Sunday, 17 November 2013

Don't Put Your Children in a Box - Prepare them for Life

One of the wonders of the Torah is its timelessness. Every year there are always new insights I find. I've been thinking a lot recently about parenting. I think raising children to follow in our ways is the key to the future of Judaism. 

When I was reading the Torah portion this week I was struck by a difficult Rashi to understand. Yaakov is preparing to meet Esav when the text lists his 2 wives, his two maidservants and his eleven children. Rashi notes that someone is missing - Yaakov’s daughter Dinah. (Binyamin was not born yet so Yaakov had 12 children, 11 sons and one daughter).

Rashi cites a Midrash from Bereshit Rabbah. “But where was Dinah? Yaakov had put her into a chest and locked her in, so that Esav should not set eyes on her. Therefore, Yaakov was punished for withholding her from his brother, perhaps she would cause him to improve his ways and she fell into the hands of Shechem.”

In other words because Dinah was hidden from Esav a much worse fate befell Dinah- she was raped by Shechem as a punishment for Yaakov.

Just a bit of background after Yaakov survives meeting Esav the family go to Shechem. Then this happens.

"Dinah, the daughter of Leah, whom she had borne to Yaakov, went out to look about among the daughters of the land. And Shechem the son of Hamor, the Hivvite, the prince of the land, saw her, and he took her, lay with her, and violated her."

This Midrash is difficult to understand. Didn’t Yaakov do the natural thing of protecting his daughter from potential harm? isn’t that what all parents should try and do? I mean who would ever want someone like Esav as a son in law!

As parents we want what’s best for our children and we try to protect and shelter them from the dangers in the world. However, sometimes we can protect our children so well from the dangers that we see that when they go out in the world by themselves they have no idea how to live.

I like to explain the Midrash as a metaphor. When we put our children in a box like Yaakov did with Dinah we do not give our children the tools to survive in the world.

Let's take this one step further with the recently published Pew Report on the current trends of American Jewry. If we don’t give our children the Jewish skills when they are young it is no surprise when our children do not follow the path that we would like them to take when they go off to college. We must protect them in their youth by teaching the centrality of Judaism to their everyday lives. If we can do that then they won’t throw away Judaism as young adults and they will be able to evade the Shechem’s in this world.

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