Parashat Debarim: Doing Our Job as Parents
In Parashat Debarim, Moshe Rabbenu recalls the time when he lamented to Beneh Yisrael, “Echa Esa Lebadi Torhachem U’masa’achem Ve’ribechem” – “How can I handle on my own your troubles, your burdens and your fighting?” (1:12).
The Midrash Echa draws an association between this verse and the opening verse of Megilat Echa, Yirmiyahu’s lament for the destruction of the Temple: “If they would have heeded, ‘Echa Esa Ledadi,’ there would not have been ‘Echa Yasheba Badad’.” Yirmiyahu’s lamentations would have been avoided if Beneh Yisrael had heeded Moshe’s cry, “Echa Esa Lebadi.”
Moshe bemoaned the fact that he alone bore the burden of criticizing and reprimanding the people for their wrongful behavior. The rebuke of a Rabbi and leader can only go so far. His knowledge of the people’s spiritual ills is limited, as is his influence. He cannot bear this burden alone. The people will grow and change only if they are looking out for each other and respectfully offering constructive criticism. Indeed, the Gemara in Masechet Shabbat comments that Jerusalem was destroyed because people did not criticize one another. They focused only on themselves and their own behavior, and felt no responsibility for what others were doing. In such a society, there is no possibility of change, because nobody is working to correct other people’s wayward behavior. Thus, since the people ignored the plea of “Echa Esa Lebadi,” Jerusalem was destroyed.
Many Halachic authorities have noted that the Misva of “Tocheha” – criticizing and reprimanding fellow Jews for their sinful behavior – no longer applies. This Misva requires not simply criticizing, but criticizing effectively. This means that our motives must be pure and sincere, and we must express the criticism without any tinge of anger, resentment or arrogance, for only in this way can the criticism achieve its desired effect. Criticism expressed angrily or condescendingly will not only fail, but will, in all likelihood, cause the other person to persist in his wrongful conduct. Giving criticism the right way has become very difficult, and most people are ill-equipped to meet this challenge. The question thus arises, how do we fulfill the Misva of “Tocheha”? If this was the mistake that led to the Temple’s destruction, then how can we correct this mistake so we can earn the Temple’s restoration?
To find an answer, let us turn our attention to the famous story of Kamsa and Bar Kamsa, which the Gemara tells in Masechet Gittin. A man hosting a celebration sent an invitation to his friend Kamsa, but it was mistakenly delivered to Bar Kamsa, a man he despised. When Bar Kamsa arrived at the party, the host threw him out, in full view of the all guests. Enraged, Bar Kamsa traveled to Rome and falsely reported that the Jews were planning a revolt against the empire. This led the emperor to wage war against the Jews, resulting in the destruction of Jerusalem.
The Gemara introduces this story by commenting, “Jerusalem was destroyed because of Kamsa and Bar Kamsa.” The implication seems to be that both Kamsa and Bar Kamsa were guilty of bringing about the destruction. The Gemara faults not only Bar Kamsa, who reacted to his humiliation by falsely reporting about his fellow Jews to the hostile government, but also Kamsa – the man who was supposed to receive the invitation. What did he do wrong? Why is he blamed for the tragedy of the fall of Jerusalem?
The answer emerges from a very brief comment made by the Maharsha (Rav Shemuel Eidels, 1555-1631) on this Gemara. He writes that Kamsa and Bar Kamsa were father and son. “Bar Kamsa” means “son of Kamsa,” and thus Kamsa was Bar Kamsa’s father.
This brief remark sheds light on this entire story. Kamsa is blamed because he raised a child to become Bar Kamsa, to do something as criminal as bring false accusations to the emperor. He did not train his son to be forgiving and sensible. His son learned to react impulsively to anger and frustration, and this led to Jerusalem’s destruction. Kamsa, who failed to properly educate his child, is thus blamed for this calamity.
This is the aspect of “Tocheha” which we are still capable of doing, and still required to do. We may be unable in our day and age to effectively criticize our neighbors and relatives, but we can and must train and educate our children. It is wrong to let our children act as they wish and hope or expect that someday it will change. Of course, there is never any guarantee of success, but it is our job as parents to try to train our children to act properly. This might very well be the Gemara’s intent when it says that Jerusalem was destroyed because people did not criticize one another. Parents did not criticize their children. They made no attempt to correct their children’s wayward behavior, and thus the Jews ended up with a Bar Kamsa, who caused the Roman government to wage war against the Jews.
The Temple’s destruction occurred during the month called “Ab,” which means “father.” This is a time to remind ourselves of our role as parents, of our responsibility to try and steer our children in the proper direction. The tragedies of Ab happened because we failed to fulfill the role of “Ab,” of steering our children towards the right path. Part of our efforts to earn our long-awaited redemption is to reassert our role as parents, and to make a concentrated effort to educate our children effectively, so that the next generation will be worthy of greeting Mashiah and serving Hashem in the rebuilt Bet Ha’mikdash, speedily and in our time, Amen.