One of my earliest memories -- I was maybe three years old -- is of my father tucking me into bed.
He would rub my back and sing to me "Bah, Bah, Black Sheep." After finishing the song, we would then have a special routine. He would ask me, "Who loves you?" And I would respond, "I forget."He would go through the list, "I love you. Mom loves you. Your sister loves you. Bubbe and Papa love you..." and I would giggle.
He would then give me one more hug and whisper into my ear, "You know, Jenna, Mom and I will always, always love you."
That was my bed time routine for years. Of course my dad modified it as I grew older. He would only occasionally sing "Bah, Bah, Black Sheep," and eventually the rhetorical questioning stopped as well.
But the one thing he never stopped doing was remind that he and my mom would always love me.
I knew I was in trouble -- big trouble.
I have another early memory of my parents coming into my room after I had been mean to my little sister. I knew I was in trouble -- big trouble. I was still sniffling from being embarrassed that my parents had gotten angry with me.
My parents sat down on my bed; my mom stroked my head and she said, "What you did was wrong. You know it is wrong to take your sister's toys. But now it is over. I love you very much and Dad loves you very much. And no matter what you do, we will always love you. So please stop crying and let's go have dinner."
No matter what I did, no matter how mad they would get, they always told me that they would always love me. No matter what. When I made mistakes, I could always come to them and tell them. I could trust them, they said, because no matter what I would tell them, they would always love me. And they told me this at least once a day.
This unconditional love has been the foundation of my relationship with my parents.It has created a healthy bond where I didn't want to disappoint them by making the wrong choices when it came to the obstacles which naturally face teenagers.
My parents' respect and trust became a valuable commodity.
My parents' respect and trust became a valuable commodity as I entered high school and encountered the trials and tribulations of being a teenager. I carried with me my parents overpowering message, "We love you. We trust you. You will make mistakes, but it does not affect our love for you, because we will never stop loving you."
I remember, as a 12-year-old at a friend's birthday slumber party, facing a major challenge. The movie "Pretty Woman" had come out on video. Some months before, my parents and I had battled it out when all of my friends were allowed to see the film in movie theaters but I wasn't. For weeks I was miserable as every girlfriend went to the movie.According to my parents, it was rated PG-13, and I was not 13. I was not allowed to see "Pretty Woman" -- end of discussion.
As the birthday girl put the tape in the VCR, I had a pit in my stomach. I knew I could not go home the next morning having seen the movie. So I mustered all of my courage, said I had a stomach ache and called home.
My dad answered and I told him the situation. He said, "Mom and I would really rather you not see the movie. If you will be horribly embarrassed, you can stay, but if not, I would like it if you came home." My dad picked me up, and I had a special night, staying up late with my dad, eating ice cream and watching a PG movie instead.
It's not that I was a goodie-two-shoes. I just loved, and still love, my parents and wouldn't want to do anything to harm my relationship with them. Even though I couldn't understand why seeing "Pretty Woman" was such a big deal at age 12, I felt in my heart that my parents knew something I just couldn't understand and I trusted them.
As an adult, the dilemmas that face me are far more complicated than whether or not to watch a racy movie.
As an adult, the dilemmas that face me are far more complicated than whether or not to watch "Pretty Woman." The more I think about the kind of life I want to lead, the more I think about the significance of building a relationship with God. And the more I understand my relationship to God, the more I see how it parallels my relationship to my parents.
The Sages teach that the Ten Commandments are divided into two categories: the first five contain the man-to-God mitzvot and the second five the man-to-man mitzvot. Why though is the fifth commandment to honor your parents on the man-to-God side of the tablets?
Without a strong connection and appreciation for your parents, it is difficult to have a relationship with God. Parents are the first expression of God to children; parents are there from the moment children come into the world, completely sustaining all of their needs.
If I can understand how much my parents love me -- and they are only human, finite beings -- all the more so do I want to understand how much the Parent of all Parents, the Creator of the Universe, loves me.
Just as my parents sustained me when I couldn't sustain myself, God sustains all of us.
Just as my parents sustained me when I couldn't sustain myself, God sustains all of us. When I appreciate the unconditional love and giving my parents poured into me, it is much easier to understand the way God works in the world. Just like parents, He gives and gives and gives, creating a stronger and stronger relationship with His children. He wants the best for me; He provides for me; He loves me unconditionally and infinitely.
Just like my parents do.