When one thinks of all the areas and all the ways in which a parent takes his or her totally dependent, totally self-centered, totally incapable newborn, and instills within the child values, morals and self-discipline over the first 18 or so years of life, it can be quite overwhelming. When you add to that guidance in personal hygiene and care, educating and teaching competence in day-to-day living, being successful as a parent seems incredibly daunting.
What is arguably our highest calling, instilling values, must be understood properly. We impart and impress our values upon our children in many ways, including unintended ones. When a young child observes his mother reacting to the sight of a tiny four-legged creature by emitting extremely loud, uncontrolled screeching sounds as she catapults onto a chair, and yet her reaction to his walloping his baby sister is with a gentle, calm “Moishele, that’s really not so nice,” the message is being conveyed very loudly and clearly – furry creatures are a greater threat to mankind, than abusive behavior to a younger sibling.
In this week’s Parsha, the Torah elaborates at great length on all areas of interpersonal interactions as they relate to financial matters. This concentration on laws of damages and compensation is a clear indicator of their importance. Furthermore, the Pasuk states (Shemos 23:7) “MiDvar Sheker Tirchak” – distance your self from falsehood. When it comes to integrity in business, giving testimony and in day-to-day dealing with others – it’s not enough to say “Lying is Forbidden.” Falsehood is so reprehensible, such an antithesis of Hashem’s will and Torah values that we are warned to stay far away from anything that hints of dishonesty.
The story is told that Rabbi Yaakov Kaminetsky zt’l, once observed parents dealing quite harshly with a six year old for putting his feet on the Shabbos table. He reportedly used the opportunity to make the following observation: Parents tend to focus on childish behaviors, and yet ignore character development issues. Rest assured that this child will not be putting his feet on the table when he is 18 years old. But, if he is not acting honestly, and his parents are not focusing on redirecting him towards always being honest and forthright, then when he’s 18, he’ll turn out to be a dishonest person.
Parents need not be overwhelmed by the myriad of lessons that need to be imparted to their children over the course of years. What’s needed is a clear focus on what really matters, and prioritizing one’s efforts and emotions to those areas that will remain with the child into adulthood. From this week’s Parsha, we see honesty and integrity is a great place to start, and an area that needs so much strengthening in our days.
May this Shabbos and the coming Month of Adar bring us all much Nachas and Simcha.
Rabbi Kalman Baumann