Shalom Bayis and Parenting – Ben Sorer U’Moreh Part 2 – Rav Mordechai Burg

As we continue our exploration of the Ben Sorer U’Moreh in order to glean valuable Chinuch lessons and reap the reward of raising healthy and well adjusted children we once again look to one of the fascinating Halachos of this Sugya.

וְאָֽמְר֞וּ אֶל־זִקְנֵ֣י עִיר֗וֹ בְּנֵ֤נוּ זֶה֙ סוֹרֵ֣ר וּמֹרֶ֔ה אֵינֶ֥נּוּ שֹׁמֵ֖עַ בְּקֹלֵ֑נוּ זוֹלֵ֖ל וְסֹבֵֽא

“This son of ours is wayward and rebellious; he does not heed our voice; [he is] a glutton and a guzzler.” (Devarim 21:20)

The Gemara learns from the phrase אֵינֶ֥נּוּ שֹׁמֵ֖עַ בְּקֹלֵ֑נוּ, he does not heed our voice, that both parents must have similar voices. If the pitch of one parent is higher than the other the child cannot be considered a Ben Sorer U’Moreh. The obvious question is, what is the inner meaning of this Halacha? Why would it matter if one parent spoke in higher or lower pitch than the other?

The Medrash[1] relates the story of a man from the city of Tzidon who was married to a woman for eighteen years but sadly the couple was not able to have children. Despairing of having children, the couple went to Rav Shimon Bar Yochai and requested that he prepare a Get for them. Rav Shimon advised them that just as they got married by making a great Seuda, so too should they make a celebration for their upcoming divorce. At the divorce party the husband became intoxicated and said to his wife that she could take any one item from their home and bring it with her to her father’s home. When the husband passed out, the wife instructed the servants to deliver her husband to her father’s home. When the husband finally awoke he was confused as to why he was in his father in laws home. His wife explained to him that he had said she could take home any one item from their home to her father’s house and she chose him. The couple then returned to Rav Shimon Bar Yochai and shared with him their story. Rav Shimon Bar Yochai davened for the couple and nine months later the couple was blessed with a son.

As we consider this story several questions become readily apparent:

  1. Rav Shimon’s advice to this couple appears to be quite strange. A divorce is a tragedy. The Gemara[2] tells us that the Mizbeach cries over every divorce. Why would Rav Shimon advise them to throw a party?
  2. It seems at the outset that Rav Shimon was unwilling to daven for this couple to have children and was ready to divorce them after the party. What changed? If Rav Shimon was capable of davening for this couple and aiding them in having a child why did he not do so at the outset?

Rav Shimon Bar Yochai understood that this couple had grown apart over their years of marriage. Children are the product of intimate relationships. The lack of love and closeness between them was a barrier to having children. No matter how powerful Rav Shimon’s Teffilos were, such a union could not produce a child. Rav Shimon advised them to throw a party in the hopes that the reality of the dissolution of their marriage would stir feelings of closeness and love within them. So when the husband, in his inebriated state, revealed his true feelings of love and told his wife that she could take one thing with her, it awakened within her long dormant feelings of love. She grabbed the opportunity to take him home to her father’s home and in so doing expressed her feelings of love in return. The couple who returned to Rav Shimon Bar Yochai was a completely different couple than the couple that first approached him. Having rediscovered their deep feelings of connection, Rav Shimon was now in a position to daven for this couple to have children.

This Medrash not only gives us insight into the psychology that is necessary to conceive a child but to raise our children as well. The Steipler Gaon taught that there are two factors in raising children: fifty percent is Teffilah and fifty percent is Shalom Bayis.[3] A home where children can feel the love that exists between the parents is one where children feel safe and secure. Recall that in previous articles we discussed the importance of adult attachment in a child’s development. When there is a lack of Shalom Bayis in the home, the child does not feel comfortable attaching to the parents. To be clear, I am by no means suggesting that if a child goes off the Derech it is in any way a direct result of what happened in the home. Rabbi Yaakov Bender shlit”a, my Rosh Yeshiva and a world renowned educator, has said publicly on several occasions that there is no rhyme or reason as to why children go off the Derech. If a child does go off the Derech it would be a terrible mistake for parents to blame themselves. What we are discussing here are best practices. A home where Shalom Bayis is in the air is one where a healthy adult attachment can take place giving us the best opportunity to raise healthy and well adjusted children. The couple who came to Rav Shimon Bar Yochai lacked the love necessary to create a healthy home for children. Only after they rediscovered their feelings for one another could they bring children into the world.

Rav Pam zt”l asked, why is it that the Mizbeach cries bitter tears over a divorce? He answered that while the Mizbeach sees sacrifices every day, there is one sacrifice that the Mizbeach simply cannot bear – the sacrifice of children. Children are meant to grow up in a loving home and while divorce is certainly appropriate (and a Mitzvah!) under the right circumstances there is no doubt that it has an impact on the children. I think that today we can extend the words of Rav Pam to a home in which there is a cold peace between the parents. Children are exceptionally perceptive. In a home where there is no warmth between the parents, the children lack the safety and security to truly attach themselves. This does not mean that there can be no conflict in our homes. That is an ambitious horizon to shoot for but probably not realistic for many. However, there is a major difference between a couple who are fundamentally on the same page and have some conflict in certain areas versus a couple that are basically estranged from one another.

It is not unusual to see children from homes that lack Shalom Bayis acting out. Remember that children are always communicating. We can treat the symptom of the behavior or we can get curious about the root cause of the behavior. Imagine if a child is acting out because of what is going on at home and the response of the school is to punish the child. Not only does this miss the point entirely, it only further serves to create a greater sense of estrangement from the adult attachment that this child so desperately craves. While the child might be the identified person, he is part of a larger system and if we are to understand the child we must understand the system that he comes from. A child who grows up in an unhappy home may be harboring a deep resentment of adults who cannot provide for him the safety he needs. In school he may lash out at authority figures and display a complete lack of respect. While the disrespect is certainly inappropriate it is also totally understandable. What this child needs far more than discipline is a relationship with an adult who holds space for his pain. In this way we are treating the root cause and not just the symptom.

The child who grows up in a home where his parents have one voice is a child who grew up in a home of intimacy (read: oneness). If a child grows up in a home where his parents have two different voices, a home of dissension and estrangement, then he is a child in pain and as such cannot be considered a Ben Sorer U’Moreh. His gluttony, thievery and lack of respect are not excusable but they are understandable. He cannot be held liable for his actions, they are a product of his pain.

Upon the doorpost of every Jewish home is a Mezuzah. It is affixed at a slanted angle which many have interpreted to mean that our homes must be places of compromise for the sake of peace. A Jewish home is one where the highest value is connection, not winning. In such a home children feel secure knowing that their world is safe and reliable. They feel a deep sense of attachment which allows us to pass on our tradition to the next generation.

[1] Shir HaShirim Rabbah ch. 1

[2] Gittin 90b

[3] Similarly Rav Chaim Pinchas Sheinberg zt”l would say that the most important thing that parents need to maintain in their home is a sense of Simchas HaChaim

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