A major theme in today’s daf (Ketubot 49a-b) relates to a father’s duty to sustain his children both during his lifetime and after his death.
Significantly, when the Mishna and Gemara use the word זן (sustain) in this discussion they are referring to material sustenance, and though the Gemara considers a range of possibilities concerning the extent to which a father must materially sustain his children there is a clear consensus that this is what should be done until – to quote the words of the Rambam who summarises these laws (Hilchot Ishut 12:14) – עד שיגדילו, ‘until they grow up’.
However, as we know, and as is powerfully conveyed from the double usage of the word ויגדל in relation to Moshe (see Rashi et al on Shemot 2:10 & 2:11), growing up is not merely a physical process; it is an emotional process as well. Given this, it should be evident that a father (in all normal circumstances – unlike the case of Moshe) is obliged in the emotional sustenance of their child and not just the physical sustenance. But how does a father emotionally sustain his child?
A comprehensive answer to this question demands significantly more time, space, and qualifications than I have. However, what I do know is that physical and emotional presence in the life of a child is a significant way of providing emotional sustenance, and that – and here you will note that I am specifically addressing the role of fathers – at times fathers aren’t physically present when they can be, and even when they are physically present, there are occasions when they are not emotionally present.
In terms of the former, I am reminded of a conversation I had with a friend a few days ago whose situation is complex but who, at the same time, has the opportunity to be more physically present for his child. I asked him whether, when his child was born, he was in the delivery room. “Yes! Absolutely!” was the reply. I then explained as follows: “When your child was born, your role in the delivery room was likely limited. Yes, you would have provided some physical and emotional support for your wife, but in terms of your child, I doubt they remember you being there. Nevertheless, I am certain that you would not have missed ‘being there’ for the first moments of the birth of your child. Now your child is older, and though your presence at a seemingly minor event in your eyes may be less dramatic, if you make the effort of being there, your child will remember you being there. Ultimately, if your bond with your child is so important to you, be physically present for them because this is part of the sustenance that you need to provide for them.”
And in terms of the latter, is there anything more frustrating to a child than a parent who is physically present but who, perhaps due to the distraction of their phone, or work, are not emotionally present for them when they most need it – such as when they return home from school and need to talk but feel that their parent isn’t listening?
Ultimately, just as providing physical sustenance for a child is hard but crucial, so too, providing emotional sustenance for a child can, at times, be hard but is also crucial. And in terms of the measure of this, it is עד שיגדילו, ‘until they grow up’ – which, as I have explained, I understand to mean both physically, and emotionally.