One of the tasks of the Priests in the Tabernacle and in the Temple was the rekindling of the great Candelabra on a daily basis. We are taught in this week’s Torah reading that the Priest had to keep the flame, with which he was lighting the wicks of the lamps, next to those wicks until the lamp wick caught hold and was able to burn by itself. Over the ages, this has become the metaphor for Jewish parenting – for Jewish education itself. The parent or the teacher is responsible for the child or the student, just as the Priest was responsible for the wicks until they were lit.
The task of the parent/teacher is that the child/student will sustain himself or herself spiritually, socially, financially, and psychologically, after having been given the necessary life tools. I was a child at a time when children were considered adults by the time they reached puberty and their teenage years. However, in our more modern era childhood extends far beyond even the teenage years. Many children and students do not achieve any sort of true independence until they are well into their twenties, and sometimes even later than that.
The question then arises: is the responsibility of the parent/teacher open ended, i.e., does it remain, no matter how long it takes for the child or the student to truly become independent? Is the parent/teacher still on the hook, so to speak, to provide aid, sustenance, financial support and means for survival? Since it is not clear to us when the flame of independence and self-sufficiency is truly able to burn on its own, there arises a situation where the obligations of the parent, the educational system and even of society generally appears to remain unlimited. This type of dependency eventually becomes self-destructive, and certainly cannot be what the Torah had in mind for the Jewish family and the Jewish society.
The goal of parenting and of education is to produce people who are well-balanced, to provide their child/student – the next generation, with the necessary tools for self-reliance and independence of thought and action. There is a window of time for such an opportunity. In my opinion, that window closes quickly as time progresses. The options remaining in life for someone in their 30s or 40s are far fewer than the options that existed when they were in their 20’s.
Keeping the outside flame on the wick of the lamp of the candelabra for too long does not enhance the flame nor will it light the candelabra. Rather, it creates a situation of danger, containing too much fire, and is counterproductive in its purpose of lighting the lamps of the candelabra itself. So, too, a wise parent and/or a devoted teacher will eventually see the productivity of removing that outside fire and letting the wick burn on its own, to radiate its own life. Every human being is unique and holy. Every human being is entitled to its own lamp and light.
Rabbi Berel Wein