An interesting question is posed by the Sifsei Chachomim, the best known of the `super’ commentaries on Rashi, in this week’s Parsha. The Torah relates that when Yishmael lay dying of thirst in the desert, Hashem responded to his cries and came to his rescue “Ba’Asher Hu Shom” – where he was. Rashi relates that a heavenly `debate’ ensued, with the Malachim questioning how Hashem could save one whose descendants would in the future cause the Jews to die of thirst, by miraculously causing a well to appear. Hashem’s response was – Ba’Asher Hu Shom – right now he’s a Tzaddik, these Aveiros haven’t taken place yet, and therefore he deserves to be saved.
The Sifsei Chachomim (OS Pey) questions why this situation with Yishmael should be different from the law of a Ben Sorer U’Moreh, the stubborn and rebellious son, about whom the Halacha says (if such a case would ever occur) that he would be put to death on account of future (anticipated) sins and crimes. One of his answers (brought in Parshas Ki Seitzei – 21:20 Os Nun) is that there was nothing in Yishmael’s present behavior that indicated any connection to a future criminal behavior of causing Jews to die from thirst. However, in the case of the Ben Sorer U’Moreh, he was already involved with taking his father’s money (without permission), in order to bankroll his drunkenness and gluttony, that would ultimately lead to robbery and murder.
I believe we can glean an important lesson from this insight of the Sifsei Chachomim. In analyzing our children’s behavior, it is imperative that we distinguish between childish mischief and carelessness on the one hand, and a manifestation of poor Midos, on the other. If a child is careless with his belongings, walks on the couch with his shoes on, makes a lot of noise, doesn’t respond immediately to an adult instruction, gets annoyed with and even hits a sibling – in most cases this is behavior that will be outgrown and will not impact on the child once he or she grows up. However, even if a child is seemingly well behaved, but is quietly dishonest, disrespectful, lazy, selfish, overly jealous or cruel to others or even animals, those behaviors reflect an inner value system. If such behavior is not redirected, the child could turn into a dishonest, disrespectful, lazy, selfish, jealous, cruel adult, R’L. (G-d Forbid)
We need to look with a discerning eye to our children’s behavior, and respond accordingly. While childish behavior needs to be extinguished, and is most disruptive and annoying to the parents, it is not where to focus most of your energies. The area that requires the most attention and effort is your children’s Midos. By keeping in mind where to put your energies, you’ll save your strength for where it’s really needed. Your goal should not be – how can I get him to stop annoying me today, but rather – what will my child look like when he or she is 20 years old. And what can I do to help him develop to his fullest potential.
May Hashem bless your efforts with Nachas and success.
Best wishes for a wonderful Shabbos,
Rabbi Kalman Baumann