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Mishlei: As A Parent To A Child

“Hear, my child, the discipline of your father, and do not forsake the teaching of your mother.” (Proverbs 1:8) If you divide the book of Proverbs into three sections, as does the Gra, 1-10, 10-25, and 26-31, you will find the term, “B’ni,” my child 12 times in the first section, and only a total of seven in the last two sections. Shlomo Hamelech is trying to teach us as a parent teaches a child.

The theme of the first book is wisdom, its value, its fundamental role in life and eternal existence, and how to avoid foolishness. The wisest of all men wants to move our hearts to hear his words and desire wisdom. He turns to us, people he does not know, and wants to share something that he knows will transform and elevate our lives. He cannot begin with powerful words of wisdom, for we have yet to attain the necessary wisdom to absorb such words and lessons.

So, he chose to emulate God, the Teacher and Father. Rashi explains that when we speak of God as our Father, it is because He is our Rebbi, our teacher. It is not because He created and formed us, and gives us life, but because He is our Rebbi, and a Rebbi is like a father.

Shlomo is speaking to us as a father would speak to a child when he wants to share the life lessons most important to him.

We spend a great deal of time attempting to teach our children. How can we convey that a specific lesson is of higher value than all the others we have transmitted? How can we catch our children’s attention when what we want to share is more important than anything else we have taught them?

Shlomo begins the actual lessons of Mishlei with, “My child.” He creates an image of a parent speaking to a child with special care. The parent begins with a powerful expression of love and connection, “My child.” The child knows that this “lesson” is different, and hopefully will listen with more care than usual.

In order to fully hear Shlomo as he begins to speak to us, we have to practice how to share our most valued ideas with our children. Take note of all your interactions with your children. “Don’t touch that!” is teaching. “You have to clean up after yourself,” is also a lesson, an important one. How would we begin a conversation about something that is different and more important?

Shlomo Hamelech is reminding us that such lessons must come from love, not from our greater wisdom or experience.

I recently recalled one such lesson from my father zt”l: He noticed that I was upset and asked me, “Simchale, are you angry with me?” I had far too much awe to admit that I was angry, but he insisted. He put on his jacket and hat, pulled a chair up to mine, leaned forward, listening carefully, as I listed my grievances.

He repeated everything on my list, and then said, “Please give me time to think about what you said.” 

The lesson wasn’t finished and I had already learned that it is OK to be angry, that when you want to send a message that you take someone’s pain seriously you dress in a manner that reflects the seriousness of the other’s concerns, that you sit in a way that conveys how seriously you are listening, that you repeat what the other says to show that you listened, and that you can, and probably should, ask for time to think. We tend to immediately respond, especially if someone is telling us that he is angry with us. My father asked for time.

I now suspect that he asked for time to teach me all of the above and to have an opportunity to absorb all the lessons. I felt like a person transformed, and there was more to come.

He came back to my room about thirty minutes later and invited me for a drive. He took me to Carvel, a special treat, and we sat in the car as I devoured my ice cream. “I thought about what you said,” he spoke, “and I believe I understand why you are angry. I want you to know that if you feel angry, then you are angry and that is 100% OK. Your only concern should be how you express your anger.”

“I agree with you about x, y and z, but I see a, b and c, differently. You are still angry, but perhaps my explanation will make you feel better.”

My father taught me so much that afternoon that I am still absorbing all the lessons, but I must tell you that had he not begun with “Simchale,” or had he not put on his jacket and hat, I would not be as attached to those lessons 40 years later.

My father knew how to speak as a parent to a child, and how to convey that this specific lesson was different and more important. Thanks Pa.

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