Chayei Sarah: Consistency in education

Consistency is the most important part of education. Children need to hear the same message from their teachers, parents, coaches, and peers. When we expose our children to multiple streams of thoughts and conflicting values so they can make educated choices, we only succeed in confusing them. Children don’t need to choose. Children need to be guided. There will be plenty of time to choose when they are adults.

Sarah, the very first Jewish mother knew how to raise a child. She might have been ninety years old, but she understood how little children think. When she saw Ishmael, Abraham’s older son, talking to her son Isaac about idolatry, she drew the line and sent him away. When Ishmael claimed to the firstborn, meaning Isaac should follow his lead and adopt his ideas, Sarah sent him away.

On the surface, this was a harsh position to take. Ishmael was all of thirteen years old, and Sarah sent him and his mother away into the harsh desert on their own. But Sarah had her eye on the future. G-d gave her a son miraculously so that she could raise the future patriarch of the Jewish people. A devout Jew is single-minded; locked in with laser focus. A Jew can’t be open-minded with conflicting ideas pulling in different directions. Open-minded people sway with the wind. When the pressure pushes them in one direction, they veer that way. When the pressure pulls them in the other direction, they follow the new flow.

A staunch Jew doesn’t go with the flow. A true Jew stands firmly for Jewish values, unbending, unshaking, and unphased by mockers. If Sarah and Abraham would give Isaac one message while Ishmael would give Isaac a different message, he would grow up confused. He would not know which way to turn. He would spin in every which direction and eventually succumb to confusion.

Sarah knew that consistency is the most important element for any child, and most importantly a Jewish child. She sought to give Isaac consistency because the Jewish future would depend on it.

King Solomon
No less an authority than King Solomon, endorsed our matriarch Sarah’s call for consistency. We all recall the story of the two mothers who gave birth, but one of the babies died tragically in infancy. They brought the surviving baby to the king, each claiming that the baby belonged to her. They asked King Solomon to determine the true mother and he divined the information with a clever ploy. He offered to cut the baby in half and sat back to see which mother would protest. That was the true mother.

This entire story seems unsettling. What made King Solomon think that the fraudulent mother might be willing to let the child die, and in so gruesome a fashion? Our sages characterized the Jewish people as compassionate, why did the king, in his exalted wisdom, expect this woman to be an exception?

It has been suggested that the king was not offering to mutilate the poor infant. He was talking about a metaphorical splitting of the child. The king was suggesting what is sadly considered normal today. Since we don’t know the true mother, let’s divide the child’s time. He can spend half his time with one mother and half his time with the other mother. This would be fair—both mothers would receive a fair share.

But if this was such a fair suggestion, why was the king certain that the true mother would object? Didn’t she agree that having her child for half the time was better than losing him completely?

The answer to this question reveals Judaism’s deep insight into parenthood. A mother doesn’t consider what is best for her. A mother thinks about what is best for her child. Splitting up a child’s home so that he has two families, two fathers, two mothers, two dynamics, two sets of house rules, two structures of etiquette, two sets of values, and sometimes two religions, is corrosive and destructive. It might be the greatest gift to the mother who might otherwise have gone bereft, but it is terrible for the child.

The child develops love and feelings of dependency on one mother, only to be tossed out and sent to the other mother. Then the cycle repeats itself and the child is left vulnerable.

Solomon knew that the fraudulent mother would only care about herself. She had dreamed of having a baby, and when she tragically lost her baby, those dreams and aspirations were shattered. The poor soul was desperate for something, anything, to console her—to sooth the gaping hole in her aching heart. She would take whatever she could get even if it was just half a child. But the true mother would never think of it. She would think only of her child. She would rather see her child grow up with consistency, one home, one set of parents, one source of love, even it wasn’t her, than to see her child torn into two, pulled in conflicting directions, and destroyed from within.

Sadly, these days, when parents consider divorce, they don’t consider the impact on the children. They figure they can split the children’s time. You will get the children during the week, and I will get them on weekends. You get to teach them your values and I get to teach them my values. It’s about what the parents get, it is not about the children. The children are left confused. Why did my father leave? Why did my mother send me away? Why does my mother teach me everything my father says is wrong?

About the Author
Rabbi Lazer Gurkow, a renowned lecturer, serves as Rabbi to Congregation Beth Tefilah in London Ontario. He is a member of the curriculum development team at Rohr Jewish Learning Institute and is the author of two books and nearly a thousand online essays. You can find his work at