Laws for Lefties (Part I)

“I’m not as strong as you are; I admit it," said Mrs. Kenegir
back to her husband, as tears rolled down her cheeks. “I can’t demand monasterial
behavior from Benzi, as you do. I don’t feel that he only has to have Torah learning
on his mind at this age (16). He’s still young and immature and experimenting new
horizons like any other boy his age.”

Encouraged by her newly-found ability to express herself, Mrs.
Kenegir took things one step further. “You know why Benzi doesn’t listen to you?”
she asked, lifting her voice to her husband as they both sat in front of the Rosh
Yeshiva on parent-teachers night, “because you scream at him when he doesn’t listen
to you and when he doesn’t move quickly enough and when he doesn’t fulfill mitzvos
according to your self-proclaimed standards.”

One look at Mr. Kenegir made it clear that he not only wanted
to disagree with his wife, but that he was ready to declare all-out war! “Do you
want me to open things up and put everything on the table right here and now?” he
replied in a nervous, high-pitched voice.

Witnessing this brief, yet bitter interchange between Benzi’s
mother and father gave the Rosh Yeshiva a whole new perspective on Benzi’s behavior.

“How can I expect Benzi to act as a full-fledged yeshiva bocher
under these circumstances,” thought the Rosh Yeshiva to himself. “When we try to
strengthen his learning and his observance, our words are probably rebounded off
two opposite influences: the overburdening expectations of his father, and the soft,
compromising tone of his mother. Either of his parent’s approaches would have been
more workable with if it would have been the only voice Benzi heard at home. However,
when he hears two contradictory viewpoints, each expressed in a different tone,
by two parents who blatantly disagree with each other and probably do so right in
front of their child, it greatly limits Benzi’s ability and interest to hear and
listen to others.”

“Now I understand something that seemed
a bit strange to me,” continued the Rosh Yeshiva in his train of thought. “Until
now I couldn’t understand why, on one hand, Benzi is very quick to listen to my
requests of him, and on the other hand, he gets himself into trouble with his borderline
behavior. When he listened to me, he was feeling the force of his father’s demanding
tone, and when he passed over the borderline of acceptable behavior, he was taking
advantage of his mother’s lenient stance.”

The Rosh Yeshiva interrupted Mr. and
Mrs. Kenegir, who hadn’t noticed that he wasn’t paying attention to them as each
party sought to prove the other wrong. “You know, both of you have wisdom in your
approach. On one hand, parents must give definite guidelines to their children and
can expect them to abide by them. However, a child is not a robot or a computer.
He is a human being, who, although expected to make constructive use of the great
potential Hashem has implanted in him, has to fight many battles and pass many stages
before he can truly realize that potential. Therefore, a parent has to be, as well,
soft and understanding. Just as heavenly judgment is not carried out until a child
passes his teenage years, so too, the demands of a parent should take into account
the difficulties of the teenage years. Sometimes, a scolding is in order. Other
times, it is wise to overlook mishaps, each reaction dependent of the severity and
the frequency of the child’s actions. This two-pronged approach will relay a message
to the child that the demands of his parents are just and fitting for him as an
individual, taking into account his feelings and growth process. “

“However,” continued the Rosh Yeshiva,
“there is one element which we left out. These two approaches must be combined in
an agreed upon parental approach, and not that each parent chooses to relate to
his child in the way he feels best suits him. In order for parents to give a clear,
effective message, the child must hear only one voice emanating from them. And thus
we find that a child can only be halachically labeled a rebellious son if he heard
one unified message from his parents. Conflicting parental viewpoints impairs the
child’s ability to listen and he is therefore not held fully accountable for his
actions. So too, parents who give conflicting messages to their children cannot
expect them to lisrten to them as they would like.”

“However wise a parent may be, his wisdom
only has value if it is subject to the higher interest of giving one clear message
to the child. This is fundamental if you want your child to follow in your ways.
Chazal explain (gemorah Nida 31a) on a similar note, that there are three partners
in the creation of man: Hashem, man and woman, and each adds his individual contribution
to the creation of the child. The man adds the bones, the sinews, the nails and
the brain, etc.; the woman adds the skin, the flesh, the hair etc.; and Hashem puts
into the child his spirit and his neshama, his facial expression, his sight, etc.
Only with the combined contribution of each of these three parties can a child be
created. So too, in educating that child, in order to give him the tools and the
direction to fulfill the purpose his creation, parents, after offering their individual
viewpoint, must combine together in order to give one effective educational approach.”

“Rosh Yeshiva,” asked Mr. Kenegir, “what
can we do if we have two opposite viewpoints?”

“Mr. Kenegir,” answered the Rosh Yeshivah,
“If you’ll inculcate what I’ve just mentioned, and you are honestly interested in
doing what’s best for your son at this stage, I’m sure that through open discussions
with your wife you will be able to come up with a mutually agreed upon educational
approach. The courage and the strength you display in your willingness to sacrifice
some of your own wishes to create a unified educational approach, will relay a message
of decisiveness and clarity which will inject in your son the strength to live up
to your expectations. As Benzi grows, you and your wife can update your approach
and raise your level of expectations of him.”

“However, if you continue to refuse
to discuss things with your wife and make unilateral decisions regarding Benzi’s
education, a number of things may occur. (1) You may make mistakes and misjudge
the situation. We find that this happened to the most brilliant of Torah scholars
and the greatest of tzaddikim – Nadav and Avihu. The Midrash (Vayikra Rabba 20:8)
explains that one of the reasons Nadav and Avihu mistakenly brought an unacceptable
fire-offering in the Mishkan was because they did so without consulting each other
first, as the posuk stresses
״איש
מחתתו״

“a person; his fire-pan” (Vayikra 10:1): each brought his own offering without first
consulting the other whether it was the right thing to do. If these great tzaddikim
failed because they did not take counsel with each other, surely, we as parents,
should be careful to take counsel with each other, lest we make serious mistakes
in our approach to our children. (2) When parents give a double message, the child
is thrown into a state of confusion. This can be compared with a person who sees
one sight with one eye and a different sight with the other. He is never sure what
is really in front of his eyes and one eye learns to distrust the other. So too,
a child who receives two different messages from his parents, is thrown off balance,
unsure of which message he is really hearing, and loses trust in that which he is
told and in his parents who are relaying to him the two messages. This confusion
prevents him from making balanced, objective decisions and his feeling of distrust
prevents him from developing a close relationship with his rebbes and Rosh Yeshiva
for fear of receiving a distorted message. This is a great stumbling block in the
child’s development and leaves the pathways clear for outside influences to have
a great effect on the child. (3) When a child feels tension in the home caused by
parental arguments and disagreements, especially when he is witness to them, he
will feel that he is not getting the warmth and support he needs and desires. In
this case, he is apt to look for alternate sources of support and warmth, without
regarding whether these sources are acceptable to his parents or not. This happens
as well when a parent is too strict with his child. (4) This search for alternative
sources of warmth will lead the child to lie and cover up where he has been and
what he has been doing in order to avoid revealing to his parents his newly-found
alternatives which may not find favor in their eyes.

“What do you think, Shlomo,” Mrs. Kenegir
asked her husband with a raised sense of optimism.

“I think that Benzi’s good has not been my primary concern. Also,
it is true that there is no point in ignoring your opinion, for we are both Benzi’s
parents and he is affected by both of us and it would make sense to work out a unified
message. I think we got what we needed from this parent-teachers evening. Let’s
go home and work things out!