Date: November 30th 2017


Parshat Yayishlach relates that the son of the ruler of the city of Shechem abducted and sodomized Dinah, the daughter of Yaakov (the Forefather Jacob). In response, two of her 11 brothers, Shimon and Levi, killed all of that city’s males in an act of retribution.

Quoting the Midrash, the Commentary of Rashi states that Shimon and Levi were criticized for not first seeking counsel from their father. The Commentary of Mizrachi (by Rabbi Eliyahu Mizrachi, 1455-1525) on Rashi adds that the practice of seeking parental council in this type of situation is customary among sons.

The Mizrachi further explains that the basic plan to kill the males of Shechem was proper, for, as some commentaries explain, all of the city’s males were held guilty of the crime because they made no attempt to stop it – which they could have. In fact, Dinah’s entire family had already agreed upon this course of action. However, before actually acting, certain details should have been discussed with Yaakov. He might have advised that all of the brothers should assault the city together rather than risk Shimon and Levi acting alone. Yaakov also feared possible reprisals from the neighboring nations. He, therefore, may have preferred to first apprise them of their plan of action. Discussing and explaining the justification for the attack before it actually occurred might have mitigated some of their antagonism.

Based on Rashi alone, this text would not prove that, as a general rule, parental advice should always be solicited before acting. Yaakov was the most righteous, learned, and wise man of that age, or of almost any other age. As such, Shimon and Levi should have first consulted with their father.

But the Mizrachi ads that, what Shimon and Levi should have done (seeking out parental advice), is the custom among sons - all sons - seemingly irrespective of who their parents are. How can the Mizrachi be understood? The issue faced by Dinah’s brothers was not of a familial nature, such as a dispute among siblings or between parents and children. Rather, their quandary concerned how exactly to wage war. Is it the widespread custom to seek parental counsel on these matters? Most parents are not experts in either politics or warfare. Others are typically far more capable and knowledge knowledgeable in these areas.

The Mizrachi is nevertheless saying that when there is a normative and ideal parental parent-child relationship, such questions will be first brought to the parents, even though they are not the most competent resources on the subject at hand. Why? Common sense dictates (or answers) that due to their special love, parents can bolster the children with their emotional support, they can be a sympathetic sounding board for ideas, or they can help direct the children to a most knowledgeable consultant.

This model scenario could be compared to two twins who were incredibly close to each other. Each would automatically first discuss all personal dilemmas with the other, notwithstanding the availability of others more qualified to advise on the issue. It is not that the practice of consulting with each other is what creates the inordinate closeness between them. Rather, because they are already so in tune with each other, their automatic knee-jerk response to all issues confronted is to first talk it over with their opposite number.

Similarly, the Mizrachi is teaching that when a family’s dynamics are in step with the Torah's ideal, there will be parent/child relationships of this character.

The Mizrachi describes how the child should relate to parents. However, he does not discuss exactly how children can be reared to embrace this ideal. Presumably, the family environment should feature open communication, trust, emotional support, and unconditional love as well as parental guidance and discipline. Furthermore, to whatever extent possible, the family should be suffused with a spirit of learning and theoretical/intellectual dialogue. Family milieus of the ilk will likely help produce children who will interact with parents in the manner described by the Mizrachi.

Some parents seem to feel that they help their children most by constantly criticizing their deficient contact. Common sense dictates that there is an appropriate time and place for parental reproof and discipline. However, continual fault-finding should not be the basic communication of parent to child. A child subjected to constant reproof will likely be disinclined to discuss real issues with parents, for the experience will likely become yet another occasion for further censure. Family dynamics of this kind are the antithesis of the Mizrachi’s model.

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