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, males have the responsibility to retain national memory. Hebrew reveals this as male and memory are the same word, Z-CH-R.
ז כ ר
R CH Z
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 rather than my wife whose Hebrew skills equal mine.
The answer is that ancient Jewish wisdom 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. Mothers know when they have given birth; fathers can be completely unaware that they have offspring. 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. Those women who work out of the house spend more time with their children than most fathers do and are more focused on their children’s needs and wants than fathers are. Today’s solution to this advocates policies like paternity leave and urges that childcare be equally divided between men and women. Fathers and mothers’ roles should be as similar as possible. Ancient Jewish wisdom takes a different tack. Scripture sees mothers and fathers as having complementary roles rather than splitting the same roles. How this relates to earning money vs, prioritizing quantity time with children isn’t the topic of this Thought Tool. My focus is on the need to make children feel that they are part of two entities: the family and the nation.
In this world view, nobody is better suited to making sure that children develop a feeling of family attachment for their fathers and forge a close relationship with them than their mothers. Thus, my wife, who is perfectly capable of reciting the Friday night Kiddush, nonetheless helps cement the family structure by granting to me that role exclusively. The delicious and leisurely 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. The bond between father and child is a crucial distinction between humans and animals, and wives are especially suited to forge that link.
However, there is more. 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. In this way, it is more than a family statement. It connects us to our nation. We Jews recall our national birth every week recognizing that any nation that loses sight of its origins is doomed.
Thus, the Kiddush is about remembering not only the creation of the world but also the birth of the Jewish nation. In Jewish life, national acts of commemoration are best performed by a male, linking male and memory. Women create the family and men create the nation. By creating a covenant between men and women, marriage safeguards both the family and the nation, two entities that depend on each other
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 family obligations. Without families, nations are doomed. 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.