Friday, September 12, 2008

Parshat Ki Tetzei - פרשת כי תצא

Parents Have Great Influence

(Disclaimer: I am not using this D’var Torah to attack parents; I have no idea what troubles and challenges a parent encounters. Much less my own parents; G-d knows I was a terrible child, and teenager! I don't envy their job, much less crictise.

I am, however, permitting myself a wry smile when I think of the mischievous younger incarnation of myself, and how almost every year at this Parsha, there would be some kind of scolding and a reference to my being a true Ben Sorer U’Moreh. Oh happy days!)

Anyway, this week's Parsha talks of the rebellious son, the Ben Sorer U'Moreh. This wayward child is punished because, "he does not hearken to the voice of his father and the voice of his mother." As King Solomon says, "Carelessness is bound to the heart of the youth, and the 'staff of rebuke' will remove it from him," in Mishlei (22:15) Often parents refrain from rebuking their children, even when they know their child has done something wrong. True, it's wrong to constantly criticise and be negative, but a bit of well placed rebuke is a necessary part of a child’s education. Especially, we must remember that part of education is to teach children the laws of Derech Eretz (proper conduct): to respect their parents, teachers and elders. The Ben Sorer U’moreh "never heard the voice of his father and mother," rebuking him, and admonishing him for something he did wrong.

The Gemara derives from these words ("he does not hearken to our voice") that if one of the parents were deaf, the son can then not become a Ben Sorer U'Moreh. This is difficult to understand: The words "he does not hearken" refer to the son, not the parents.

If, however, explains Mayana shel Torah, the parents turn a "deaf ear" to their own Mussar - i.e. they chastise and criticize their son, yet they don't "practice what they preach", then their words will surely fail to make any lasting impression. To make use of the overused yet poignant example; it is comical to see a father interrupting his own 'shmooze' to snap his fingers at his son to "Stop fooling around, and get back to your Siddur."

As the cliche goes, children do as we do, not as we say.

Even though a Talmid Chacham will learn or teach Torah all day long, this does not free him from his responsibility to train his own children; these rules apply to him too. Even a Talmid Chacham has to keep the Mitzvot, and it is written explicitly in the Sh’ma, "And you shall teach them to your children." We must take time from our own learning to help our children become Talmidei Chachamim.

Coincidentally, our Sages assure us that we will not suffer any loss when we take time from business to teach our children Torah. G-d guarantees that we will be reimbursed in full! (Masechet Beitzah 16a)

Unfortunately, there are parents who give top priority to their business career over their children. They may not admit it, but their actions show it. They spend long hours at their jobs and come home very late, or do not come home for days at a time. When they are home, they are always on the phone planning their next business deal. Women, too, sometimes put their careers before their families by spending long hours at work.

Everyone must have an income, but our children come first. When your child sees that you have no time to talk to him or to listen to him, he understands that he is not as important as the business. You do not have to say this to him. Your actions proclaim this message loud and clear.

In a similar vein, the Darchei Teshuva explains in Tiferes Banim, "he does not hearken to the voice of his father and the voice of his mother," i.e. the wayward and rebellious son became this way because he never heard the voice of his father learning Torah. And he never heard the voice of his mother praying or saying Tehillim. When Daddy came home from work, all he was interested in was the newspaper and his supper. Mummy preferred spending her spare time hearing the latest gossip rather than praying that her children should grow up to be Talmidei Chachamim (Torah scholars) and Yirei Shamayim (Be in awe of and fear Heaven).

No matter what a child has done, the fault can almost always be found in the parents. The child who knows that his parents love him and are proud of him cannot stray far, since he feels an obligation to live up to his parents' expectations. But when the opposite is true, he looks for ways to get their attention, often through negative behaviour. This may be his only tool for getting them to show concern for him.

If we want children to grow up with love of the Torah, we must ourselves love the Torah, and show this to them. Can we really blame the child for not wanting to follow the true Torah path when his own parents found it so tedious? This lesson is very much applicable today. Parents and teachers unfortunately take this opportunity to reference naughty children, but it is themselves they should take a look at. If children are exposed to a true love for Torah, there is every chance that they will love it. A teacher who tells a child to be quiet and get on with his learning Perhaps it is not entirely by coincidence that the rebellious son is called Ben Sorer u'Moreh. Moreh means rebellious, but it also means teacher. There is a lot for parents to learn from the never-to-be case of the Ben Sorer u-Moreh. We have just barely scraped the surface.

Have a beautiful שבת שלום!

*This week’s D’var Torah is dedicated to my little brother who just completed his first “Shvua Milchamah” with Golani. Kol Hakavod, and rest easy this Shabbat, Josh!

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