kind of “PK”: police officer’s kids.

  4. So timely. I was just thinking about this yesterday. I’m positive I could be very, very wealthy right now if I had worked to that end. I know I am smart enough and can be overly dedicated. My dad taught me the value of family even before his lengthy illness and death by the time I turned 14. When I would forget it, my rock solid wife would remind me. I was a career soldier in the U.S. Army and most of the time loved my various jobs. One I loved and excelled at so much that I was given the ultimatum of choosing job or family, I immediately chose the latter. Work suffered as did I but when I retired and had a massive stroke my wife and children held my hand…not the army. I hold good people in critical leadership positions in high regard as I know they and their families suffer and there is a level of self denial most people can’t understand. It all boils down to what you are willing to pay. I hope the Lapin Ladies understand how many people you have taught and uplifted.

  5. A question back to you, Rabbi. Is it possible that Moses might have fulfilled his mission better if he and Tziporah had been a team in serving the Lord? Although the culture seems to have minimized the roll of women, his sister Miriam is remembered as a prophetess and when our Lord instituted marriage, his intent wa clearly that woman be a helper to her husband. That seems to imply some sharing of vision, does it not?

  6. Thank you for this.

    It has been long debated here in South Africa and perhaps worldwide how Mr Nelson Mandela sacrificed his family for the greater good of Freedom for all South Africans. Some for, some against. Some grateful, some indifferent.

    I now can relate Mandela’s story to Moses’ story and other world leaders who could not dismiss their mission and paid the price. Perhaps most importantly, their loved ones paid the price.

    I think we can only be grateful to such leaders. Most importantly we can assess, plan better and communicate with our loved ones if indeed our God-given mission in life resembles the one similar to the likes of Moses and Mandela.

    As always, thanks for great insights of Ancient Jewish Wisdom 🙂

    Cape Town

  7. Abraham was called to sacrifice his son in a more literal way, reading this article makes me feel better about myself as I fulfill what I consider my calling. I know my kids might prefer my presence to my absence but is it possible that the other lessons they are learning while I am traveling are useful also?

  8. I appreciate your thoughts, but am troubled by them. I was raised in a home where my father was very abusive and did an extremely poor job of parenting. I have, through the Grace of God, not followed in his footsteps.
    Many years ago, I attended a presentation by a Christian Pastor who advised that he spent so much time working at his Church that he was literally stunned when he came home to find his wife and children with packed suitcases. His wife advised that because he was at the Church so much, she and the children felt completely neglected and she advised that she was prepared to leave and file for divorce. Thankfully, he immediately saw the erroneous life he was leading and quit his job with the Church on the spot. He then spent a considerable amount of time studying the Bible to realize that most of the teachings that God gives us are followed with instructions to teach them to your children. With that realization, he changed his perspective to realize that he was not serving his congregation, if he was first and foremost neglecting his family.
    I am an Army veteran and was honored to serve my country, but I quickly realized that military life and family life do not work well together; a Colonel once told me that if Uncle Sam wanted me to have a family, he would have issued me one. Because of this, I literally had a choice of being a soldier, or being a father. I chose the role of a father and know that I made the right choice.
    I have had several choices during my children’s lives to pursue career options that would have resulted in great success in finances or notoriety, but have chosen not to, due to the fact that I see my role as a father as the most important stewardship role that I have. I still work hard and provide an income that sustains us, but if I pursue options that put my family behind, can I honestly believe that God will honor this? How can I expect God to approve of my actions on this earth if I did not value and bring up the closest and most precious people in my life?
    My final thought is that I have always admired the statement of the great coach Vince Lombardi, as he stated the following: “Think of only three things: your God, your family and the Green Bay Packers-in that order.” (The Green Bay Packers, could be optional, but I don’t recommend it!)

  9. David Altschuler

    We note, then, that Moses’ wife and sons were the only Jews on Earth who did not hear God speak to Moses on Mt. Sinai, since by most accounts Jethro came with Moses’ family after the Show was over. God must have set this up for a reason, but Moses’ human limitations was not the only factor in his sons’ apparent lack of greatness.

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