A Taste of Torah in Honor of Shabbat
by Rabbi Avi Weiss
Shabbat Parshat Vayishlach
14 Kislev 5758
What should our attitude be to our children if they commit wrongful acts?
Our parsha offers a response. Reuven, Yaakov's (Jacob's) eldest son, committed a heinous
sin. According to the literal text he slept with Bilhah, his father's wife. (Genesis
Yaakov is so outraged that the sentence describing his response is left incomplete--one of
the few times this occurs in the Torah. All the text says is "va-yishmah Yisrael, and
Yisrael (Jacob) heard."
Benno Jacob, the German Jewish commentator, has noted
that whenerv the text uses the verb shoma, to hear, without specifying what one hears--it
indicates to hear but not to listen, in other words rejection. How much more so in this
verse where the sentence doesn't even end, illustrating that Jacob was incensed beyond
description. No words could adequately portray his feelings then.
Notwithstanding Yaakov's disgust with Reuven, he does not disown his son. Rabbi Shlomo
Riskin and others have noted that in the very next sentences the Torah states that Yaakov
had twelve children, the first born being Reuven. (Genesis 35:23,24) In other words,
Yaakov does not cast Reuven out leaving him with eleven sons, and Reuven is still
mentioned as the first of the twelve.
An important lesson can be culled from this. In marriage respect and love are inextricably
bound. If there is no respect, there is no love. This because marriage involves choice, a
contractual arrangement of love between two people.
Not so in our relationship with our children. There love is built in. Unlike marriage,
where termination is possible, our children no matter what, will always remain our
Hence, while we may not respect our children for something they do or do not do, our love
for them must remain unconditional.
And so, Yaakov loses respect for Reuven, telling him on
his death bed that his deed was so egregious that he would not inherit the birthright.
Nonetheless, Yaakov blesses Reuven first, as he still remains his eldest. (Genesis 49:3,4)
Writing to Rabbi Duber Milstein whose son strayed from Judaism, Rabbi Kook, the first
chief rabbi of Israel suggests, "We must greatly soften our sacred emotions in order
to speak with our children in the way they need, and along with this to believe with
complete faith that the light of God rests on each and every Jew, and that all regressions
are nothing but great, unintentional mistakes. Therefore my friend, my advice to you is
that in any case do not abandon your children, but bring them close as possible, and in
the end they will certainly return. If they only begin to turn to good, their children
will complete this process after them." (Igrot 113)
The upshot: it's easy to love our children when we
respect them, the real test is will we love our children even if we've lost respect for
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