The first Midrash in this weeks parsha:
He that spareth his rod hateth his son; but he that loveth him chastiseth him (Prov. 13:24). Normally, if a man in-forms his friend that someone has beaten his son, the fa-ther would deprive the guilty person even of the source of his livelihood. Why, then, does Scripture state: He that spareth his rod hateth his son? This teaches you that whenever a man fails to chastise his son, that son will ul-timately act wickedly, and he will come to despise him. We find this to be so in the case of Ishmael, who behaved fondly toward his father, who failed to chastise him, and he thus went astray. As a result, Abraham began to des-pise him, and drove him empty-handed from his home.
2 What had Ishmael done? When he was fifteen years old, he brought idols into his home, to play with and to wor-ship as he had seen others do. She said to him: Abraham, cast out this bondwoman and her son(Gen. 21:10), lest my son learn from his behavior.
3 And the thing was very grievous in Abraham’s sight be-cause of his son. And God said unto Abraham: “Let it not be grievous in thy sight because of the lad, and because of thy bondwoman; in all that Sarah saith unto thee, hearken unto her voice” (ibid. 21:11–12). Thereupon, Abraham arose up early in the morning, and took bread and a bottle of wine (ibid., v. 14). (This episode) teaches us that he hated Ishmael because he had gone astray, and as a result drove him and Hagar, his own wife, from his home empty-handed.
4 Do you believe that Abraham would have driven his own wife and son from his home, without clothes or food, sil-ver or cattle (for any other reason)? This (episode) simply teaches us that after Ishmael went astray, he was no longer concerned about him. But if this is so, what is meant by And the thing was very grievous in Abraham’s sight on account of his son? It means that he was actually concerned (about the consequence of) Ishmael’s straying. You find that when Ishmael grew up, he would wait at the crossroads to murder and rob those who passed by
5 Another example of this is stated in Scripture: Now Isaac loved Esau (ibid. 25:28). Apparently, Esau went astray be-cause his father failed to chastise him. As we have learned, the wicked Esau committed five transgressions in one day: he slept with a betrothed maiden, killed a man, denied the concept of resurrection, rejected the es-sential principle of religion (i.e., became an atheist), and despised the birthright. Furthermore, he longed for his father’s death, so that he might slay his brother. He com-pelled Jacob to flee from his father’s house, while he went to Ishmael’s home to learn evil ways from him, and to add to the number of his wives,
6 Similarly, Absalom went astray because David failed to chastise and punish him. He tried to kill (his father), he slept with his father’s ten concubines, he forced his fa-ther to wander about barefoot and weeping, he brought about the slaughter of thousands of Israelites, and caused him innumerable trials
7 Degeneracy in a man’s house is considered far more grievous than the war between God and Magog.
9 And he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes (Prov. 13:24). This alludes to Abraham, who punished Isaac, taught him the law, and guided him in his ways. Yitzchak resembled his father in every respect; in beauty, wisdom, strength, riches, and (the performance of) good deeds. You know this to be so from the fact that though Isaac, at the time of the sacrifice, was thirty-seven years of age, and Abraham was an old man, yet he bound him and tied him as though he were a sheep, and Isaac did not resist. Hence, And he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes.
10 Similarly, the verse And he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes alludes to Jacob. His father, Isaac, taught him the law and reprimanded him (as he studied) in the schoolroom. After he had absorbed everything his father could teach him, he left his father’s home to live in Eber’s home, where he continued to study the law. Therefore, he deserved to inherit the land of Israel. Our patriarch Ja-cob also punished and rebuked his sons, and taught them his customs and practices lest blemishes should appear in their character. Whence do we know this? From the fact that Scripture states: And these are the names of the sons of Israel: Reuben, Simeon, etc. Scripture equates them all. Hence, he that loveth his son chasteneth him betimes.
11 Likewise, He that loveth his son chasteneth him be-times refers to the righteous Bath-sheba, who rebuked her son, Solomon, R. Yosé the son of Hanina posed the question: What is meant by The burden wherewith his mother corrected him? It means that Bath-sheba turned him over a whipping post and punished him by beating him with a rod. What did she say to him as she did this? What, my son? and what, O son of my womb? and what, O son of my vows? With these words she was say-ing to him: “Everyone knows that your father is a God-fearing man, and if you should go astray, they will say that you are my son, and I am responsible for what you are.” And what, O son of my womb? “When the other women of your father’s house became pregnant, they saw the king’s face no more, but I went to him so that I might have a well-formed and powerful son.”6 And what, O son of my vows? “All the other women of your father’s house vowed: I shall have a son fit for kingship, but I vowed: I will have a son wise in the knowledge of the law and worthy of prophecy.” Therefore she beat him and chastised him and said to him: It is not for kings, O Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine; nor for princes to say: “Where is strong drink?”. That is to say, she was tell-ing him: “What have you to do with kings who drink wine, become drunk, and say, O Lemuel, what is God to us? It is not for princes to say: Where is strong drink? Shall he, to whom all secrets of the world are revealed, drink wine and become drunk?” Therefore she chastised him, and He was wiser than all men
12 Every father who chastises his son increases the child’s love and respect for his father, as it is written: Chasten thy son, for there is hope; but set not thy heart on his de-struction (ibid. 19:18). Hence, But he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes.
I believe the message of the first Midrash on our parsha is clear: kids need expectations and boundaries. These are expressions of love, showing you care, and that you believe in the capabilities and potential of the child. Being tough is an expression of love. Unfortunately, we sometimes fear “being too tough”, or are afraid we will be the cause our kids were “turned off”. Perhaps sometimes we just don’t want to fight with our kids. All these choices are based on around us, our own motivations and considerations, not the student’s/child’s, and they know it. (the flip side is true as well, if we are being “tough” for selfish reasons, for reputation, shidduchim or whatnot, the kids see through that too which could result in even worse results).
No one is Chas V’Shalom advocating hitting, as the literal translation of the pasuk and the story with Bat Sheva would imply. It is merely a vivid image of how a parent must be prepared to do uncomfortable things, to be tough, for the sake of their children. As it starts off, “Usually a parent would be furious if someone touched their child, what does it mean then spare the rod spoil the child?”. Our nature is to want to give to our kids and students, and the greatest gifts we can give them are boundaries and expectations. Don’t take this for granted, we have to articulate this in the moment, when we are “laying down the law”, that we are doing this not to hurt them and not because we don’t understand or trust the, rather we love them so much we are willing to make the tough decisions for them, to let them even become angry and “hate” us, that’s how much we care.
Interestingly, the Midrash says that the parent/teacher who is not tough with their child/student ultimately will be hated by them, and perhaps come to hate them themselves. We have to keep our eyes on the big picture. Being tough might make 7th grade-12th grade miserable, but could be the biggest investment, securing our children for the decades to come. In choosing the softer path while our kids are in high school, some Chas V’Shalom could lose them forever. May Hashem give us strength in our choices and help us in bringing out the best in our children.
Have a great Shabbos,
Ari Deutscher MSW