This week’s Parashas HaShavua, Parashas Shoftim, starts off with a description of the community’s obligation to set up a legal system that includes various elements of authority. Legal decisors and enforcers – judges and police, form the backbone of a system that enables justice and fairness to prevail. Rashi on the first Pasuk, states clearly the need for a police force to ensure even by force where necessary, the authority of the judges. Pirkei Avos (3:2) informs us that the absence of a functioning government will lead to chaos and violence.
The concept of authority is very basic. Human society functions and flourishes when there are clear and just rules along with clear lines of authority. When there is a hierarchy of rulership, and it is clearly defined, a political or civil entity can be successfully established. Not only the community, but families and classrooms also require a structure and respect for authority, to function appropriately.
Before members of society can begin the work to build a cohesive communal structure, there is a prerequisite to establish authority. Even more basic than establishing authority, is the understanding of the concept and need for authority, that I do things because a higher authority instructs me and expects me to follow a certain precept or law.
Nowadays, those who follow authority because one follows authority, are an endangered species! As Torah Jews, we have faith in the words of the Torah and the teachings of our Rabbis. We perform Mitzvos and avoid committing Aveiros, because we respect Hashem’s ultimate authority over us. We as a nation have remained faithful to Hashem’s laws for thousands of years without policemen watching over us. General society shares little of our respect for authority. People keep laws and follow guidelines out of fear of punishment and retribution, not from any exalted sense of higher purpose.
What bearing does this have on chinuch and parenting? Everything. The basis of discipline, especially self-discipline which is the foundation of real chinuch, is to become a person who does the right thing, who follows rules and instructions of our Torah, our leaders and teachers and parents – because Hashem gave us a concept of authority and authority figures to guide us and tell us what to do through many, if not most circumstances in life.
Many parents have difficulty with this for two reasons: 1) We have been so influenced by outside society that on some level we feel authority is a dirty word. No one should be greater than another. We are all just about equal. With this attitude, projecting oneself as an authority figure to be deeply respected by one’s children is difficult, if not downright distasteful to many people.
2) Even if we want to establish authority over our children, we don’t know how to strike the proper balance between unconditional love on the one hand, and strict discipline on the other. We often go to one extreme or the other.To answer the first challenge, we need to internalize the value of giving our children a sense that the world works by following rules because Hashem made the world run through authority figures creating and promulgating rules for living. Realizing how this mind set makes for healthy, fulfilled lives, should help us force ourselves to assume a role we may never have imagined for ourselves – to be a parent who is not only respected, but actually revered by our children. A child should never get the message that he is to follow an instruction or rule because the one who is creating the rule (the parent) is bigger and stronger than him, so therefore he needs to listen and obey. This approach can ultimately lead to rebellion, R’L.
The question that remains, is how do we get our children to internalize the message and lesson that he or she should listen to what the parent says because the parent is the authority figure Hashem chose for the family and one listens to authority? The response to this question can fill many volumes and is the subject of endless debate. Perhaps a first step is to habituate one’s young child to follow simple, easy to follow instructions, presented in as a matter of fact manner as possible. Asking children to pass the salt, go see what time it is, check on whether it’s raining, won’t cause resistance and will habituate the child to follow your directives. You can then `graduate’ to the next level of perhaps mildly unpleasant directives – bring Aba’s slippers, clear your plate, put your clothes in the hamper.
Once your child is in the habit of following your instructions – not out of fear, but because that’s simply what he should do, you can turn to the tough ones – it’s time for you to go to bed, you cannot go play with so-and-so, we don’t allow those kinds of toys in our house. After that one graduates to – we don’t do this on Shabbos, that Hechsher is not reliable, that skirt is not as long as it should be, etc. etc.
There’s so much more to be said on this topic – but let’s keep the basic message in mind – children who follow rules out of fear of the bigger, stronger adult, will stop following once they become the bigger, stronger one. Only through internalizing a profound appreciation for the idea of authority will a person’s childhood compliance turn into adulthood commitment.
Have a wonderful Shabbos,