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    If your child or
    grandchild ask you –
    do you care more
    about my being
    happy and successful
    or my being kind –
    what would you

    Our Parsha tells the story of the
    rebellious son. Our Rabbis teach us that
    the criteria to qualify for this label have
    never been and will never be met and
    that such a child exists only theoretically.
    Yet a series of pesukim are dedicated to
    this subject because there is so much to
    learn and glean about parenting and
    education nonetheless.
    Rashi tells us the term soreir comes
    from sar, he has drifted from the path, he
    is not meeting our expectations and
    hopes. The Torah tells us he does not
    and cannot hear kol aviv u’kol imo, the
    voice of his father and the voice of his
    mother. The Torah never wastes a word
    and yet it could have said b’kol aviv
    v’imo, he doesn’t listen to the voice of
    his father and mother. It must be that the
    second use of kol, voice, is not redundant
    or extraneous at all. Rather, there is in
    fact a separate kol aviv, a message and
    values of the father, and a kol imo, a
    message and values of the mother.
    When children receive mixed messages,
    inconsistent and contradictory values,
    everything becomes incoherent. They
    then stop paying attention and begin to
    be soreir, drift, until it ultimately leads to
    moreh, rebellion. It is not only parents
    that influence and raise a child but it is
    the grandparents, the school, the shul,
    and all the adults in the community to
    whom they turn for modeling and for
    inspiration. We must be on the same
    page and project a consistent message of
    what our values are, what we are all
    about, and what we expect from them.
    The Ohr HaChaim Ha’Kadosh, Rav
    Chaim ben Attar, notes that the pasuk
    does not say eino sho’meiah but einenu
    sho’mei. There is a big difference
    between the two. Eino means he doesn’t,
    einenu means he can’t, there is a
    blockage preventing the message from
    penetrating. Our children and
    grandchildren literally cannot hear what
    we say when our contradictory actions
    are much louder.
    Ralph Waldo Emerson once said,

    “What you do speaks so loudly that I
    cannot hear what you say.” When we
    say one thing and communicate a
    different message through our actions,
    priorities, and values, we drown out our
    own voices. There is no instrument
    more finely calibrated to detect hypocrisy
    and duplicity than a child.
    If your child or grandchild ask you – do
    you care more about my being happy
    and successful or my being kind – what
    would you answer? I would hope they
    would hear us answer being kind. And
    yet, though our voices may be saying
    that, we are clearly articulating another
    message. According to a study done by
    researchers at the Harvard Graduate
    School of Education, when asked if their
    parents care more about achievement
    and happiness or if they were kind to
    others, 80 percent of children said their
    parents care more about achievement or
    happiness. In the same study, children
    were far more likely to rank “hard work”
    above fairness.
    The study concludes: “But when youth
    do not prioritize caring and fairness over
    these aspects of personal success — and
    when they view their peers as even less
    likely to prioritize these ethical values
    — they are at greater risk of many forms
    of harmful behavior, including being
    cruel, disrespectful, and dishonest. These
    forms of harm are far too commonplace.
    Half of high school students admit to
    cheating on a test and nearly 75% admit
    to copying someone else’s homework.
    Nearly 30% of middle and high school
    students reported being bullied during
    the 2010-2011 school year.
    “At the root of this problem may be a
    rhetoric/reality gap, a gap between what
    parents and other adults say are their top
    priorities and the real messages they
    convey in their behavior day to day…
    And here’s the irony: the focus on
    happiness, and the focus on achievement
    in affluent communities, doesn’t appear
    to increase either children’s achievement
    or their happiness.”
    Dr. Richard Weissbourd, one of the
    authors of the studies, states, “We should
    work to cultivate children’s concern for
    others because it’s fundamentally the
    right thing to do, and also because when
    children can empathize with and take
    responsibility for others, they’re likely to
    be happier and more successful, they’ll
    have better relationships their entire

    lives, and strong relationships are a key
    ingredient of happiness.”
    Rav Shamshon Raphael Hirsch notes
    that the Torah describes the ben sorer
    u’moreh not only as a rebellious child,
    but as one who is zoleil v’sovei,
    gluttonous and indulgent in meat and
    wine. Rav Hirsch explains that the
    inappropriate emphasis in the home on
    food and drink, success and indulgence,
    leads to rebelliousness.
    Parents, he says, must be much more
    concerned with their child’s values,
    behavior, sensitivity, and kindness than
    with the quantity and quality of the food
    their child is eating. We focus on our
    children being well-fed, well-dressed,
    and happy, all of which are important.
    But we must focus even more on who
    they are and how they behave than on
    their happiness. They need to know that
    we care more about their concern for the
    happiness of others than for their own
    Weissbourd provides four
    recommendations to raise and cultivate
    kinder children:
    1. Children and youth need ongoing
    opportunities to practice caring
    and helpfulness, sometimes with
    guidance from adults. Learning to
    be caring is like learning to play an
    instrument – it needs daily
    repetition. Encourage your
    children to help a friend with
    homework, pitch in around the
    house without a connection to a
    reward (like allowance), and to
    volunteer in some capacity. When
    you speak to your child or
    grandchild at the end of the day,
    don’t just ask how they are doing
    on their grades and tests but ask
    them if they did anything kind that
    day for someone else.
    2. Children and youth need to learn to
    zoom in and zoom out. They need
    to listen closely and attend to those
    in their immediate circle like
    family and friends, but they also
    have to learn to zoom out and look
    for those who are too often
    invisible like a new kid in the class,
    or the school custodian who is
    largely ignored and feeling
    3. Children and youth need strong
    role models. Veshinantem

    levanecha v’dibarta bam,
    b’shivtecha b’veisecha
    u’velechtecha baderech… The
    Torah obligates us to teach our
    children and we usually assume it
    is fulfilled with v’dibarta bam, by
    articulating and verbally
    communicating our values.
    However, the truth is they learn
    much more from b’shivtecha
    b’veisecha, how we carry ourselves
    at home, the type of conversations
    we have, and activities we engage
    in. They learn from b’lechtecha
    ba’derech, what we do on the road.
    We should seek opportunities to
    share moments in our day when we
    were kind to another or when we
    were the recipients of the kindness
    of another and how it made us feel.
    If our deeds match our words our
    ideals will come across loud and
    4. Children need to be guided in
    managing destructive feelings.
    Anger, shame, envy and other
    negative feelings arise and we need
    to teach children that those feelings
    are ok but must be dealt with
    constructively if they are to be
    resolved and not overwhelm their
    ability to care for others.
    As our parsha emphasizes, Hashem
    cares about our behaving with
    righteousness, justice, and kindness as
    He does about our observing His laws.
    The best gift we can give our children is
    not making them believe the world is
    about them, but helping them learn the
    world is about helping others.
    A Jewish education provides
    tremendous information, knowledge,
    and lessons. But ultimately our children
    are molded most by what they think that
    we, their parents and grandparents, value
    most. When our children are asked if
    their parents care more about
    achievement and happiness or being
    kind, let us do all we can to ensure that
    they know the right answer.