There is a famous Midrash in this week’s parsha where the nations mentioned bring claims using the Torah to Alexander the great against the Jews, who select one representative to defend them, Gevia Ben Kosem. The Kenaanim claim that Eretz Kenaan was theirs and taken from them by Bnei Yisroel (to which he answered that the Kenaanim are also called by the Torah avadim to the children of Shem), the Yishmaeilim claim that they deserve a double inheritance form Avraham as they are the Bechor (to which he answeres that Avraham in this weeks parsha had many children and divided up the inheritance during his lifetime as he liked), and Mitzraim claimed that Bnei Yisroel owed back everything they “borrowed” from them during Yetzias Mitzraim (to which he answered that Bnei Yisroel are owed payment for their work as slaves). The idea of sending Gevia Ben Kosem was because, as a commoner, if his defence was defeated Bnei Yisroel could claim that he didn’t really represent them, and if he was successful then great.

I think its clear that these nations were not straight forward in their ultimate goals, this was manipulation on their part to strike at Klal Yisroel. I think there are 2 important lessons we can learn from this Midrash regarding chinuch.

Often teens and kids can be manipulative. Sometimes they do this on purpose. Mostly they do it without realizing, they are just focused on a certain goal, getting their way, and will use any tools necessary. They also can become manipulative if their parents/mechanchim leave that possibility open by being unclear and/or inconsistent. How does this Midrash tell us to respond to such a situation?

  1. When a teen is making a big deal out of something and using “logic” and “arguments” it is usually not a good idea to take them on directly. Just because they make a solid argument still doesn’t meant they are right (they might be correct, but not RIGHT), yet if a parent sticks to their guns they are now manipulated into feeling guilty and made to look mean or unreasonable (sound familiar?). Having an outside, like Gevia Ben Kosem, diffuses this. If they are unsuccessful in explaining the situation to a teen, then a parent could always claim they didn’t represent their point of view. If they are successful (which they have a better chance at, being an outside and objective opinion) then great.
  2. Gevia did not address their complaints DIRECTLY. If he did, he would have gotten sucked into an argument on their terms and according to their twisted logic. Instead, he showed that their argument was actually part of a bigger picture, and added new information to it, and used outside arguments without actually calling them wrong. The chances of proving to a teen that they are wrong is slim to none, but often they cut and paste pieces of a situation or rules to suit their argument, magnifying and zooming in on them (this is also a manipulation, framing things conveniently to fit their perspective). By zooming out and putting things in context a lot of their “logic”.

To be clear, the point of these tips is not for a parent to “come out on top” of an argument. However teens push boundaries and parents often feel pressured and guilty to give in, which is ok sometimes. By using the above in situations that require sticking to your guns you can diffuse difficult situations.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Ari Deutscher MSW