Devar Torah - Shoftim

Thursday, 24 August, 2017 - 4:00 pm

We are our Children's Keepers
By Rabbi Shimon Raichik

This week's Torah portion of Shoftim opens with the mitzvah to appoint “judges and law-enforcement officials for yourself in all of your gates that the L‑rd your G‑d is giving you, for your tribes, and they shall judge the people with righteous judgment.”

The human body is a city with seven gates—seven portals to the outside world: the two eyes, two ears, two nostrils and the mouth. Here, too, it is incumbent upon us to place internal “judges” to discriminate and regulate what should be admitted and what should be kept out, and “officers” to enforce the judges’ decisions .(Sifsei Kohen)

As parents and mashpiim we have the opportunity and obligation to take care and attend to guarding the gates windows and doors of our children and students both within and outside our homes and schools.

Parents teachers and schools have a heightened responsibility in today's environment. Everything is much more open and available than ever before. With the internet and smartphones our children have easy and casual access to things which we could have never imagined they would be able to see. And see they do.

There was a recent survey of 90 high level students taken in a yeshiva program. 85 percent said that they had seen unacceptable content (schmutz) through their smartphone or the internet. Whether it's through their phones unrestricted internet or circumvented filters at home or through friends, many parents have no idea or are in denial about what our children are up to. It is truly distressing and a worry that we must and are entrusted to address. There is a story of student who's parents were presented with evidence of unacceptable content their child was involved with on the internet. Notwithstanding the irrefutable evidence,  the parents nevertheless blamed the messenger instead of understanding the real problem! They are not alone, many have handled this situation in this in a similar fashion,  preferring denial over the truth.

While it is true that the Rebbe wanted us to use technology in the service of Hashem nevertheless the Rebbe was clear about television. He unambiguously opposed having a television in the home. Once there was a television set that was taken away from someone being stored in Bais Rivkah in France. The Rebbe told them to take the television and throw it out. Would the Rebbe agree to what's happening today with smartphones? Absolutely not! He would be vehemently opposed and speak openly against them.

What is the lesson from all of this to us today? First of all our job as parents is to put our own phones way when we get home. By spending our time with the family we make the strongest statement possible. We relate nonverbally a most important message to our child. We are saying you come first before anything else. This gives our children strength in their lives to be strong as well. Once there was a school that considered canceling homework so parents could spend more time together with their children instead of them being preoccupied with homework. What they found was that the families did not use the time for bonding, instead they were distracted and doing other things. They concluded that it's better to give homework so at least the children will have some time with their parents as they help them complete their homework assignments.

Teachers in schools, with all due respect, should also put their cell phones away and set an example for the children. No teacher should be seen from the moment they arrive until the moment they leave with the cell phone in their hands.

We can also serve as advisors for our older children. In the parsha the Torah instructs us to set up court systems comprising judges who determine the law, and officials who enforce the judges’ rulings. In the prophecies regarding the era of the future Redemption, however, Hashem says, “I will restore your judges as at first and your counsellors as in the beginning” (Yeshayahu 1:26). The pasuk makes no mention of law enforcement officials, only judges who will determine the law, and counsellors who will advise the people how to conduct their lives.

This is because in the era of the Moshiach all evil will be annulled (see Zechariah 13:2), including the yetzer hara—the negative inclination we have within us. This will eliminate the need for police to enforce the law. Instead, counsellors, whose task will be not to enforce laws or give orders, but to advise, will complement the judges’ authority.

Advice, by definition, is offered; i.e., it is a suggestion, not a command. The person advising speaks as though to an equal, in a manner that the recipient does not feel compelled but can come to understand that this advice is truly in his best interest.

This will be the role of the “counsellors” in the era of Moshiach: they will help people recognize the value of adhering to the Torah’s laws on their own. Consequently, in the time of Moshiach we will not only observe the laws of the Torah (taught by the judges) obediently, we will do so with inner passion and drive. We can learn from this how we can focus with our older children on inspiring them and encouraging them to desire on their own to do what is right. It doesn't require force only inspiration and  guidance similar to the way it will be in the times of Moshiach.

As a child I remember seeing my father sitting over a sefer late into the night. Seeing my father this way inspired me and gave me a perspective of what's important in life. When we are good examples for our children then our words have a positive effect . When we say to them that watching inappropriate content on the internet is wrong, es past nisht, meaning that it's not appropriate for them and they are much too good for that kind of behavior; when we inspire them to stand taller they hear what we say and they take it to heart.

By living an inspired life full Chassidus the Torah and mitzvos, may we merit to be living examples to our children and our students and together merit the geula ha'amitis now.

A Good Shabbos

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