Blog Post


Parsha VaYechi: The Helicopter Parent

This week’s parsha is the final one in the Book of Bereshit/Genesis. The last of the forefathers, Jacob is about to die, and the family is in Egypt where they are thriving and becoming more numerous. The dark clouds of slavery are not as yet on the horizon but Jacob knows they are not far off.  

Before he passes on, Jacob calls his sons together so that he can share with them his prophecy of what will happen when the Mashiach/Messiah arrives, along with its timetable. 

And Jacob called his sons and said, “Come together so that I can tell you what will happen to you in the End of Days. Gather together and pay close attention, O sons of Jacob; listen to Israel your father.”

And so while we, the reader – and I am sure the sons as well –  wait with bated breath for this great revelation to be disclosed, we are seriously disappointed because it doesn’t happen. Instead Jacob speaks to each and every one of his sons, pointing out their strengths and weaknesses – as the case may be – and then gives each a blessing. Talk about bait and switch. 

So what happened to the amazing prophecy we were promised and that Jacob was going to share? Where did it go? Rashi, citing the Midrash, informs us what transpired: 

Jacob wished to reveal to them The End, but the Divine Presence left him, so he began to speak of other matters.

Yeah, just when Jacob wanted to spill the beans, God intervened and said, “No dice. Ain’t happening” and forced a senior moment on him to forget it. Jacob had one thing in mind but God overruled and vetoed it. 

The tension here between Father Jacob’s intentions to reveal The End, and God’s deleting that knowledge from him, is one that parents deal with all the time when raising children. Jacob was concerned about the long, drawn-out pain of Exile that would take place on future generations and he wanted to alleviate that pain to some degree by telling them in detail the happy, future ending. God disagreed. 

As parents we wish to ensure that our children will live with the least amount of pain as possible. After all, this is what having kids is all about. Providing for their good, welfare, safety and general well-being. When they’re tiny we are their everything – making sure they are fed, clean, warm and safe. As they get older, and they become more independent, there is a natural shift in the relationship and we cannot be there for every moment of their lives like we were when they were infants. We can’t be present for every scraped knee and emotional hurt. 

Alas, some parents never learn to let go and they become the proverbial “helicopter parent”; always around and hovering about to ensure their little darling – and not-so-little darling – never slips nor falls. And if they do, they are there to catch them before they hit the ground or to kiss their bruises away. It’s one thing to be like this when the child is 3 or 4, quite another when they’re 23 or 24. 

Being a helicopter parent, or not, starts very early on. I recall once going to one of these, “See-how-amazing-your-child-is-doing-in-our-school!” afternoons that consisted of some play or holiday program when she was in kindergarten. You know the type, just when you think it’s over, they spring the, “And now you will participate with your child and together you will make a creative art project!” Ungh. 

In this case it was a stick horse we were supposed to make from the wooden pole, construction paper, stuffing and glue that was provided. As the project commenced I looked around the room and suddenly discovered that I was the only parent who was not making it for their kid. Every other parent was basically doing the whole thing while their kid stood off to the side and, at most, handed them the materials. Not me, I made Tzippy do all the work. The only thing I did was staple the bits together because it was impossible for a five year-old to do that part. Hers may not have looked as professional as the others, but at least she could take pride in the fact that she made it. 

This is a challenge for any parent. Striking the proper balance between being there for them but at the same time respecting their independence. And part of that independence is their need to make mistakes, which sometimes means they will get hurt in the process. And as they get hurt, so do we. 

This is what Jacob and God were grappling over. He was trying to blunt the pain by giving them an end-goal and showing them it will all have a wonderful, positive outcome when all is said and done. But God was not interested in that. No cheating here. The final chapter of the book is not going to be revealed. Because along with that revelation comes the possibility and concern of complacency. “Oh, it all works out in the end at such and such time? Great, so we will just sit on our hands for the time being and wait for God to make that happen.” 

Nope, that is not how God wanted Jewish history and destiny to go down. “Yes, Jacob I fully understand your love and concern for your kids, and their kids and their kids and theirs. And I know that all you want is for their best and that they shouldn’t have to endure the pain of Exile and the uncertainty that goes along with it. But this is not what’s in their best interest. No Back To The Future scenarios to spoil the plot. They will have to work it out in real time as it happens without any clear foreknowledge of how, or exactly when, it all ends.” 

And so too as parents, as much as we would like to control their destiny and future, we need to let go and let them make their own way. We need to put our trust in the values we give them, their ability to make sound decisions from those values, and the knowledge that they will be able to pick up the pieces when they don’t make the best decisions. And just like Jacob had to learn to let go, so too we need to do the same. Because with or without knowing when and how it exactly happens, Redemption ultimately does arrive. For your kids and for God’s as well. 

Pages turning
Pages we were years from learning
Straight into the night our hearts were flung
Better bring your own Redemption when you come
To the barricades of Heaven where I’m from
-Jackson Browne

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