One of the most complex and sensitive tasks a parent faces is helping his or her child form positive, productive friendships with peers. Step number one, obviously, is to place the child in an environment where the types of friends you would like him or her to have are in the greatest abundance. To achieve this, parents move from one city or neighborhood to another, choose schools and camps on the basis of it, and may pick a particular shul or minyan because of it. They’ll decide what homes their child may visit and under what circumstances, and who may be invited into their home for a play date.
That’s the easy part. Teaching one’s child how to be discerning on their own when interacting with others in school, shul or camp without hovering and dictating to the child who they can or cannot be friends with is a tightrope every parent needs to walk. It may be necessary and appropriate every once in a very rare while to confront your child directly and let him or her know that you do not approve of a certain friend. Make it a habit, however, and you’re inviting rebellion. If a child can’t operate somewhat independently in his or her own social universe, where will he learn the skills to become a socially independent, capable adult?
Truly helping your child requires an ongoing series of mini-lessons, giving tips and pointers as the opportunities arise on what constitutes a healthy friendship, and what needs to be avoided, for your child’s own sake. One striking message can be gleaned from this week’s Parsha. At the very beginning, (44:18) Yehuda tells the viceroy, Yosef, “You are like Pharaoh.” Rashi explains this is a criticism – just as Pharaoh decrees and does not fulfill, so too you. The Sifsei Chachomim (quoting the Mizrachi) explains that the royal decrees of Egypt did not allow a slave to rule. When Pharaoh elevated Yosef, he violated this rule. What Yehuda was saying in effect, was – you Yosef rely on Pharaoh for your power, but Pharaoh is dishonest and he’ll betray you like he disobeyed his own rules.
The Rosh HaYeshiva, HaGaon HaRav Alter Chanoch Henoch Leibowitz, zt’l asked what kind of proof is this of Pharaoh’s dishonesty and potential disloyalty? Pharaoh violated the law to save his countrymen from starvation, he had no personal agenda. How could Yehuda claim on the basis of that violation of the law, under those circumstances, that Pharoah would betray Yosef? The Rosh HaYeshiva answered that Pharaoh, by openly disregarding his own laws (he apparently took no steps to legalize his actions) demonstrated a blatant disregard for the truth. Once a person has breached a wall of Emes, truth, he is no longer trustworthy as a protector or a friend.
A student who helps a classmate cheat on a test, or a businessman who enables a colleague to do something illegal, looks like a good friend who’s demonstrating concern. However, in the end, his disregard for truth will easily cause him to turn against that same friend. This is a message you can keep reiterating to your children. A friend who consistently breaks rules, disregards adult wishes, doesn’t keep promises, or betrays secrets is not someone with whom to foster a friendship. Encourage your child to hang out with children to whom being honest is an important value. Explain how an honest friend is a true friend who can be relied on to stay a friend.
By seeking out this virtue of Emes in others, and promoting it in your own children, you will be doing more than helping your own child – you will be fostering unity among Klal Yisrael and raising the level of morals and ethics in your own family,community, Klal Yisrael and all mankind.
Best wishes for a truly inspiring and unifying Shabbos,
Rabbi Kalman Baumann