Our Unique Children – Ben Sorer U’Moreh Series - (Part 5)
With Hashem’s help we have already gleaned so many invaluable Chinuch lessons from the topic of the Ben Sorer U’Moreh. Once again let us delve deeply into this topic so that we may continue to mine the gems that are buried within.
וְאָֽמְר֞וּ אֶל־זִקְנֵ֣י עִיר֗וֹ בְּנֵ֤נוּ זֶה֙ סוֹרֵ֣ר וּמֹרֶ֔ה אֵינֶ֥נּוּ שֹׁמֵ֖עַ בְּקֹלֵ֑נוּ זוֹלֵ֖ל וְסֹבֵֽא
And they shall say to the elders of his city, “This son of ours is wayward and rebellious; he does not obey us; [he is] a glutton and a guzzler.”
Notice that the parents introduce the Ben Sorer U’Moreh as “this son of ours…” The Gemara in Sanhedrin derives from this that the parents must be able to point out their child. If they are blind, then the child cannot be considered a Ben Sorer U’Moreh. Why does the blindness of the parents exempt the child from being a Ben Sorer U’Moreh? While there are many possible explanations, the one that moved me was that the “blind” parent does not see the unique and individual nature of this particular child. Different seeds require unique environments and specialized farming techniques to nurture the development of that particular seed. What works for one does not necessarily work for another. The acorn has everything it needs to become the mighty oak but if it is treated as an orange seed it cannot grow into its full potential. This child was raised like the rest of his siblings and while that Chinuch approach may have been exactly what his brothers and sisters needed it was exactly the opposite of what this particular child needed. A child who is raised in a mass production Chinuch system cannot be considered a Ben Sorer U’Moreh. They were never seen. They grew as any seed would when planted in an unsuitable environment. They are, in a word, understandable.
Shlomo HaMelech wrote, “Educate the child according to his way; He will not swerve from it even in old age.” If we educate our children without an eye on cultivating their particular talents, if we are blind to their unique personalities, then as our children get older, we will chas v’shalom see them stray from the path of their forefathers. Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch famously saw this principle in the parenting strategies of Yitzchak and Rivka. In Rav Hirsch’s own words: “To try to bring up a Yaakov and an Esav in the same school, make them have the same habits and hobbies, to teach and educate them in the same way for some studious, sedate, meditative life is the surest way to court disaster… Had Yitzchak and Rivkah studied Esav’s nature and character early enough, and asked themselves how can even an Esav, how can all the strength and energy, agility and courage that lies slumbering in this child…be trained to become, not a brave heroic hunter but a hero before God, then Yaakov and Esav could have remained twin brothers in spirit and life; quite early in life, Esav’s “sword” and Yaakov’s “spirit” could have worked hand in hand, and who can say what a different aspect the whole history of the ages might have presented.”
In our times, Rav Shlomo Freifeld zt”l stands out as one of the great educators who cultivated the unique talents of every Talmid. In his own imitable style Rav Freifeld asked, the passuk in Tehillim says: “He is the Healer of the broken-hearted, and the One Who bandages their sorrows. He counts the number of the stars, to all of them He assigns names.” What is the connection between healing the broken hearted and counting the stars and naming them? People are broken hearted because they feel their lives are insignificant. The solution is to count them and name them. To count someone means just that: to let them know that they count. That their lives matter. And how do we do that? By naming them. To name someone means to reveal their essence. Our responsibility as parents, as teachers, as adults in our community, is to name our children. To highlight what makes them unique and celebrate their individuality. Though there are an unimaginable number of stars each one counts because they all have individual names. A child in our system may look around and wonder of what significance is their Avodas Hashem. Our education must emphasize that while we all do the same Mitzvah, because we are unique our service of Hashem is also unique.
The Torah tells us about two contributions of the Nesiim, the tribal princes of Klal Yisrael. They brought offerings for the dedication of the Mishkan and for the dedication of the Mizbeach. However, the description of these offerings is very different. The Torah summarizes the first dedication (for the Mikdash) in one sentence giving us the total tally of what was offered. At the dedication of the Mizbeach the Torah describes the gift of each Nasi individually even though each dedication was exactly the same as the others! The Torah is clearly teaching us that there is a duality at play here. A dialectical tension that we must live within. On the one hand, our service to Hashem is like everyone else’s. We all keep the same Shabbos. We all make the same Berachos. And yet, our service is unique because we are. The Torah lists the individual contribution of every Nasi because they had different spiritual intentions. Though externally their gifts were all the same, on an internal level they were as different as they could possibly be. Though we may Daven the same words because we are unique souls with varied life experiences our prayers are absolutely unique. No two Jews keep the same Shabbos. No two Jews make the same Berachos. We all have unique names.
Our responsibility is to parent consciously and intentionally. We all know our children’s strengths and weaknesses (and they know ours as well). We must do our best to give them every opportunity to explore their unique inner world. Not all children are designed for sitting in a classroom eight hours a day. And even if they can, they may not find their talents in school. Some children shine on stage, others in sports, others in music etc… When our children find access to their inner world they come alive. They’ve discovered their name. The Sugya of the Ben Sorer U’Moreh obligates us to see each one of our children and parent them accordingly.
 Mishlei 22:6