Why did Rabbi Auerbach scold me?
A husband bought his wife a voucher at the neighborhood flower shop, and told his wife that from time to time he would like her to buy herself a flower, a personal gift from him. Though it is a nice gesture, obviously it does not accomplish the goal. The main goal is not the flower, but the attention, the giving. So too in educating adolescents, it is not about buying gifts, but the inner feeling behind them.
I get a lot of advice in regard to adolescent education from Rabbi Mordechai Auerbach shlita, the son of the late Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, ZT”L. The Rabbi always discussed how important it is to love children, and that only in this way can they grow to make good choices. For example, the Mishnah in Tractate Avot (1:12) teaches about the virtue of Aharon HaCohen who "loves peace and a pursuer of peace, a lover of mankind and able to bring man closer to the Torah." It is incumbent of us to follow in Aharon’s path and be his student. I once asked the Rav, "How can we let children feel that we love them?" I was hoping the Rav would share some good practical advice, but the Rav gently scolded me, saying, "You should not let them feel loved, you really have to love them!”.
I think this is a very essential point that a lot of parents need to get stronger at. Obviously every parent loves their children, but friction and quarrels cause tension that the children recognize and become confused. That is why love needs to be stimulated. A drama class will not help here. A child's antennae can feel fakeness and dishonesty, and they dislike it. Any flower that is not connected to a loving heart is not really helpful. One really needs to do inner work to stimulate and awaken love, until it becomes second nature and you want to. Our inner thinking has the power to radiate and change reality.
A parent, who manages to do such inner work, radiates something else, something powerful that is able to help the adolescent make good choices. After all, when it comes to trying to influence adolescents, we find ourselves in trouble, as it is very difficult to influence those that have free choice. Rebuke achieves the opposite. Arguments and attempts at persuasion only cause adolescents to seize the other side, and fortify themselves more and more in the opposite direction. This is not the way to make a difference. How can we influence an adolescent with free choice to choose well? Indeed, it is a very difficult challenge, and it is not enough to just scatter flowers to change the situation.
In this weeks Parsha the Torah states: (Ch 21 verse 3) “אם בגפו יבא בגפו יצא”. The Torah could have just stated the end of the verse that if he is married when entering slavery he leaves married. Perhaps the Torah uses the term גוף specifically to state that the way he enters slavery physically is the way he returns to freedom. However, that comes to exclude his mental state. One enters slavery because he stole and does not have the means to repay. But why did he steal in the first place?
We see from here that slavery entails two aspects. The first aspect is the physical. The individual did something, in this case steal, and therefore he physically belongs to his new master. The second aspect is the individuals mental being. The slave chose, perhaps due to dire circumstances, to steal. As we read in Parshat Bo, Hashem said to Moshe, that because of קוצר רוח, mental anguish, they did not listen to you. We see the slave has become mentally beholden to his/her master as well.
The word "בגפו" means that there is not much a master can do physically. How the slave enters is how the slave leaves. This excludes the mental aspect which can be changed. That is the masters’ responsibility. How does he achieve that? “ויצא חינם אין כסף”, the slave leaves freely, he does not have to repay. This teaches us that the master must do everything full heartedly without the expectation of return when the slave leaves his domain. Some slaves leave after six years and sometimes the slave may stay around for 50 years.
The same applies with our adolescents. Some feel enslaved in their current situation. It is now incumbent on the parent to do everything within their means to help the child shake off the feeling of enslavement. The only way that can be done is with love. Chazal provide a parable to this with a rooster that has been soiled with dirt, that others will have to work very hard to clean it, but if the rooster wants to clean itself all he needs to do is shake, and all the sand and dirt will be removed (Genesis Rabbah, Parsha 75, Anyone who sees a dog come out of water, immediately understands the parable). How can we succeed in influencing our adolescents to shake it off, leave a bad path and make the right choices? Beyond prayer, the way is through love. Do observational work, look at their virtues. They are there. Try to focus on them, illuminate them. They need to feel the warmth radiating fully.
Once you have succeeded in forming that bond, you can offer practical advice: experiences of success, strengthening the bond, thinking about the similarities between the two of you, talking about the common, but all this will not be useful if there is no strong foundation of true love, which needs to be stimulated with inner work. (As taught by Rabbi Auerbach ZT”L.)