This article first appeared on genaleph.org
As we have already explained in previous articles, the Sugya of the Ben Sorer U’Moreh is rich with invaluable Chinuch lessons. Let us once again delve deeply into this Parsha in order to aid us on our journey to raising healthy and well-adjusted children.
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 a
a guzzler.” (Devarim 21:20)
The Maharal explains that the word “kol” (voice) denotes a noise that is not understandable. In other words, the reason this child becomes a Ben Sorer U’Moreh is because his parents’ instructions do not make sense to him. Children, like adults, follow directives that are clear and logical. An instruction that is not intelligible is difficult to follow.
At Har Sina we said both Naaseh, we will do, and Nishma, we will listen. As parents it is our responsibility to impart to our children that Judaism is a religion of humility. We humble ourselves before Hashem and we follow His instructions before we understand why. It is the height of hubris to think that our limited minds have the capacity to understand an infinite God. Our children must first be taught that we submit ourselves to a Higher Power regardless of what we understand. To do anything otherwise is to raise a generation of narcissists. And yet, Nishma, understanding is also mission critical. Hashem gave us intelligence to serve Him. Chazal teach us אֵין בּוּר יְרֵא חֵטְא, וְלֹא עַם הָאָרֶץ חָסִיד, a boor cannot be sin fearing and an ignoramus cannot be pious. To be in a relationship with Hashem requires curiosity. Of course, we will follow the directives of the Torah but why does Hashem want us to perform these Mitzvos? What is their function? What is their inner message? A husband who insists on knowing why his wife wants him to take out the garbage before he does so is serving himself. A husband who is disinterested in really listening to his wife and learning what makes her tick may be checking the boxes of the relationship, but he fails the test of intimacy. He is simply not present.
For us to raise our children to be God loving Jews they must know why they are doing what they are doing. Of course, we should train them to daven but if they don’t understand the inner meaning of davening then eventually they will either daven by rote or stop davening altogether. How many young men have shared with their Rabbeim that they don’t appreciate learning Gemara not only because of their lack of skills but because they fail to see the relevance to their life. There is a difference between excited and inspired and these terms are often conflated. People say inspiration doesn’t last but what they mean is that excitement doesn’t last. A beautiful tisch, a passionate Fabrengen may be exciting but eventually the feeling, like all feelings, fades away. In contrast, when one is truly inspired, when we learn something that changes the way we see the world, we take that inspiration with us. Education may not always be exciting, but it should always be inspiring. Excitement is an important part of our children’s education, but it should never take the place of true inspiration. Our children must be taught about Yiddishkeit in such a way that it becomes the lens through which we see the world. This requires us to develop curriculums that teach our children both the how and the why. Of course, our children need to be knowledgeable in Halacha and Gemara but they must also be taught the why of Yiddishkeit. Our Mesorah is replete with incredible thinkers who have each framed Yiddishkeit in a unique way. In exposing our children to the Rambam, the Kuzari, the Maharal, the Ramchal etc… we gift them the understanding of the inner essence of Judaism.
זְכֹר֙ יְמ֣וֹת עוֹלָ֔ם בִּ֖ינוּ שְׁנ֣וֹת דֹּֽר וָדֹ֑ר שְׁאַ֤ל אָבִ֨יךָ֙ וְיַגֵּ֔דְךָ זְקֵנֶ֖יךָ וְיֹֽאמְרוּ־לָֽךְ Remember the days of old; reflect upon the years of [other] generations. Ask your father, and
he will tell you; your elders, and they will inform you. (Devarim 32:7)
The passuk seems to be somewhat redundant. We are told not only to remember the days of old but also בִּ֖ינוּ שְׁנ֣וֹת דֹּֽר וָדֹ֑ר, reflect upon the years of generations. Aside from the poetic nature of the Passuk, what does this second statement teach us. The Menachem Tzion, Rav Menachem Benzion Zachs, offers a beautiful homiletic interpretation. The word שְׁנ֣וֹת can be derived from the word Shana (year – which is the classical interpretation) or from the word Shoneh, different. The second statement of the Passuk instructs us to recognize the differences of each generation. The way we taught the previous generation may not be the same as the way we teach the next generation. As one venerated Rosh Yeshiva quipped, there are no halachos of how we teach our children because we need to teach each generation in their own unique way. What worked in a previous generation cannot be blindly applied to the next generation. Our children, especially in today’s day and age when they are confronted with new challenges that none of us grew up with, need something different than we did. And if we are being honest, maybe we needed something different too. How many of us wish we would have grown up with a deeper appreciation of why we were doing what we were doing. And if we needed it then our children certainly do. Rav Levi Yitzchak of Berdichev explains that it is Eliyahu HaNavi and not other great Torah personalities who eventually answer all of our unresolved Talmudic questions (commonly known as Teiku) because Eliyahu HaNavi never died. Only someone who lived through that particular generation is equipped to answer for that generation.
If we want our children to stay loyal to the mission of Yiddishkeit it must be something that is integrated into their very being. It cannot be just a Kol, an indecipherable voice, but a crystal clear understanding that is tailored to that particular child in their unique generation. Only a Torah that confronts the challenges that our children are facing is going to be absorbed by our children.  Avos 2:6