Rabbi Safman's Weekly Message
It was the “witching hour,” that period in the late afternoon-early evening, just before dinner when our children, who had been so well behaved all day (or so we would like to believe), provoked perhaps by hunger, fatigue or the absence of other distractions, turn into absolute monsters. Hearing the volume of their fracas in the next room amplifying, I stride in and, having assessed the situation, promptly guide my older son by the arm to his room for a “cooling off” period. As I close the door behind me I hear him calling after me, “You are the worst parent ever!”
Ugh! Well, nobody said parenting was a popularity contest.
On the contrary, a midrash on this week’s Torah portion (Parashah Va’era) offers a rabbinic dictum that might be summarized as “spare the rod, spoil the child”. In Shemot Rabbah, the rabbis enumerate the various Biblical figures – among them Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and King David – whom they claim over-indulged their children, resulting in these youth going astray as adults. These examples are used to justify God’s harsh treatment of the Jews, who endured twenty generations of servitude in Egypt before being liberated.
Whether or not we agree that the suffering of the ancient Israelites was deserved (not to mention that of the Egyptians, whom the rabbis claim were subjected to the plagues, because of their indifference to the Israelites’ suffering), it is clear that our tradition believes there is an appropriate place for proportional and timely corrections (known in Hebrew as tochechah) to gently guide a wayward individual back to a path of self-betterment. We are our best selves as friends, teachers, parents, or mentors when we (appropriately and lovingly) offer others the feedback they need to reflect on past actions, and we are abetted in our own path of self-improvement by being open to hearing such criticism from others.
-- Rabbi Rachel Safman