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…
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…
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.
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…
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.