The Midrash says in this week’s parsha “Worse off is the person who learns Torah and does not fulfill it than the person who does not learn it and does not fulfill it”. The question is, both people are not acting properly by not doing mitzvos, but at least the first one is learning! Why, comparatively is he worse off?

Many times I have heard teens say they’d “rather not know” if their doing something wrong. What is the motivation behind this? When a person learns something, they change and grow. They have a new outlook on life, and must reassess how everything fits together, how they make decisions, what their priorities are, and assess their behaviors. This can lead to guilt and shame, emotions no one loves. This is where the idea “Ignorance is bliss” comes from. Is the Torah promoting such a state?

What I believe the Midrash is teaching us is that knowledge comes with a price. Learning done properly provides the tools for maturity, success, leadership and many other positive character traits. However, it also comes with a hefty responsibility, that of living up to the new standard learned. Change is hard, growing up is hard. Kids, like many of us, would prefer the benefits without the hassle. Teens want the freedom of being treated as a trustworthy responsible adult but are not as excited about the taking on and living up to the responsibilities of being an adult. The answer to this we learn from this Midrash, which is telling us that learning without putting into practice is worse, but not in a negative way. The Midrash is expressing disappointment at the lost potential, implying that one who learns has greater opportunities and abilities. When we learn, we have raised ourselves up, we have a higher potential, and it is disappointing when someone doesn’t fulfill their potential, not necessarily for the instructor/parent, but for the individual.

Teens need to learn to deal with responsibilities and failures in the same way. They need to feel from us that we don’t take their mistakes personally, rather we care for them, that they are the ones who lose out when they don’t reach their potential. A parent or teachers disappointment should not stem from actually looking at the childs negative behaviors/attributes, but at the lost potential. When kids need to be disciplined, they shouldn’t be made to feel less, rather they should be built up through expressing how they are above and beyond, better than whatever behavior they need discipline for. They need to learn in a way that shows we believe in them and their capabilities, and if they put their minds and efforts into it they can accomplish anything. The focus is not on their faults but rather on their abilities.

Shabbat Shalom, Good Shabbos

Rabbi Ari Deutscher MSW