Sunday, August 17, 2014

Re'eh 74 - How to deal with Negative Influences

The parasha-portion warns us against the involvement with bad influences that will cause us and/or our children to stray from the path of God and serve idolatry. The Torah Devarim 13:2-12 discusses 2 cases –A. the prophet who is most likely a brilliant and inspiring orator and has the ability to produce signs, wonders or miracles in order to convince his audience to serve other gods.
-(ב) כִּי יָקוּם בְּקִרְבְּךָ נָבִיא ...וְנָתַן אֵלֶיךָ אוֹת אוֹ מוֹפֵת: (ג) וּבָא הָאוֹת וְהַמּוֹפֵת אֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר אֵלֶיךָ לֵאמֹר נֵלְכָה אַחֲרֵי אֱלֹהִים אֲחֵרִים and B. family members: siblings or your own kids who try to entice you to worship other gods.
(ז) כִּי יְסִיתְךָ אָחִיךָ בֶן אִמֶּךָ אוֹ בִנְךָ אוֹ בִתְּךָ ....בַּסֵּתֶר לֵאמֹר נֵלְכָה וְנַעַבְדָה אֱלֹהִים אֲחֵרִים
The Torah warns us that we should not listen to the prophet who is trying to influence us
 :(ד) לֹא תִשְׁמַע אֶל דִּבְרֵי הַנָּבִיא הַהוּא,

but when it comes to dealing with a family member or our kids who are trying to entice us and influence us, the Torah repeats the warning and caution 5 times- you shall not accede to him, listen to him, take pity on him, be compassionate towards him or conceal him.
(ט) לֹא תֹאבֶה לוֹ וְלֹא תִשְׁמַע אֵלָיו וְלֹא תָחוֹס עֵינְךָ עָלָיו וְלֹא תַחְמֹל וְלֹא תְכַסֶּה עָלָיו

The questions we need to answer – A. how can we protect our kids from outside influences.? B – Why does the Torah offer us more words of warning and caution (5) in dealing with our family members and kids –, and only a simple ' do not listen ' to the prophet who is a brilliant orator and can do miracles. ? C When kids are no longer as observant as we would wish them to be, how we protect ourselves from their influence ?.

Parents can hold onto the kids and not be afraid of losing them to their peers if they focus on relationship, accepting kids for who they are and not what they do and solving problems in a collaborative way. A Tough Love approach where parents enforce limits and boundaries and show warmth and love is problematic. Without feeling accepted, respected and valued, love is perceived as being only conditionally offered. And this is what peers, both  negative and positive ones offer kids – unconditional acceptance.

A good relationship and healthy attachment to parents is not enough to counter negative peer culture. Kids today are very peer orientated and seek less the guidance and acceptance of their parents. Friends are so important and influence the type of kid your child will be. The reason is - kids mirror themselves on their friends, they measure themselves against their friends, who they are, is  seen in terms of friends. And that is why the Mishnah in Avot1:6  says – buy- invest in friendship. Peers are the real role models. Even better is to let kids mix with people of different generations and have mentors. Put teens together in youth movements, you have the problem of teen culture - they act worse than preteens. With people of different generations, they then show incredible ability and responsibility. We have to invest in positive friends for our kids.

But we also have to invest in their education, in kids developing their socio-moral identities, with a sense of right and wrong and a sense of caring for others.

Barbara Coloroso was once asked to help parents with their young teenager. When he was a pre-teen he was such a good kid, he always listened to us. Now he no longer listens to us, just to his teenage friends. She answered the parents that nothing has changed – he used to listen to you, now he is listening to them. Kids have to be able to listen to their ' inner voice and conscience ' and act in a self-determined way , acting on their beliefs and values and not follow the crowd.

The reason why the Torah repeats the warning and cautions us against listening to a family member or a child , is that we have an affinity, closeness and a natural fondness for them so we tend to overlook or excuse wrong doing, cover up for misdeeds and avoid dealing with difficult problems that might cause tension and friction. Solving problems in a collaborative way, addressing the concerns of both parties helps to deal with issues in a caring and respectful way. If parents normally do this, kids are more likely to accept a boundary or limit even  when they are not so happy about it.

When kids are no longer as observant as we would wish them to be, how do we protect ourselves from their influence?

Parents are influenced by their kids. We see too often that parents of not so observant kids lower their own standards of keeping the mitzvoth and involvement in learning and prayer. The sons of Noah who came out of the ark were Shem, Ham and Japheth – Ham being the father of Canaan.- Bereishit 9:18 The Seforno notes that Ham was similar in character to his evil son, implying that the father was influenced by his son.In these situations parents have to set themselves higher standards of observance of Mitzvoth and be more involved in learning , prayer and community charity projects.
We can help our kids and ourselves by having a positive and mentoring relationship with our kids, provide them a positive and supportive environment –good friends and mentors and an education where we and our kids influence and impact on society. In this way we protect ourselves and the family from negative influences.

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