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Focus on Family if Moses Thought He Had It Bad, He Should Have Been a Mother of Four


“Boy, you guys sure take the fun out of being free,” says Jeremy, 13, who is unsuccessfully lobbying for a later curfew and who, post-Bar Mitzvah, is taking this business about being an adult entirely too literally.

“You think being free is about having fun?” I ask. “How much fun do you think the Israelites had on their 40-year trek through the desert?”


“What do you think was the most fun — being swallowed up by the earth when they rebelled against Moses and Aaron at Koreh or being bitten by fiery serpents and dying? Or having to eat the exact same food every day for 40 years?”

Yes, there’s a reason that the Torah commands us, no less than four times, to teach the story of the Exodus to our children.

And a reason that we parents need the refresher course as well.

Leading a pack of 603,550 cranky Israelites, along with their wives and children, their flocks and herds, is, after all, not that different from leading a pack of four cranky boys from birth to self-sufficiency, as my husband, Larry, and I are doing.

Moses only reluctantly accepts the challenge. “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and free the Israelites from Egypt?” he asks in Exodus 3:11. At 80, Moses doesn’t think he’s up to the task. At 50-something, with sons 12, 13, 15 and 19, Larry and I understand his hesitation. Especially now that ours are all essentially teen-agers, eager to cast off the chains of childhood.

For 40 years, Moses has to endure the Israelites’ constant “kvetching,” such as their wailing in Numbers 11:4-5: “If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish that we used to eat free in Egypt, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions and the garlic.”

I understand. I’ve had my share of Moses-like meltdowns, whether it’s dealing with their incessant bickering over whose turn it is to sit in the front seat, the forgotten homework project that’s due the next day or their need to be in different places, in different parts of the city, at the exact same time. “I can’t do this anymore,” I exasperatingly exclaim.

“So who told you to have four kids?” one of them invariably asks.

But rather than empathize and collectively rise to the occasion, they rattle their individual chains more demandingly, in true teen-age fashion.

“You’re not the boss of me,” Danny, 12, says.

“Actually, I am,” my husband answers. “And I have your birth certificate to prove it.”

As well as a mandate from God. The Torah, interestingly, doesn’t command us to love our children, but it does command us to educate them. “You shall teach them diligently to your children,” Deuteronomy 6:7 instructs us.

And so, despite their protests, we send them to school and guide them at home. We provide for them, protect them and prepare them for lives as adults. And that mandate causes us to restrict certain freedoms such as later bedtimes and extended sessions on AOL Instant Messenger. Instead, we push for increased attention to homework, more help with household chores and less tormenting of their siblings

After all, Moses doesn’t struggle to bring the Israelites out of Egypt, after 430 years in slavery, so that, once safely across the Red Sea, they are free to carry on as they please.

And we parents don’t devote all our time, energy and money to bringing our kids to the brink of adulthood, only to release them to unfulfilling and unfocused lives of lollygagging about or indulging in “sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll.”

Obviously, when the symbol of liberation is a matzah, the proverbial bread of affliction, freedom is not about unfettered fun.

Moses is accomplishing nothing less than transforming the Israelites from idolaters to monotheists, from slaves to founders of the Jewish nation. As God urges Moses to tell Pharaoh, in Exodus 7:16 and elsewhere, “Let my people go that they may serve me.”

And we parents are doing nothing less than creating the next generation of solid Jewish citizens.

And so, every year, on the 14th of Nissan, we gather together as a family to retell the story of the Exodus, a transcendent moment in Jewish history as well as in Jewish family life.

As a people, this year, we measure how far we’ve come in the last 3,315 years. As parents, Larry and I measure how far we’ve come in the last 20 years.

Passover is also an opportunity to remind our sons that the first seder was held while the Israelites were still in bondage, giving them hope that their suffering under our seemingly oppressive rule, like the Israelites under slavery, is finite.

And our job, as restrictive parents, is also finite.

At that point, with grown children, Larry and I will finally have reached the Promised Land. Then we can watch our sons say to their own teen-agers, “You think being free is about having fun?”

For us parents, it will be.

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