Educating Our Youth

Rabbi Wagensberg
Parshas Ki Seitzei
Educating Our Youth

In this week’s parsha we will learn about the great responsibility that has been placed upon us with respect to educating our children in the ways of Torah and Mitzvos. The Mitzva of Chinuch (education) is found within the topic of a Ben Sorer Umoreh (a stubborn and rebellious son).

A Ben Sorer Umoreh is a child who does not listen to his parents (Parshas Ki Seitzei, 21:18). He steals money from his father and buys meat and wine and devours them. The Torah says that in the end, this child will consume the wealth of his father, and yet, he will seek that which he is accustomed to. To satisfy his appetite, he will stand by the crossroads and rob people (Rashi, Parshas Ki Seitzei, 21:18, based upon Mishna and Gemara, Sanhedrin, chap. 8, “Ben Sorer Umoreh”, pgs. 70a-72b).

After failing to discipline their child, the parents must bring him to Beis Din (a court of law) and testify about their son’s disobedient behavior. The men of the city must pelt him with stones in order to remove the evil from their midst (Parshas Ki Seitzei, 21:19-20). He is put to death because the Torah maintains that it is better for this child to die innocent than to die guilty (Rashi, ibid).

Rebbi Yehuda and Rebbi Shimon (Braisa, Sanhedrin, chap. 8, “Ben Sorer Umoreh”, pg. 71a) maintain that there has never been a case of a Ben Sorer Umoreh in Jewish history, nor will there ever be such a case in the future. This is because there are certain conditions which must be met in order for there to be a Ben Sorer Umoreh.

For example, the parents must have the same voice, the same appearance, and the same height (Sanhedrin ibid). Since these conditions are impossible to find, there could never be a case of a Ben Sorer Umoreh. Yet, the Hashem wrote about this topic in the Torah so that we should expound upon it and receive reward.

Since it is God’s Will that we learn about this topic, how great it would be for us to fulfil Hashem’s Ratzon. Therefore, we will explore some of the lessons that we are supposed to extrapolate from this topic, concerning the education of our sons and daughters. To do so, we are going to focus on the three conditions that we just mentioned above. Let us discover at least one of the messages which is hidden behind these conditions.

The Maharal (Rabbi Yehuda Leow, 1520 Poland – 1604 Prague; Chiddushei Aggados, Sanhedrin, chap. 8, “Ben Sorer Umoreh”, pg. 71a) says that the father is male, whereas the mother is female. It is only natural that their voices and appearances are going to be different. However, when they engage in educating their children, they must work together to such a degree that it is as though they are one and the same.

We are going to share an example about what this means within each and every condition that we mentioned before.

VOICE:

If a child asks his parents if he can do something or not, their answer must be unified. This is because if one parent says with a strong and definitive voice that such an activity is forbidden to do, whereas the other parent says that it is permissible to do, or the other parent says in a much weaker tone that it is probably not such a good idea to do it, then it becomes confusing to the child what the true Torah path is. This is what it means that their voices must be the same. They must verbally agree with each other.

APPEARANCE:

If a child did something that he or she was not supposed to do, the parents must demonstrate the same level of disappointment. This is because if one parent displays a very unhappy face, whereas the other parent does not display such an unhappy face, or worse, if the other parent displays a pleased face, then it becomes confusing to the child what the true Torah path is. This is what it means that their appearance must be the same. Their facial expressions and body language must convey the same level of disappointment.

HEIGHT:

If parents institute two different sets of house rules which are either contradictory or where the parents place a different emphasis on different values, then it becomes confusing to the child. If some values are more important to one parent, whereas other values are more important to the other parent, it is an example of their “Komah” (height) being different. This is because the word “Komah” does not only mean height. Rather, the word “Komah” can also refer to stature or to values. When there is a different value system stemming from the two parents, it becomes confusing to the child what the true Torah path is.

The bottom line is that parents must be on the same page, because when they are not, it could possibly facilitate a child leaving the fold. Therefore, Rebbi Yehuda said that if the mother’s voice, appearance, and stature does not match the father’s, the child does not become a Ben Sorer Umoreh (Sanhedrin, pg. 71a).

This teaches us that when there is no united front between the parents, that alone could be one of the reasons which causes a child to choose an alternative life-style to that of a life of Torah and Mitzvos. In such a case, the child is not at fault. Therefore, he does not become a Ben Sorer Umoreh.

This is why it is very important that parents maintain the same voice, appearance, and values because then, if the child still chooses to abandon a Torah way of life, at least the parents know that they did not encourage such a choice as a result of poor parenting.

This approach will lead us to a deeper understanding of the following verse. It says, “Therefore, a man will leave his father and his mother and cling to his wife and they will become one flesh (Parshas Bereishis, 2:24). Rashi (ibid, citing Sanhedrin, chap. 7, “Arba Misos”, pg. 58a) explains that when the verse said that they will become “one flesh,” it means that when they produce a child together, the parent’s flesh become one within that child.

However, there is something a bit disturbing about this pasuk. Why does it say that when a man clings to his wife in marriage, he must forsake his parents? Even after a man gets married to his wife, he still has the obligation to fulfil the Mitzva of honoring his parents. So, what does it mean when it says that when he gets married, he must abandon his parents? This is simply not true.

The Shvilei Pinchas answers this question in the following way. He says that when a young man grows up in his parent’s home, he receives a certain set of values from his parents. Similarly, when a young woman is raised in her parent’s home, she receives a certain set of values from her parents.

If those two sets of values contradict each other, then their children will become very confused as to what the proper path is supposed to be. This confusion could lead the child to abandon the value system altogether.

Therefore, the Torah instructs a young man who just got married to “abandon his parents.” This does not mean to say that he should no longer honor them. Of course, he still has the obligation to fulfil the Mitzva of Kibud Av V’eim even after he is married. However, the Torah is telling him that now that he is married, he must abandon the values that he received from his parents.

This does not necessarily mean that he must abandon those values altogether. Rather, it means that he should put them to the side temporarily in order to learn about his wife’s values. Then they need to discuss how they can synthesize both sets of values so that there are no mixed messages to the children of the family that they want to create.

This message is contained in the above verse. First the verse told the young man who just got married to forsake his parents, which now means to temporarily put his parents’ values to the side so that he can “cling to his wife” and learn about her value system. The reason why it is imperative to do this is because “they will become one flesh” in the child that they will produce together.

This means to say that once they have a child, the responsibility of educating him will be thrust upon their shoulders. In order to successfully educate their children, they must be on the same page so that there will not be anything which is confusing to their young. A clear path helps the child follow that direction because he feels that he is standing on firm ground. This self-confidence will help him succeed in life.

This approach in understanding the above verse in Parshas Bereishis compliments the Maharal’s approach in understanding the three conditions, mentioned in the Talmud, for there to be a Ben Sorer Umoreh, voice, appearance, and values. The commonality between them is that parents must develop a united front in raising their children.

According to this approach, perhaps we could add another reason as to why a Ben Sorer Umoreh never happened and never will happen. It is because Hashem wants us to expound upon this subject matter. When we do, we are afforded with lessons and tools which help us improve upon our parenting skills. When we parent our children properly, there will not be any cases of a Ben Sorer Umoreh.

So, the statement which says that a Ben Sorer Umoreh “never existed and will never happen” is dependent upon how many parenting lessons we glean from this topic in the Torah. If we learn those lessons and implement them, there will not be a Ben Sorer Umoreh. However, if we do not learn the lessons, then there could very well be a case of a Ben Sorer Umoreh.

This might also explain another meaning behind the statement in the Gemara which said that we are just supposed to expound upon this topic and receive reward. Perhaps the reward that we will receive will be such incredible nachas (pleasure) from our children who will grow up as true Ovdei Hashem due to our pristine parenting skills which we garnered from the subject matter of a Ben Sorer Umoreh that was written into the Torah. When our children make us proud, it is the greatest reward that we could ever ask for.

The Shvilei Pinchas suggests another type of reward that we will benefit from if we learn how to better parent our children by collecting educational lessons from this topic in the Torah. He says that the reward mentioned in the Gemara will be the reward that we will receive in Olam Haba from our children’s Torah and Mitzvos.

Although when a person dies, he cannot perform Mitzvos, he can still grow from level to level on account of the Torah and Mitzvos that his children or students perform as a result of the guidance that they received from the one who passed away (i.e. the parents or teachers. See Sanhedrin, chap. 11, “Cheilek”, pg. 104a, “Bruh Mizaki Aba”. Also see Rashi, Parshas Vayeira, 18:19, based on Bereishis Rabba, 49:4, Rashb”i. Also see Chasam Sofer, Parshas Beha’alosecha, on the Haftara, Divrei Hamaschil “V’nasati Lecha” where he expounds on a verse in Zecharya, 3:7).

Some practical applications of this teaching would be as follows.

First, in dating, let us make sure to have discussions about what our visions are for the type of household that we want to create. It is important to be open about our hashkafos and what type of Torah environment we want to build.

Second, even after marriage, let us be in touch with our spouses and revisit the topic about the education our children and make sure that we are still on the same page. With time, circumstances change and it is possible for hashkafos to shift as well. We must ensure that we work as a team and maintain a united front.

Thirdly, this idea would also extend to parents and teachers. They must also be on the same page, because if the child hears one thing in the classroom, and a different thing at home, it creates confusion which could lead to abandonment. Therefore, it is imperative that parents remain in touch with their children’s teachers to ensure that all parties are striving for the same goals.

Additionally, let us take out some time to tell our children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews etc. just how much we love them. However, we should not just tell them how much we love them but we should also demonstrate that love in action and in time. We must try to find quality time and quantity of time spent with our children. Then we will succeed to lovingly instruct and discipline them to do the Ratzon Hashem.

One more point. Let our youth know that it is geshmak (delicious) to be a Yid. However, let them also know that even in areas of observance which is not so geshmak, it is still well worth it, not just for their Olam Haba, but even their Olam Hazeh will be filled with much more meaning and purpose which will lead to fulfilment and happiness.

So, may we all be blessed with even more love and with even more patience for our children, family, students and friends, and may we be zocheh to align our priorities and values with that of our spouses, and may we gently encourage those under our care to further commit themselves to a life of Torah, Mitzvos, and Teshuva, thus fulfilling the Parsha of the Ben Sorer Umoreh; and may we see such Yiddishe Nachas from all of our children and from our entire families to the point that even after we take leave of this world, we constantly soar higher in heaven from the Torah and Mitzvos that they do as a result of the inspiration that they received from us when we were alive.