Don’t Expect Your Children to be Your Clones

Principle 10 for Being an Inspiring Parent

The tenth video talks about why parents should never seek to make their children into their doubles.

How to be an inspiring parent, Rule 10. Listen to this fascinating Midrash. It is a Midrash to the words in Chayei Sarah, the opening line in Genesis 24, V'Avraham zakain ba bayamim v'Hashem bairach et-Avraham bakol. (Bereishit 24:1) Abraham was old, advanced in years. The Midrash says Ad Avraham, lo haiyta zakaina, Abraham was the first person ever to get old. Until then nobody got old and Abraham prayed, 'Please, God make me old.' And God answered his prayer. This is a strange Midrash, but you'll get my point in a moment. 'Please God, make me old.' And he became old.

What's going on in this Midrash? Well, it's a very elaborate story. You remember the story that v'eyleh toldot Yitzchak ben Avraham, Avraham holid et Yitzchak - there's a Midrashic tradition that Isaac was identical to Abraham. Everytime somebody looked at Isaac, they immediately knew that Abraham was his father for all sorts of reasons I have no intention of going into.

And so Abraham and Isaac looked alike. So the Midrash says when somebody wanted to talk to Abraham, they started talking to Isaac. When they wanted to talk to Isaac, they talked to Abraham. And one way or another Abraham got so fed up with nobody being able to tell him apart from his son, he prayed, Ribbono shel Olam, give me zikna. Make me old. V'Avraham zakain ba bayamim. That is why Abraham became old. Because until then his son had been a clone of him.

Rule 10, never seek to make your children your clones. They have a life of their own, an identity of their own. Let them be themselves. Not a clone of you.

You remember Rav Kook asked the obvious question. Elokai Avraham, Elokai Yitzchak, v'Elokai Yaacov. Why do we say so repetitively when we daven every Amidah: Please God, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob? Rav Kook said: Simple. Because Abraham, Isaac and Jacob served God in different ways. Each one of them had a different character. Each one of them had a different relationship with God. Each one of them had a different way of serving God.

Don't expect your children to be your clones. That was an amazing philosophy. I only met him once. Actually he's already elderly, died just about a year ago. One of the "Gedolai hador" in philosophy, his name was Hillary Putnam, a professor of philosophy at Harvard University. Very interesting man, as I say, I didn't know him. Brought up - he and his wife - by Jewish atheists, completely secular bringing. They also knew and experienced antisemitism. They decided they wanted their children to have a religious upbringing. They became Baalei Teshuvah in order to give a kind of religious upbringing to their children. I get the impression that Hillary Putnam was a very, very beautiful, as well as a brilliant human being.

He wrote an essay when human cloning first came on the ethical agenda and he objected to it and listen to the sentence that he wrote. He said, "Every child has a right to be a complete surprise to its parents." I hold Hillary Putnam got it in one. Rule 10: don't expect your children to be clones of you. Let them surprise you.

This video series, Inspired Parenting, consists of thirteen short videos of Rabbi Sacks discussing some of the ways we can be inspiring parents and really kindle the flame of Torah in our children.

We hope you will learn, as Rabbi Sacks did, from exploring these ideas.