One of the most vexing circumstances that confront a parent occurs when a child feels victimized by his or her peers. While always showing empathy and concern for the child’s feelings, there are two approaches that can be taken to minimize or solve the problem. A parent can either take measures to protect the child, or the parent can train the child to be able to stand up for himself and thereby shed his victim status. The correct approach varies with the child, the surrounding circumstances, the one victimizing, etc. As in all cases of chinuch, no one solution fits all.
There is one constant, however, that applies in all cases of bullying, victimization and inappropriate behavior in general. In this week’s Parsha, perhaps the greatest calamity to strike the Jewish People took place, the sin of the Eigel HaZahav, the Golden Calf. While the actual sin was committed by a relatively small minority of the people, the Erev Rav, (the mixed multitudes of Egyptians who left Egypt along with the Jews) all the Jews were punished. The Ohr HaChaim Hakodosh spells out why that was so.
The Ohr HaChaim points out that the description of the actions that took place seem to be partially in the wrong order. The pasuk (Shemos 32:8) tells us “….they made for themselves a molten image, …. and they bowed down to it, ….. and they said “Israel, this is your god…..”” The Ohr HaChaim asks, the actual chronology was they started off by making verbal claims and afterwards actually performed avodah zara? (Pesukim 4-6)
The Ohr HaChaim explains, that the order makes sense, when viewed from the perspective not of the few who actually made and served the Eigel, but rather from the vantage point of the rest of Klal Yisroel. He explains – the Erev Rav made the Eigel for themselves, and none of the Jews protested. The Erev Rav then proceeded to worship the calf, and the Jews did not complain about it. Ultimately, the Erev Rav addressed the Jews directly to blaspheme Hashem and the Jews were silent. When their earlier acquiescence culminated in their not standing up to defend their own beliefs, they were found truly guilty of a lack of belief in Hashem.
From the consequences the Jewish People suffer until today, we see the enormity of standing quietly by while someone, anyone, even the Erev Rav, does something wrong. We bear ultimate responsibility for the misdeeds or cruelty of others, if there is anything we can do to improve or relieve the situation even slightly. Bystanders, through no fault of their own, are thrust into a situation that requires them to act, to come to the defense of what’s right and to protect a victim.
How does this answer the dilemma we started with? From the fact that every single Jew suffered the consequences of not trying to stop the Erev Rav, we see everyone is obligated. That means everyone could and should develop the means, no matter how slight, to put a stop to the actions of others. Everyone has an obligation to lift themselves out of victimhood, if only because they also are expected to be a protesting bystander when warranted. A child who never learns to stand up for himself will not only suffer terribly throughout life, but he will not be able to do the right thing when witnessing or confronting evil.
Even if a parent is always available to protect the child, ultimately the child has an obligation to learn to be one who can stand up for the honor of Hashem even in the face of ridicule and negative peer pressure. Every child must learn to protect those who are weak and being victimized. Even in the privacy of one’s home, he must forthrightly and resolutely keep Mitzvos that are hard and possibly uncomfortable and inconvenient. Victims will always react to difficulty and adversity by blaming others, non-victims will proactively make sure to do the right thing.
If we keep this long-range goal for our children in mind, we will do the minimum protecting required in the moment, and devote most of our efforts towards strengthening our child’s backbone and assertiveness to do what Hashem requires in our service of Him and our obligations towards our fellow man.
Have a strong, wonderful Shabbos,
Rabbi Kalman Baumann