78. Vaetchanan II - RESPECT AND LOVE


ONE OF THE HALLMARKS of our people is our vital concern with the welfare of our children. Of all the items that people discuss among themselves and with their rabbis the problem of children heads the list.

The other day a man posed the following question to me. "Why is it," he asked, "that so many find it hard to raise their children these days? After all the things they do for them葉he luxuries they provide them with and the attention they give them謡hy are children so rebellious and unappreciative? They talk back to their parents, disregard their wishes and flaunt their guidance and advice. Their grandparents and great-grandparents who had eight and ten children per family had much less difficulty with their offspring than do the present generation who restrict the size of their families to two or three children. Think also of the psychologists and counselors that are available these days, of the annual flood of books and pamphlets on how to raise children, and yet the consensus is that we are in the midst of a serious crisis in so far as our youth is concerned."

I know that there are those who blame the restlessness and revolt of young people on the abnormal times in which we live. Within several decades we have witnessed a number of bloody wars and are living under the threat of a nuclear war that may destroy all living things. This persistent dread breeds not only a feeling of insecurity and hopelessness but also an attitude of "I don't care!"

Others point their fingers at the schools. The teachers are not as dedicated to their noble calling as they should be. They are mainly interested in getting the most and doing the least.

Educators, in turn, are accusing the community of permitting overcrowded conditions in schools and skimping on facilities and supplies. It is an old game of Chad Gadya 容ach agency shifting the blame on the other.

While one may make a case about the failure of the community, the school and the teachers, I feel that the real culprit is left out of the picture. A Chinese proverb says, "Before you can sweep a city clean, make sure that you clean your backyard first." Let us, therefore, begin with our own backyard.

The disintegration in the relationship between parents and children stems mainly from the fact that parents try their utmost to gain the ahavah 葉he love of their children, and do little to earn their kibbud 葉heir respect. Many fathers and mothers have a fatuous notion that once they enjoy the love of their offspring, respect will follow automatically. Bitter experience teaches that this simply is not so. There are numerous instances where parents have given everything to, and have catered to every whim and caprice of their darlings, only to be held by them in derision and contempt.

Derech eretz, you see, will not come from merely "yessing" children, nor by giving them fat allowances, expensive wardrobes and the finest camps. Another dress, another party, another car葉hat's bribery. As a rule bribery does not promote respect. Children need parents whom they wish to emulate, whom they would like to follow rather than those who will follow them.

Several months ago a cartoon appeared in a magazine which depicted an adolescent addressing a parent as follows, "Isn't there something I can do that you want me to do? Must I always do only that which I want to do?"

Still others imagine that the only way for parents to gain the esteem of their children is by becoming their pals. Fathers will concentrate on playing ball or going on a long fishing trip with their sons. Mothers will go to dances with their daughters. Done in moderation, this is fine. It can narrow the proverbial generation gap. When overdone, however, it will not bring the desired results. A child needs a father more than a playmate, and a mother more than a girifriend. Children need guidance from their elders more than managers or umpires of sand-lot games or dancing partners at parties. They need fathers who will coach them by word and deed in good habits, and mothers who will instruct them to be reliable, grateful and warm human beings. Becoming a pal or a chum may gain ahavah for parents, but not kibbud . And kibbud is far more crucial to the healthy development of the next generation than is ahavah.

Love, you see, is instinctive. Even animals love their brood. It is normal for a child to love a parent. Respect, however, has to be earned. One cultivates derech eretz. We respect those in whom we recognize high qualities of character, admirable modes of conduct, positive attributes of behavior such as courage, dignity and faith. Respect is based on performance 溶ot only on what a person believes but on what he does.

It is interesting to note that kibbud, the Hebrew word for respect, and kovade , the word for weight or burden, stem from the same root. The Hebraic concept is that kibbud and kovade go together. If we want to be respected we must be willing to assume a burden, to carry a load, to shoulder responsibility.

The Torah underscored this truism in the Fifth Commandment. It reads Kabed et avicha ve'et imecha "Honor your father and your mother" (Deut. 5:16). Respect your parents. Nowhere will you find in the Torah an exhortation of ahavah 葉o love one's parents. That is taken for granted. But love is not enough. We must show kibbud our deep esteem for them. It goes without saying that to receive the kind of respect that the Torah demands, parents must earn it by being shining examples of conduct and behavior.

Sometimes parents will boast that they never do anything wrong in the presence of their children. That's fine! But when I hear such a statement, I am tempted to ask, "Do you ever do anything that is right in front of them? What positive standards do you set for them to emulate and to transmit to their own offspring when they will be heads of a family?"

Unfortunately there are elders who are a source of embarrassment and shame to their children. Let me cite a few examples.

Years ago while I was traveling on a train, a mother and a little boy were sitting across the aisle from me. The conductor had punched the mother's ticket, but there was no ticket for the boy. The conductor asked the woman, "Madam, is your boy under six?" "Yes," was her prompt reply. "But Mother, I am eight years old!" the lad whispered. And the mother with her eyes blazing and her voice saturated with wrath cried, "Shut up! Don't you dare contradict your mother!" The boy was silent for a moment and then said, "But Mother, I am eight years old!" A sharp slap followed. The child cried, the mother looked wild; and I boiled with anger."It is just an incident on a train," you will say. True. But I feel that it harmed that boy more than an ordinary accident might have done. And for what! To save the price of a half-fare ticket from New York to Washington. God pity that boy and forgive that mother!

A Bar Mitzvah was sitting in the synagogue in the company of his family and friends on the most important Shabbos of his young life. During the reading of the Torah, I noticed from the bimah where I was sitting that the lad was unusually nervous. I motioned to him to meet me in the lobby. "For heaven's sake, David," I whispered, "don't be nervous! You know the berochot and the haftorah well. Why then are you so jittery?" And David whispered back, "Rabbi, you don't understand. I am not worried about my part. I am worried about the two berachot that my father will have to say when he'll be called up to the Torah." And David was right. The father almost broke his teeth on the two simple berachot that he had to recite. The amazing fact is that the father is an able man who has made a mark in his field. Yet, he would not take the trouble to learn the berachot for the Bar Mitzvah of his son. What respect can David have for such a father?

Ah yes! It is only when parents set the right example that they can expect to gain kibbud from their children. When they project an image of generosity, kindness and love in the home, in their place of business and in the community they can then expect to be respected by their children and grandchildren.

A great teacher once said, "Belief in God comes easy to a person who respects his father." The same can be said concerning stability in society and the peace of the world.


Back Page Contents Next Page