Striking a healthy balance between an open-minded approach to life and protecting the sanctity of our homes and families is a challenge that faces everyone. Calibrating the right amount of Kiruv Rechokim that should take place at our Shabbos table with concern for not exposing our own children to outside, negative influences is a question that should concern all of us. We need to be connected with people and current thinking, and we need to raise our children in the safe shelter of a Torah true home.
This conundrum was as present in Avraham Avinu’s home as it is today in ours. We learn in this week’s Parsha how Avraham and Sarah were the paragons of Chesed – their home was open to all – in fact it appears that their world renowned outreach center – was their very own tent! One can only imagine the type of people who wandered into the confines of their home – all for the price of making a Bracha on what they were lavishly served.
Nevertheless, it was this very same home that found it necessary to expunge negative influences from harming their young son Yitzchak. It was not only books, magazines and inappropriate music they removed – they banished Avraham’s own son Yishmael, because he was a source of inappropriate influence within the household! (Bereishis 21:10, Kli Yakar) Can there be anything more painful for a parent than having to send away one’s own child?
The lesson for us is clear. The level of love and concern that Avraham Avinu had for his fellow man is beyond anything we can grasp, let alone emulate. Add to that the amount of love a father has for his own son, in this case one who he waited for many decades, and who Avraham had assumed would be his main heir and disciple, and it becomes nearly unfathomable how Avraham could have banished Yishmael. Understanding what must have compelled Avraham and Sarah to make this drastic, excruciatingly difficult move leads us to greater insight as to our responsibility to create and maintain a home that can nurture sanctity and greatness in the children who dwell within its walls.
Maintaining a sanctified home has never been more difficult. All parents try to lead their children on the right path, and all children in all generations have tried to circumvent that path; they bend rules, they experiment with questionable people, places and things, they do things they know their parents don’t approve of, behind their backs. In past generations, when children wished to defy their parents or merely venture forth in questionable waters, they needed to go somewhere, make believe they were elsewhere, and still had to be home by a certain time. There were great limitations on what children could get away with, even with oblivious parents. Not so anymore. Our children no longer need to get away from home to fall under negative influences; within the very same walls that hear beautiful zemiros and Divrei Torah on Shabbos, even young children, under the guise of entertainment and play, are given devices that can connect to and bring in all the negatives of the outside world right into the home.
Parents believe they control what the children are seeing. Perhaps they `trust’ the child, possibly they think they have an effective filter to prevent any unwanted materials to slip through, maybe they feel the child is simply too young to have any interest in `inappropriate’ sites. These all seem to represent plausible thinking, however, at the end of the day we need to consider the drastic step Avraham took. We simply cannot afford the potential disaster that could befall our children from overexposure to the ills of the outside world at such a young age. If there is a report of e coli bacteria in a few batches of lettuce in Montana, the entire country stops eating leafy vegetables because `you just can’t take a chance.’ When we think of all that we do and all that we sacrifice to maintain a Torah lifestyle, how is it possible we can take a greater chance of throwing it all away for a convenient babysitter and easy entertainment?
The time to consider these issues is when the children are very young, before they are introduced to screens and devices and it then becomes very difficult to extricate the children from their toys. Exposure only in great moderation, with very real controls and effective parental supervision are absolutely necessary to maintain the types of homes we really want. Parenting has always been a challenge – and sometimes the biggest challenge is taking an honest look at what we are doing and allowing to take place in our home, right under our noses, and at what subservience we pay to the “everyone’s doing it” syndrome.
Avraham Avinu undoubtedly experienced unbearable pain when he sent his son out of his home. We can commit to small painful steps now to secure our home’s health and sanctity, and more likely ensure a future of nachas and simcha from all our children.
May your Shabbos be connected to the True Source,
Rabbi Kalman Baumann