It’s Not What You Say….

Dear Parents,

The highly unusual and mystifying section about the Ben Sorer U’Moreh, the stubborn and Rebellious Son, in this week’s Parsha , contains some illuminating insights into the power and challenge of parents.

In order for a child to be punished for being the Ben Sorer U’Moreh described in the Torah, many factors have to be completely aligned. More significantly, as evidenced by the Gemara (Sanhedrin 71a), the parenting this child received had to be essentially flawless, from parents who are near perfect in their physical, mental and emotional faculties, and work in absolute harmony with each other in the raising of their son.

This means, that a child can only be held personally responsible for his misdeeds, when his Chinuch was 100% appropriate. Anything short of that and the blame begins to transfer to the parents. Once a child grows into adulthood, the responsibility shifts to him, but at a younger age, such as Bar Mitzva or younger, a child’s behavior and attitudes are overwhelmingly a reflection of the parents’ values and actions. None of us parents are perfect, so what we see amiss in our children cannot be their fault alone. We need to understand our very significant part in their behavior.

…a child’s behavior and attitudes are overwhelmingly a reflection of the parents’ values and actionsTo help illustrate this point, Rabbi Yitzchok Zilberstein, Shlita, makes note of the Mishna in Sanhedrin (8:4) that states that if one of the parents is deaf, the child is disqualified from becoming a Ben Sorer U’Moreh, even if all the other factors are present. Rav Zilberstein asks: The one who needs to listen to instruction is the son. I would understand that if the child was deaf, he could not be a Ben Sorer U’Moreh, because he didn’t hear his parents’ teachings. But the Halacha states the disqualification comes about if the parent can’t hear! Why is that so important, that it can save the boy from being found guilty of rebelliousness?

Rav Zilberstein answers homiletically, that if the parent can’t hear, if the father or mother doesn’t listen to or heed what he himself or she herself is saying, if the parent doesn’t `practice what he preaches’, then how can you blame the child? A child cannot be expected to follow parental guidance, when the parents’ actions are not aligned with their own words.

There is no escaping that the behavior the parent models, far outweighs the most eloquent lecture.There is no escaping that the behavior the parent models, far outweighs the most eloquent lecture. Even a parent who frequently speaks of the value of honesty, says over beautiful Divrei Torah on emes, and has the entire family singing “M’Dvar Sheker Tirchak,” is not even halfway there. For example, if, when driving with his children, he accidentally drives too close to a parked car and a makes a scratch on the other car. If he then looks around to make sure no one is looking and speeds off, he has completely undone all the philosophy and songs mentioned above. The enduring lesson will be what Abba does when under pressure, not what he says in the comfort of the home or the Beis Medrash.

In a similar vein, instructing a child to answer a Meshulach at the door to let him know that “my father is not at home,” or telling the amusement park attendant a week after a child’s 6th birthday that she’s a 5 year old, entitled to a lower entrance fee, broadcasts loudly to all the children, that honesty is a high value – unless comfort or money is at stake. There never was and never will be a Ben Sorer U’Moreh. There also never were or will be perfect parents. We can be role models of thinking and growing people. Our task is to be aware of the power of our actions and strive to constantly elevate our attitudes and behavior. Our efforts will produce a win-win, for ourselves and our children.

Have a wonderful Shabbos,

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