In a widely circulated video clip that made its rounds a short while before Pesach, Rav Gershon Edelstein shlita, Rosh Yeshiva of Ponevezh, and member of the Moetzes Gedolei Torah of Degel, shared some penetrating parental advice. The Rosh Yeshiva was asked about the proper way to deal with a child who doesn’t want to wake up on time in the mornings or conform to his responsibilities during this time of social and communal upheaval. The questioner asked if it would be proper for the parents of such a child to shake him and forcibly pull him out of bed.
“Rak b’darchei noam (only with a pleasant manner),” the Rosh Yeshiva responded, emphasizing the need for the child to feel that his parents are, by and large, “merutze mimenu (satisfied with him).” The Rosh Yeshiva went on to say that if children see their parents doing what is right, they will internalize such behavior and learn to recognize the proper modes of conduct. It will, therefore, be superfluous for a parent to tell their child that he is expected to get up on time in the morning and fulfill his obligations.
In a recent interview for the Yated Ne’eman (conducted by my friend and colleague Reb Avrohom Birnbaum), Rav Mordechai Respler, Rosh Yeshiva of the Yeshiva of Long Beach, made a point that I believe lies behind Rav Edelstein’s message as well. Rav Respler related that he tells parents; “your relationship with your child cannot start with saying ‘No’. If you already have a real relationship with your son and know what is going on in his life; if you are constantly radiating care and love towards him, then it is not at all a problem to assert your authority and say no. If, however, the only relationship he has with you is when you say ‘no’, then you have a real problem!”
Rav Edelstein’s insistence that all of the tutelage and child-rearing done in the home be carried out b’darchei noam is predicated on the same idea. The foundation of the relationship between parent and child must be mutual love and respect. If children are convinced that their parents are pleased with them and truly believe in their potential to succeed, then they will be able to accept the occasional ‘No’. Such children will, in a sense, view the parents’ ‘No’ as an expression of genuine concern for their wellbeing. If, however, children feel that their parents view them as being, all in all, disappointments, there will be no basis upon which rebuke or assertion of authority can be supported. After all, why should they conform to the wishes of those who constantly tell them (overtly or covertly) that they are simply not good enough?
The same can be said regarding the cultivation of our relationship with Hashem. I have heard on numerous occasions from the Rosh Kollel, Rav Shlomo Miller shlita, how important it is to teach our youth how much Hashem loves them. When that message is clear and they realize that Hashem is truly interested in a relationship with them, it will be so much easier for them to accept the burden of their responsibilities. Indeed, it was for that reason that the Chovos HaLevavos (Duties of the Heart) situated the chapter of Avodas HaElokim- where he elucidates our obligation to accept upon ourselves the yoke of serving Hashem after the chapter called Shaar HaBechina where he delineates many of the myriad ways in which Hashem bestows upon us His infinite love, every moment of every day.
We need to realize that even the difficult and painful experiences that occur in our lives are expressions of Hashem’s immense love for us. Rav Chaim of Volozhin likens such instances to that of a son who, due to his own negligence, falls and is severely injured. After the doctors determine that in order for the child to heal, a painful remedy must be administered, the father does not hesitate to comply. As the remedy is applied and the child writhes in pain, the father suffers along with him. So too, when we cry out in pain, our Father in heaven is pained as well. As the Gemara in Sanhedrin (46a) relates: Rebbi Meir said, At the time that a person suffers (for his sins) what expression does the Shechina articulate? (anthromorphically God says) “I am burdened by My head; I am burdened by My arm (in other words, ‘I am in pain’).”
May we all merit to successfully cultivate and recognize the love which is the basis and foundation for all successful relationships.