I’m an only child, but I hear that having siblings is like eating Marmite – you either love it or you hate it! Our family members are one thing in life that we don’t have the luxury of choosing – we’re stuck with them whether we like it or not. The same is true of our parents and their influence on our lives. I can’t remember the amount of times I’ve found myself recently thinking, “You’re behaving just like your dad would!” Whether it’s the intonation, the gesticulations or the subtle humour, it seems like I just can’t help it. I’m slowly becoming like my father.
It’s a rather interesting and probably somewhat disturbing fact of life that as we grow up, we end up becoming like our parents. As the old adage goes, “If you want to know what your wife will look like when she’s old, just look at her mother!” I’m not even thirty and yet I find myself subconsciously copying my father. It seems as though something is written into our DNA whereby we are inextricably linked to our parents – not just physically, but also through our personalities. As the old cliché goes, “Like father, like son.” But what is particularly frustrating is when we find ourselves imitating not only the good in our parents, but also the bad.
Take Isaac for example. This week’s Torah portion, Toldot (generations or families), deals primarily with our second major patriarch and, as we discover, Isaac is very much like his father Abraham. In chapter 20 of Bereshit/Genesis, Abraham decides to sojourn in the region of Gerar and instructs his wife Sarah to lie to the king Abimelech and say that she is Abraham’s sister. After God appeared to Abimelech in a dream and threatened to destroy him for taking Sarah, Abimelech protests his innocence and sends both Abraham and Sarah away. Isaac, who must have known about this story, later in chapter 26 decides also to sojourn in Gerar and makes the very same mistake that his father did! Isaac lies about Rebekka and Abimelech (who is either incredibly forgetful or perhaps is the son of the original Abimelech) only finds out the truth when he sees some hanky panky going on outside his window! Later on in the parasha, as we start to look at the life of Jacob we also find similarities and parallels in his behaviour and that of his forefathers.
So it would seem, that whether we like it or not, we are doomed to follow in our parents’ footsteps, making the same mistakes that they made. But why? Why can’t we break the cycle?
The answer is because we ourselves are broken people. Our first parents, Adam and Eve, corrupted themselves when they decided to set aside the advice of the Creator God and believe the lie of the serpent. Since then, we have inherited their corruption and find ourselves making the same mistakes that they made, even when we don’t want to! A first century Jewish follower of the Messiah, the shaliach Sha’ul said it best, “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.” (Romans 7:19-20) Even if we remember how much we hated something that our parents did, we can still find ourselves replicating the very same thing they did, because we don’t have the power to do otherwise. As Sha’ul explains, “For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.” (Romans 7:18)
So are we forever doomed to make the same mistakes our parents make? Sha’ul asks the same question, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24) Thankfully, the answer is no. It’s possible for us broken people to break the cycle of continual brokenness thanks to some outside help. The answer? “Thanks be to God through Yeshua the Messiah our Lord!” (Romans 7:25)
A friend of mine recently told me about his past. He grew up in South Africa in an orthodox home, later got involved with Chabad Lubavitch and became extremely religious. And yet this new-found depth of religion wasn’t able to restrain him from getting involved in drugs, alcohol and women, all the while practising orthodox Judaism. As he put it, “On Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) I would fast and pray for forgiveness, but the next day I woke up the same person as I always was. None of the commandments changed who I really was!”
Many people have written self-help books claiming to offer keys to success in changing the bad things about us. While some of these books and other religious systems might work short-term, they have no real power in helping us to become good people, because they cannot change our fundamentally fallen and broken nature that we have inherited from our family. The Messiah Yeshua is the only way for us to break the cycle because He is the only one who was able to live a blameless life and take on the penalty that our sin and brokenness deserved. Through his death and resurrection He offers us the chance to have our heart circumcised (see Dvarim/Deuteronomy 30:6), to be reborn (see Yochanan/John 3) and to give us the ability to live for God. Try as we may, we will never be able to do that in our own strength.
We find the exact same truth confirmed also by the lives of the patriarchs. Jacob inherits the dishonesty and cunning of his father and grandfather and tricks not only his brother, but his uncle too. He is only changed by an encounter with God Himself (possibly Yeshua?) as we will see in Paraschat Vayishlach, which leaves him physically broken, but spiritually dependant no longer on his on cunning, but on God’s sovereignty.
We cannot choose our parents or the characteristics that they pass down to us, and whether we like it or not, that includes their brokenness. And yet we don’t have to be caught in the same cycle of making the same mistakes if we come to the Messiah Yeshua and ask Him to change us. We are not able to repair ourselves, but the Messiah is able to make us new if we are willing to ask him to. Like father, like son? What about like heavenly Father, like new-born son?
Like father, like son