It is important to remind ourselves from time to time, that despite the ongoing barrage of media messages and images that we and our children are constantly exposed to, the potential harm is not diminished. Many Gedolim of a generation or two ago would bemoan the fact that a child in a modern city was exposed to more inappropriate sights and sounds in a day, than the shtetl dwellers were in a lifetime. What should we say?
Among the less constructive applications of modern technology is the use of a smartphone as a babysitter. I have observed many a parent trying to occupy the attention of a not quite two year old(!) with a game, video, recording or any old app, by placing the device in the hands of a fussing passenger of a baby carriage. As effective as it is as a ‘pacifier’ for a toddler and older child, it’s undoubtedly doing damage to the child’s sensitive insides. “But he’s barely cognizant of what he’s doing!” or “there’s no problem with the content, and besides, he’ll never remember what he saw.”
When it comes to understanding the long-term effects of impressions that come at a young age, this week’s Parsha provides a pointed lesson. The Medrash Rabba (65:4) questions why Yitzchak Avinu was more averse to the idolatrous incense that his daughters-in-law burned in their home than Rivkah Imeinu. The answer given by the Medrash is because Rivkah was a daughter of priests (of avoda zara). The commentator Yefe Toar explains that Rivkah, to some extent didn’t focus on the implications of the incense, because she was used to seeing avoda zara itself, so it made a minimal impression.
This is puzzling. It is common that when a person rejects a previous lifestyle and embraces a new and different one, as Rivkah did, the person will bend over backwards to fulfill the requirements and expectations of their new life in the maximum manner. They will frequently develop a revulsion to their old way of living. If so, how could Rivkah be lacking in her concern about avoda zara being present in her life? She should be more up in arms than Yitzchak who had no prior connection to idol worship and therefore never developed an emotional antagonism to it.
The answer seems to be that even if you reject an idea or system on an intellectual level, and even if you develop an emotional rejection to your former lifestyle, there is still a peripheral attraction, PERHAPS a sentimental feeling that may never be eradicated. The sights, sounds, taste, smell and feel of it remain part of you forever. The experiences become ingrained in your subconscious and stay for eternity. This is perhaps what happened to Rivkah. One can certainly strive to overcome the influence and earn great merit in the process, as Rivkah certainly did. Yitzchak on the other hand, was never exposed to any avoda zara, was never desensitized, so he retained an automatic and total revulsion to it.
The lesson for us and our children is very relevant. Rivkah may have grown up among idolaters, but she moved out at the age of three! This event with the daughters-in-law happened at least 60 years after Rivka left Charan and her family! Impressions may be invisible, forgotten and go undetected. Nevertheless, they don’t go away. They remain and might surface when least expected, and in negative ways. We can’t guarantee purity, and we’re no longer in the shtetl. We do, however, have an obligation to minimize our children’s exposure to overstimulation, violence, indecency and cruelty wherever and whenever we can. We must try to expose our children to kedusha, kavod HaTorah and kindness.
With redoubled efforts, and Hashem’s help, we can raise holy, pure, sensitive children in 21st century America.
With best wishes for a sanctified Shabbos,
Rabbi Kalman Baumann