The Midrash this week tells of a maaseh where a certain type of bird had been spotted but no one could recognize its species and therefore could not tell if it was kosher or not. The Midrash advises to watch when it is resting, what other species of birds land near it to rest as well: If an impure bird lands near it then it is impure as well. If a kosher one lands near it then it can be judged as kosher. Rashi tells us in the parsha as well that most people also could not tell the difference between Eisav and Yaakov until their mid-teens.
This is actually a very important question: How can we tell the character of a boy, someone we don’t know well but is befriending our own son/talmid? Even more importantly, how can we tell where our own children and talmidim are holding inside? Often we see “good kids” who happen to have “questionable friends”. How can we tell who is just being immature or is attracted to “action” and who is struggling with real emotional or behavioral problems?
The Midrash is telling us to not necessarily look at who the boy in question runs after or befriends (sometimes they are trying to be cool and chasing something that’s not really them but they want to fit in), rather when he is alone doing nothing, which type of boy is attracted TO him. Often, Kids have a better sense of another kid’s character than an adult can sense. They might not verbalize this (or know how) but they can sense right away who another kid is and will be attracted to like-minded boys.
This can be a relief when we are nervous about what friends a boy is running after. There should still be concern about who he is hanging out with, but the real sign about where a kid is holding is what type of kids are running after him. This can be an important tool in understanding where a child is holding and what is going on inside. With this info we can better know the child and mechanech him according to his personal needs. In general, kids should be aware of the effects their chevra have on them, not only because of “what will others say” but who you associate with does say a lot about you.
Rabbi Ari Deutscher MSW