Friday, June 14, 2013

Excuse Me, Is It Possible...

“Don’t be chutzpadik” is the modern Hebrew equivalent of the classic American parenting admonition: “Don’t be fresh!” and “Don’t talk back!” The challenges of parenting have always included the art of balancing a relationship with one’s child while maintaining the proper amount of warmth and discipline. This is especially true during the “know-it-all-years,” when a child is most prone to contradict his/her parents. 

Jewish parents will be thrilled to find out that, when it comes to parent-child relationships, Jewish law is strongly on the parents’ side. The fundamental Torah statement, “Every man, your mother and father shall you revere,” is actually defined by a fascinating array of many specific laws. One popular example is that a child may not sit in the seat in which his/her father or mother customarily sit (Leviticus 19:3, and Rashi). 

It seems rather obvious to note that being chutzpadik (talking back to one’s parent) is a breech of the obligation to revere one’s father or mother. But, the halacha (Jewish law) goes even further. A person should even avoid contradicting one’s parent. It is not nearly as easy as it sounds. Here is an example cited in the Talmud:

(Following a discussion of required punishments, Rab Judah tells his father, “Teach it not thus,” and then proceeds to present what he feels is a more accurate understanding. This text follows that correction.) Samuel said to Rab Judah: ‘You keen scholar, do not speak to your father like this, for it has been taught: If one’s [father]  is [unwittingly] transgressing a precept of the Torah, his son must not say, ‘Father, you transgress a Biblical precept’, but [should] say, ‘Such is written in the Torah.’ [The sages continue the discussion one step further]...Rather, he must say this, ‘Father, the following verse is written in the Torah [and let his father come to his own understanding]’ (Talmud Sanhedrin 80b-81a).

Rather than pointing out a parent’s mistake, it is preferred that the child say, “Excuse me, is it possible that...” or find another discreet means of letting the parent know of his/her error. Most importantly, the above quote demonstrates that for a mitzvah like revering one’s parents, even the most highly regarded scholar must stay on guard.

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