The תוכחה, a section in Parshat Bechukotai outlining punishments destined to befall the Jewish people if they don’t keep the Torah, is one of the most frightening sections in the Torah. It describes horrific scenarios of fear and destruction- scenarios that have unfortunately come to fruition over our national history. In outlining the reason for these punishments, the Torah repeats one word over and over- the word קרי. The Torah describes the tragedies to be a punishment for the fact that the Jewish people “walk with Me (Hashem) בקרי”.
It seems clear that this word is the key to understanding the impetus for the horrible punishments of the תוכחה – but what exactly does it mean?
Rashi explains that the word קרי comes from the word מקרה, “chance” or “happenstance”- and describes people whose relationship with Hashem is one of happenstance and randomness. There is no consistency in the relationship, no constancy. These people serve G-d and do mitzvot only when it suits them; and when not in the mood, they simply don’t relate to Him. Such a relationship, explains the Torah, is fundamentally flawed. And when we relate to HaShem in this way, Hashem responds in kind- relating to Am Yisrael in a random and unpredictable way, resulting in horrific destruction and devastation for Am Yisrael.
At first glance, this seems a bit harsh. After all, at least in this situation a relationship with Hashem does exist on some level. Why does a lack of consistency in the relationship warrant such a powerfully destructive response from Hashem?
If we consider the nature of all relationships, however, it becomes clear that the most important characteristic of a successful relationship is commitment and consistency. If a marriage or friendship contains a deep commitment from both parties and is built upon mutual trust- if each side can depend on the other to “be there” for them- then the relationship is strong and will stand the test of time. But if the relationship lacks commitment and consistency- if each side is “present” in the relationship only when it’s convenient and helpful to him- then the relationship is fundamentally flawed. In this case, each participant is simply “using” the other to get what he wants- neither is fully committed to the other. This type of relationship will wither over time, as it lacks the crucial ingredients needed to sustain it.
Hashem therefore proclaims to the Am Yisrael: The key ingredient to a successful relationship between us is consistency. If we commit fully to each other- if you will serve Me in a committed and constant fashion, then I will commit to care for you in kind. But if your service to Me is בקרי, happenstance, and dependent on your mood or convenience, then I will act towards you in the same way. Sometimes I will take care of your needs, other times I simply will not. Lacking My continued protection, you will be subject to destruction and devastation.
If consistency is a foundational building block in any relationship, it’s certainly a crucial aspect of parenting as well- in a couple of ways that I would like to highlight:
1) It goes without saying that our children need to feel the consistency of our support and love. Our kids need to know implicitly that we are “there” for them under all circumstances and that they can “count” on us no matter what- regardless of any behaviors they may exhibit. It’s this fundamental and steadfast love that, during childhood, forms the foundation for their emotional health for years to come.
2) As we have mentioned, we parents have the most direct impact upon the religious growth and development of our children. Our kids see the “real” us in the comfort of our home, and they learn from how we act. If we want our children to develop consistency in their Avodat Hashem and connection to G-d, then they must see that consistency within our own actions first. We must put in the effort and dedication to living a life committed to Torah and mitzvot- and then our children will hopefully learn by example.
3) Finally, consistency is particularly important in the realm of discipline. One of the main responsibilities of parents is to set the boundaries for appropriate behavior from our kids. In this area, many experts stress the importance of being clear and consistent in our expectations. We must clearly outline how we expect them to act- and respond in a consistent fashion to their actions. We must keep our word, and we must enforce our rules regularly. If our children sense any inconsistency in how we respond to them or enforce our expectations, then their respect for our authority will diminish, making it harder for us to discipline them, moving forward. If we clearly and firmly enforce our expectations in a reliable way, then our children will be more likely to understand our boundaries and respect them.
In this week’s parsha, we learn about the danger of a relationship that lacks consistency- what happens when we act towards Hashem בקרי, by happenstance. Such reliability is the foundation of all relationships- but it is particularly important in many areas of parenting. The more we are able to maintain consistency in how we act and parent, the better we will be able to educate our children.