The events of this week’s Parsha unfold in the plains of Mamre. Who was Mamre? The Midrash Rabba (Bereishis 42:8) tells us he was an associate of Avrohom Avinu, who gave him good advice about the Bris Milah that Hashem commanded Avrohom to perform.The obvious question is why would Avrohom ask advice about whether or not to follow Hashem’s command? He didn’t consult about whether to follow Hashem’s order to go to Eretz Canaan or to perform the Akeidah on his son! The Taz on the Torah (quoted in Sefer Chiddushei HaLev p.64) explained that in truth, Hashem’s instruction to Avrohom about the circumcision was not a Mitzva, an absolute command but a Reshus, an option, a good idea that would benefit mankind.
As Jews and as parents we face many decisions. When it is a question of Torah law or practice, there is undoubtedly only one address for our questions – an halachic authority. But, most of our issues are in the realm of Reshus – option. Here too, it would benefit us to go to the highest Torah authority available. However, that is not always practical, and many times others might prove even more beneficial. We learn this as well from Avrohom.
Rav Zev Leff (he should have a Refuah Shelaima) has suggested that the reason Avrohom sought counsel from Mamre, and not Shem and Ever who were the highest authorities of the day was because Avrohom was seeking creative angles and inspiration with which to perform the directive in the best way possible. As to why he sought counsel from those not as great as he, that was possibly learned from Hashem himself, Who consulted with mere angels when creating man. Furthermore, in Pirkei Avos (1:6) we’re told to “acquire a friend…” – not necessarily one who is on a higher level, but one in whom you can place your trust, and will give objective advice, because as a good friend, he has your best interests in mind.
The need for advice is to access an objective opinion – someone outside of oneself, who is not subject to personal bias. The critical point in seeking and getting advice is seeing your situation from an objective point of view. No person can achieve that by himself – we are all biased to see things in accordance with our self-interests and desires, to a greater or lesser degree. This applies to any situation. It is especially relevant in relationships and in raising children.
At every stage and phase of a child’s development there are questions and issues that arise, requiring a decision that will hopefully steer the child along the best path for his or her future success. All too often a parent, guardian or teacher will not act in the child’s best interests, because their decision is clouded by their own needs and feelings. For example, a parent may allow a child to hang out with certain (not so desirable) friends because they’re afraid of losing the child’s love if they say no. Parents allow themselves to be pressured by their children into buying all manner of digital gadgetry, (without really investigating the potential damage they could be causing), without even realizing that they themselves want to `keep up’ with their friends and neighbors. Recommendations from school about interventions for a struggling student may not be considered seriously by the parent for fear of having a child with a `label.’ A teacher may design academic work at too low a level thinking they’re helping their students succeed while subconsciously they want to be known as a teacher whose students all get high grades.As mentioned above, not everyone has easy access to a Rabbi, mentor or even a wise older person to guide them through life’s innumerable issues. There is no one, however, who cannot find a friend, who may not have all the answers, but is able to be objective about their friend’s issues. Their qualifications are they need to be sincere, they want what’s best for you and/or your children, and they won’t flatter you by always agreeing with your point of view.
Mamre gave good advice to Avrohom Avinu, because he imagined, if I were Avrohom, what would I do. He had Avrohom’s interests in mind, without the subjective bias that Avrohom might have had. Avrohom could follow his advice with confidence. With the proper friend, we can confidently guide and direct our children to ensure the future we hope and pray they achieve.
Have a friendly, well-guided Shabbos,
Rabbi Kalman BaumannPrincipal