“ Here it comes: rules, rules and more rules! Those parents are always giving us more and more rules. Really now, how many rules can a kid take?!” “ The law here in this country is really ridiculous. How can I get anywhere on time when I have to drive so slowly up these winding roads?! As long as the police don’t see me, then...” These scenarios, all too familiar perhaps, raise the question of where rules originate and what is their necessity in our everyday lives?
A moral society is defined by its code of laws. Without rules and regulations, chaos would reign in every country in the world. All countries around the globe have some code of law, and whether people would like to admit it or not, many of the proper rules of conduct in any country are based on ancient, religious codes of law. And in fact, many of the moral rules in Western countries come from the Bible and its traditions.
Last week the “Ten Commandments” were presented to the Jews in the parsha (Yisro) as the first layer in the intricate blueprint of the network of Torah laws. The ancient Israelites agreed to follow these laws for eternity. This set the foundation for the most ideal path towards their spiritual growth and pursuing closeness to G-d. Being in “microchip’ form, each of the individual commandments actually refer to the many laws the Jews proceeded to receive, both in the written and oral traditions, which have been handed down through generations, since that miraculous receiving of the Torah on Mt. Sinai.
In this week’s parsha (Mishpatim) the civil laws that protect the moral fiber of society, the laws on how man should act with fellow human beings, is listed in very concise form. Again, each of these laws are presented in a “microchip” form, with the Oral Law expounding on them in intricate detail. The oral tradition in Judaism was so great, that after the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE, it became necessary to write down these laws, so that those who were dispersed in the Diaspora would be able to retain the ancient, holy legacy of their ancestors without forgetting any details.
The compilation of these texts, is called the Talmud, which combines the Mishna and Gemora, and the deep explanations of the ancient Sages. It is from here that Jews learn Jewish law in its entirety, and it is from here that the high standards of conduct required of all moral human beings are studied. In all of these texts, the Sages modeled for us the skills for properly teaching rules and laws, for all generations of parents to come. In handing down our traditions and way of life to children, we need to raise them wisely, for them to want to follow in the righteous path of their heritage. This certainly cannot be accomplished by ordering them about, yelling at them for any minor mistake, or punishing them severely each time they slightly break a rule. Part of the moral rules of behavior in the Torah, is that parents should be role models, and as such, must emulate the ways of G-d, in loving-kindness, slowness to anger, mercy, bestowing of goodness and proper guidance.
Our children need to understand the rules they follow, on the level that, at their particular age, they can appreciate. This is the meaning of the opening words of this parsha: “And these are the ordinances that you shall place before them...”. The model we have set for us is: explain all the rules, as a table set before them (Rashi). It is not enough for humans to simply hear a rule and follow it perfectly. Every person needs to understand the laws, their implications and applications in everyday circumstances. Having the laws “set before them” in turn leads our children, as they grow into adulthood, to being able to independently apply these rules to their own experiences and understand, even more deeply, the wisdom innate to these laws, even when we are no longer near them to guide them and explain things.
THIS WEEK: Build your child’s understanding of life by taking the extra 20 seconds to explain a rule. “We are going to visit Grandma because it shows that we love and respect her.” “When you clear the table, it helps our whole family live in a clean space.” “When you pray for others, your prayers help them in many ways.” May these be the words our children repeat to themselves when they are engaging in life’s tasks...