A Midrash Tanchuma
How did they try Him? R. Judah the son of Nehemiah and the sages differed over this. R. Judah held: They deliberated and said: If He supplies us with food, then just as a king is praised and honored by the people when he enters a city, because he satisfies all their needs, so we will serve Him, but if He does not do so, we will rebel against Him. Our sages maintained “We will consider this in our hearts, and if He knows what we are thinking, we will serve Him, but if not we will not serve Him, as it is said: Is the Lord among us, or not?
R. Levi declared: This situation may be compared to a child that is being carried on his father’s shoulders. When he sees some-thing that excites him he calls out: “Father, take me there.” The father carries him to that place, and then to another and finally to a third place, yet the child, on seeing another man approaching them, asks: “Have you seen my father?” His father calls out: “You have been riding on my shoulders, and wherever you wished to go I carried you, yet now you ask ‘Have you seen my father?’” He then put him down. Whereupon a dog rushed at the child and bit him. Similarly, when the Israelites left Egypt, He surrounded them with clouds of glory, and when they wanted bread, He sent them manna, as it is said: And He caused manna to rain upon them for food, and He gave them of the corn of heaven. And when they wanted meat, He gave them quail, as it is stated: They asked and He brought quails. That is why it says: He gave them that which they craved. And though He gave them whatever they demanded, yet they asked: Is the Lord among us or not? The Holy One, blessed be He, said to them: This is what you have been thinking. There-fore, this dog will bite you. Hence, And Amalek came.
Ever feel like your kids/students do this? They say (or think) about us “If they give me what I want (or think I need) then I’ll do what they ask/respect them/listen to them/have a relationship with them”. Our reaction, as was that of Hashem, is to feel unappreciated. We do so much, sacrifice, work, and yet they still test us to see if we really care, if we are really there for them. That’s Rabi Yehuda, according to Chazal sometimes we have to read their minds! To know what they’re thinking and respond appropriately. Sometimes they don’t even acknowledge at all that we have done anything for them! How did Hashem respond and what can we learn from this?
I would first say that, contrary to how it seems, the Midrash is NOT telling us to get into a scorekeeping game with our children. I don’t believe Hashem was saying “well if you think I do nothing for you then fine I’ll really do nothing for you”. We can’t let kids manipulate us down to their level, we need to raise them to ours. I believe what Hashem was saying “There is no relationship here, I want one, but your doing business, keeping score. This is not a loving relationship”. We don’t do things for those we love because we expect to be paid back. We want that love reciprocated, not because it is “owed” but because it is sincere. Hashem “withdrew”, saying “I am here, waiting for you, ready to have this relationship (he continued to provide for them constantly even when he was being tested and “withdrew”). He let them walk independently, not to “teach them a lesson”, but so that they can learn on their own this important lesson. Hashem had nothing to “prove” to Bnei Yisroel, he wanted them to grow from this experience and realize the importance of having a relationship. It’s a thin line, because in essence it is the same act. Sometimes we must withdraw or withhold from our kids, but if its done in a spirit of “now I got you” or “now you’ll learn”, if its “getting back at them” or keeping score, then they wont learn, and in essence we are proving them right, that this is a business relationship, quid pro quo. Instead, when we have to “withdraw” we must do it in a way that says “this is difficult for me, but we don’t have a relationship here. I am waiting for you here, like I always have been and always will be, to have a relationship with you, based on love and not what we get out of each other. Children from a young age don’t think abstractly. Think in concrete terms, A causes B, if I do C then I will get D. They need to be slowly trained as their brains develop to have deeper more meaningful relationships. They also are trained form a young age to be takers, and so associate their relationships as give and take. It requires a lot of patience, but ultimately pays off.
Shabbat Shalom, Have a Great Shabbos
Ari Deutscher MSW