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Home » Chukat, Education

Chukat: Love Your Children

Submitted by on June 26, 2011 – 3:34 amNo Comment | 5,816 views

What Actually Happened?

Something happened on that fateful day that resulted in the severe decree barring Moses and Aaron from entering the promised land. Here is the story in short: The people were parched from their long journey and demanded that Moses provide water. G-d instructed Moses to produce water from a stone. Moses rebuked the people soundly for doubting G-d and then struck the rock to produce water.

The precise nature of Moses’ sin is not clear from the text. Many suggestions were raised over the years and this essay will focus on two of them. It was the opinion of Rashi, the tenth century commentator, that Moses was punished for striking the rock rather than talking to it as he had been commanded. Had he talked to it the people would have been awed by the rock’s acquiescence and would have been inspired to do the same.

Nachmanidies, the thirteenth century commentator and Kabbalist, disagreed. It was his view that Moses erred in his intense rebuke of the nation. Had he spoken softly they might have responded in kind and repented. Moses’ harsh rebuke served to fuel their anger and exacerbate their sin.

We will probably never know the particulars of Moses’ sin, yet, there is a powerful message that arises from the juxtaposition of these two opinions. Presented together they teach us a lesson for life.

Love and Rebuke

In the eighteenth century, Jewish itinerant preachers believed that the path to inspiration led through rebuke. They would visit Jewish communities across the continent to deliver sermons of fire and brimstone.

love your children innerstream

The people looked forward to these punishing sermons as an opportunity to be inspired. They gathered in the synagogues to hear the preacher describe the terrible suffering visited upon a sinner’s soul in the afterlife. He would describe the flames of purgatory in stirring tones and graphic detail leaving his listeners awash in bitter tears. He would enumerate the specific punishments for specific sins and paint the torture in such vivid colors as to bring it to life before them. The  audience, wracked by tears of anguish, would pledge to repent and the preacher, flush with success, would leave the townspeople in a much purer state than he would have found them.

The early Chassidic Masters took a different approach. They too would visit Jewish communities to preach, but rather than the formal synagogue, they would speak to their listeners on the street, in the marketplace or wherever they could find them. They never spoke of punishment and sin. They had an upbeat message about G-d’s love and His reward for those who do their best to follow His ways. They spoke of the soul’s indescribable joy in paradise. They described the angels and the purity of heaven. They inspired the Jews to perform Mitzvot. They told them that every mitzvah fosters G-d’s love for His children and that every moment of Torah study forges a bond between themselves and G-d.

Both attitudes served to inspire, one out of fear the other of love. Those who emerged from the fire and brimstones sermons did so with a heavy heart and served G-d out of guilt. Those who returned  from the homespun marketplace discussions did so with a light heart, filled with love for G-d and confidence in themselves.

Both sermons served to inspire, but the latter format sparked a groundswell of change. The inspiration out of fear lasted as long as the fear and then dissipated, but the inspiration of love was long lasting. These preachers didn’t preach and run. They stayed for weeks and months, teaching, inspiring and  nudging the townsfolk toward longterm change.

Moses

We now return to Moses. The story of the rock can serve as a metaphor. The rock represents the Jew who is stone cold to G-d, completely uninspired. The water represents the flow of inspiration. Every Jew is filled with an infinite reservoir of water – we are each capable of reaching the apex of the human relationship with G-d. The only question is, do we want to. Are we a willing source of inspiration, prepared to share the wellsprings of our holiness or are we reluctant practitioners of G-d’s Torah?

Had Moses talked lovingly to the people he would have inspired genuine repentance. Under those conditions the people would have willingly and lovingly opened the spigots of inspiration and let it flow. Moses’ words would have melted the encrusted bitterness of their rock-like hearts and there would be no need to strike the rock. Instead Moses rebuked the nation and failed to inspire. Because they had not repented, they were not willing to open their hearts to the natural wellsprings of their devotion. The only way to bring it forth was through punishment and thus he struck the rock.

Effective Education

We are the Moses of our households. We love our children, but beyond love, our children look to us for leadership and inspiration. If we parent on the model of discipline and fear we will see results, our children will tow the line and obey our rules. But this doesn’t mean they will adopt our values and believe in our rules. What will they do when they leave our homes? How will they set up their own homes? How will they raise their  children? This is the litmus test of how well we have inculcated our values into our children.

Parenting with love motivates our children to make us happy. Children are filled with love and a desire to please. They are designed by nature to admire their parents and to emulate them. Their greatest joy is to know that they can make us happy. We don’t have to strike them to inspire this love we just have to nurture them. Striking our children can yield results, but not enduring and genuine ones.

There are times when firm discipline is necessary. An addict for example cannot be cured with love. The addict needs to be weaned and detoxified in a rehabilitation center with firm and unyielding rules. Soft sympathy under these conditions only enables the addict and furthers the addiction. Indeed, when conditions warrant, it is necessary to strike the rock. But the rod must never have the final word.

After detoxing, we must embrace the addict with devotion and love. They must know that we care for them and about them. We must enfold them in our warm embrace and allow the therapeutic and cathartic process to work its magic. The results from the rehab center are immediate and effective, but they are not long term. That is why so many return from rehab to their old drug habits. The second step is where the real results lie because only the loving embrace produces genuine and long term change.

If this is true of adults it is even more true of children. Thee are times when a child requires a touch of discipline, but the effort is wasted if it is not followed up with love. Love begets love. Our children are filled with pent up love. All they ask, is that we release it.

They are begging for our love. Let’s give it freely.

This essay is loosely based on commentary from Kerdushat Levi on our Parshah

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