This week, while reading one of my favorite parshah authors, Harav Mordechai Kamenetsky, I learned a great lesson on parenting and teaching.
The parshah describes the physio-spiritual plague that affects gossips and rumor mongers: the plague of tzora’as. Tzora’as appears as a white lesion on various parts of the body, and the status of the afflicted person depends on its shade of white, its size, and its development. The afflicted person does not go to a doctor. He is quarantined, evaluated, and reevaluated the entire ordeal, and the outcome is determined and executed by none other than the Kohen. In the 47 verses that discuss the bodily affliction of tzora’as, the Kohen is mentioned no less than 45 times! “He shall be brought to the Kohen,” “The Kohen shall look,” “The Kohen shall declare him contaminated,” “The Kohen shall quarantine him,” “The Kohen shall declare him pure” (Leviticus 13:1–47).
Why must the Torah include the Kohen’s involvement in every aspect of the process? More so, why does the Torah mention the Kohen’s involvement in almost every posuk? Would it not been enough to have one encompassing edict: “The entire process is supervised and executed according to the advice of the Kohen”?
The parents of a retarded child entered the study of Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach. They had decided to place their child in a special school in which he would live; the question was which one.
“Have you asked the boy where he would like to go?” asked the sage. The parents were dumbfounded.
“Our child cannot be involved in the process! He hasn’t the capacity to understand,” explained the father.
Reb Shlomo Zalman was not moved. “You are sinning against your child. You are removing him from his home, placing him in a foreign environment, and you don’t even consult with the child? He will feel helpless and betrayed; I’d like to talk to him.”
The couple quickly went home and brought the boy to the Torah sage.
“My name is Shlomo Zalman,” smiled the venerable scholar. “What’s yours?”
“Akiva,” exclaimed Rabbi Auerbach, “I am one of the leading Torah sages in the world and many people discuss their problems with me. Now, I need your help.
“You are about to enter a special school, and I need a representative to look after all the religious matters in the school. I would like to give you semichah, making you my official rabbinical representative. You can freely discuss any issue with me whenever you want.”
Reb Shlomo Zalman gave the boy a warm handshake and hug. The boy entered the school and flourished. In fact, with the great feeling of responsibility, he rarely wanted to leave the school, even for a weekend; after all, who would take care of any questions that would arise?
Part of the metzora’s (leper’s) healing process is dismissal from the Jewish camp. However, it is a delicate ordeal, one wrought with trauma, pain, and emotional distress. The Kohen, a man of peace, love, and compassion, must be there for every part of the process. He must be there to guide him through the tense incubation period as well as his dismissal. Moreover, he is there again to ease him back into society.
Often, when parenting or teaching, we are forced to mete out a disciplinary action to our children or students. The child deserves and needs the consequence – but the way the consequence is given is as important as the consequence itself. Rabbi Kamenetsky shares expert advice on parenting and teaching:
- The Torah teaches us that every traumatic decision needs spiritual guidance. It can turn a cold-hearted punishment into a process of spiritual redemption and into a beautiful experience.
- Disciplinary action should never be personal.
- Disciplinary action should never be given in an angry tone.
- Try to make the consequence match the action (crime).
- Let the child or student know that in life we make choices. If you choose to break a rule, you are making a choice to get a consequence.
Let us take to heart the lessons of the parshah, as we constantly strive to improve our own parenting.
Rabbi Peretz Scheinerman