0 Posted by - November 20, 2014 - Breishit, Parsha


Parashat Toldot

was criticized by the sages for not rebuking Eisav enough. The Midrash tells about some other “parenting mistakes”. Avraham did not rebuke Yishmael enough, and King David did not admonish Avshalom, or Adoniah, and that is why they became who they became. On the other hand, Avraham reproved Yitzhak, and Yitzhak reproved Yaakov. That’s why they became who they became. (Midrash R. Shemot 1;1)

This is odd. For the Talmud tells us that in the end of days, G-d will approach each of the Patriarchs. “Avraham, your sons have sinned!” And Avraham will respond, “Let them be wiped out to sanctify Your Name.” But Yitzhak will find merit for the Nation.  ” I, also, had a son that sinned. Still and all, I loved him and I forgave him, despite my being flesh and blood. You , the Master of the World, Merciful and Compassionate King, Merciful Father, certainly you can love and have pity on your Sons, despite the fact that they sinned wantonly. ( Shabbat 89a, see Iyun Yaakov)

So, was Yitzhak a good parent or a bad one? Was it his fault? Did he make some parenting mistake by loving Esav a lot, or not?

And, if Yishmael and all Hagar’s other children came from him, was Avraham a good parent or a bad one?  How about Yaakov’s parenting mistake, favoring Yosef and causing the tribes to be jealous, which the Rabbis criticize and say that because of it we are still in exile today. Does this make Yaakov a good parent or a bad one? How about King David?

I believe that there is no contraction here. Good parenting is no guarantee for having a good child. And, parenting is not absolute. There is no one good parenting approach. A person cannot be an absolutely good parent or an absolutely bad one, because people are not absolute in these traits; furthermore, there are at least two people involved in parenting, parent and child. Even the best parent can have a problematic child, something comparable to a seasoned chef using inferior ingredients in a cake: despite his experience and ability, the end product will certainly not be up to his usual standard.

A parent has tough decisions to make. Sometimes, deciding between what is in the child’s best interest now, and what is in the child’s best interest in the future. Many times, a parent, who is only a human being, just can’t know what is best . Or just can’t relate to the child’s problem… There are so many questions that have no absolute answers. “If I show him love, it might give him the feeling that I accept him, which will give him self esteem and self confidence. Or, it might let him feel that that I approve of his misbehavior.”

When Yitzhak displayed abundant love for Esav, he felt that this was the only way to parent him. It might be that the right way, also, had its own downside, but it was still the right thing to do, in Yitzhak’s view. (According to one explanation, Yitzhak behaved this way with Eisav, in order to be the one who could find merit at the End of Days, when G-d will approach the Patriarchs about the sins of the Nation.” And Yitzhak loved Esav, for he had game in his mouth”   then means, that Yitzhak had game, or merit, in his mouth, for the End of Days.) Those that the Midrash mentions did not fail in their parenting. It seems that there was a decree that these great people needed to deal with such children, and they decided to deal with them in line with their Ruach HaKodesh.

We even find that Esav was born to be a Rasha. Rivka fell off her camel the first time she saw Yitzhak, for she saw a frightening prophecy that an Esav would come from her marriage to Yitzhak. She also had this prophecy while Esav was in her womb. So, Esav was going to be somewhat of an Esav, either way. The question was just how to deal with a difficult child. Still, in the opinion of the Rabbis, the Esav he became was an outcome of insufficient rebuke.

Nowadays, we do not know how to rebuke, for we do not know how to love. The passuk tells us that Hagar stood at a distance, in order not to see her 27-year-old son, Yishmael, die.  She was an arrow’s shot away, from Yishmael, who was lying in a faint,  under a bush in the desert. “And she raised her voice, and she cried. And G-d heard the voice of the lad, and the angel of G-d called out to Hagar from Heaven and said to her, …’Do not fear, for G-d has listened to the voice of the lad,[and judged him as he was] at that moment.” Why does the Torah stress that G-d heard the cry of Yishmael and not the cry of his mother, Hagar? Rashi explains that G-d listens first to the prayers of the sick, before listening to others who pray for them. But still, why does the Torah stress this, twice?

Rabbi Shimshon R. Hirsch explains that Hagar did not pray for the sake of her son. She could not bear to  see her son die, so she prayed so that she would not see him die. The Torah records that Hagar left him under the bush, and did not stay at his side. That type of mother is not the mother whose prayers pierce the Heavens for a dying son. And this is why G-d did not answer her prayers, but heard her son’s.

This is a great lesson in parenting, because it shows how one’s actions can be ‘sliced and diced’. The same prayer, ‘Save my son,’ can be for the sake of the son, or the sake of the parent. Likewise, so many actions of a parent, so many responsibilities that he shoulders, so many prayers, so many gifts, so many religious family guidelines, can be put into two different categories: for the child’s sake, or for parent’s sake. The reason why rebuke needs caution, nowadays, is because in our cold-hearted century, it is so hard to love that child’s-sake love.

Many times, parents view their children’s successes, or their children’s failures, as their own. They look at their children as “their children”, not as people. Your child has his own responsibilities. Social responsibilities, scholastic responsibilities, family responsibilities, and, believe it or not, religious responsibilities. Effective parenting is letting go of control on your child’s responsibilities as soon as he is able to take care of them himself, delegating your child’s responsibilities to him. If you take responsibility for your child’s behavior, religious level, successes or failures, when you are not supposed to, you form a manipulative situation. Yitzhak knew not to take responsibility for someone else’s – in this case, Esav’s – actions.

As a coach, I look at parenting as performance, not as a bunch of parenting rules and regulations. The latter approach springboards the negative questions that the parent asks himself, or says aloud, “Am I a bad parent?  What have I done to make me a bad parent?”  This is a dead end question, and one that is not precise. Good or bad is relative, not measurable. The effective question is, “What is my best option to respond in this present situation, for the sake of my child’s future?” The good/ bad parent questions flood the mind when the whole issue of parenting is focused on the parent, not on the best interests of the child.  Instead, I ask, “What is the best option for the child’s future?”, and I always come out with better performance that way.

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