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THE ART OF PARENTING TROUBLED TEENS
One of the hard things to understand about the Egyptian exile is that the numbers don’t match. In this week’s Parasha, the Torah tells us that the Jews were in Egypt for 430 years. This contradicts the number of years that the Rabbis tell us they were actually in Egypt – 210 years – equal to the numerical value of the word, רדו. As Yaakov told his sons the first time to go down to Egypt. וַיֹּ֕אמֶר הִנֵּ֣ה שָׁמַ֔עְתִּי כִּ֥י יֶשׁ־שֶׁ֖בֶר בְּמִצְרָ֑יִם רְדוּ־שָׁ֙מָּה֙ וְשִׁבְרוּ־לָ֣נוּ מִשָּׁ֔ם וְנִחְיֶ֖ה וְלֹ֥א נָמֽוּת:
To reconcile this, we can say, that the 430 years of being a stranger in a foreign land would include the years Avraham Avinu, Yitzhak, and Yaakov lived in the Land of Israel, but did not settle there. Whenever it says that they lived in Israel, the Torah uses the word גר, lived temporarily. When the Torah uses the words וישב with our forefathers, implying that they tempted to live in a settled fashion, it is usually the beginning of some trouble, just to make sure that they don’t actually feel settled in the Land, so that can count for the 400 years decree. וַיִּסַּ֨ע מִשָּׁ֤ם אַבְרָהָם֙ אַ֣רְצָה הַנֶּ֔גֶב וַיֵּ֥שֶׁב בֵּין־קָדֵ֖שׁ וּבֵ֣ין שׁ֑וּר וַיָּ֖גָר בִּגְרָֽר: And then, וַיֹּ֧אמֶר אַבְרָהָ֛ם אֶל־שָׂרָ֥ה אִשְׁתּ֖וֹ אֲחֹ֣תִי הִ֑וא וַיִּשְׁלַ֗ח אֲבִימֶ֙לֶךְ֙ מֶ֣לֶךְ גְּרָ֔ר וַיִּקַּ֖ח אֶת־שָׂרָֽה: In other words, when Avraham tried to settle, Avimelech took his wife Sarah. וַיֵּ֥שֶׁב יִצְחָ֖ק בִּגְרָֽר: And then, וַֽיִּשְׁאֲל֞וּ אַנְשֵׁ֤י הַמָּקוֹם֙ לְאִשְׁתּ֔וֹ וַיֹּ֖אמֶר אֲחֹ֣תִי הִ֑וא כִּ֤י יָרֵא֙ לֵאמֹ֣ר אִשְׁתִּ֔י פֶּן־יַֽהַרְגֻ֜נִי אַנְשֵׁ֤י הַמָּקוֹם֙ עַל־רִבְקָ֔ה כִּֽי־טוֹבַ֥ת מַרְאֶ֖ה הִֽוא: In other words, when Yitzhak tried to settle, he had a run-in with Avimelech, who wanted his wife, and the Plishtim fought with him over the wells he dug. Yaakov, as well, when he tried to dwell in the Land, Yosef was taken from him. וַיֵּ֣שֶׁב יַעֲקֹ֔ב בְּאֶ֖רֶץ מְגוּרֵ֣י אָבִ֑יו בְּאֶ֖רֶץ כְּנָֽעַן: And then, אֵ֣לֶּה׀ תֹּלְד֣וֹת יַעֲקֹ֗ב יוֹסֵ֞ף בֶּן־שְׁבַֽע־עֶשְׂרֵ֤ה שָׁנָה֙ הָיָ֨ה רֹעֶ֤ה אֶת־אֶחָיו֙ בַּצֹּ֔אן וְה֣וּא נַ֗עַר אֶת־ בְּנֵ֥י בִלְהָ֛ה וְאֶת־בְּנֵ֥י זִלְפָּ֖ה נְשֵׁ֣י אָבִ֑יו וַיָּבֵ֥א יוֹסֵ֛ף אֶת־דִּבָּתָ֥ם רָעָ֖ה אֶל־אֲבִיהֶֽם: Since our Forefathers never dwelled in the Land, it was considered part of the 430, for they lived there as foreigners. (See Rashi Bereshit 15 13)
The problem though, is that the Passuk says in our Parasha, that the Jews were in Egypt for 430 years, which is totally not true! There is another answer, though, to reconcile the two numbers of the years the Jews were in Egypt. Rashi got to the number of 210 by adding up the years of the lives of three generations: Kehat (son of Levi), Amram, Moshe, and then subtracting the years that the three overlap. Rashi says, that f we add up the lives of these three, until the Exodus when Moshe was 80, we will get a total of 350… But if we look at the number a bit differently, we will receive a different number. Kehat lived 133, Amram lived 137, Moshe was 80 at Exodus, a total of 350, even though Moshe’s 80 years were lived while Amram was still alive. If we consider the lives of Moshe, Amram, Kehat and Levi, counting all the years that each and every one lived in Egypt, we will receive a total of 430 years, exactly, even if they overlap! (Levi died at 137, he went down to Egypt at the age 45 and went down to Egypt at the age 92. Pirke Dr’ Eliezer)
Why does the Torah count the numbers of years of the Jews in Egypt, without subtracting the years that they overlap? Why not make our reckoning in chronological order?
The answer is amazing: G-d looks at years differently from how we do! Each and every person is living his own life, is in his own world; and the worlds can be happening at the same time, but one has nothing to do with the other! They just happen to be in the same world, at the same time! Each person is living his own life, with his own story, his own version of reality, his own challenges, his own tests! No one can do what you can do in your world! In your world, there is just you and G-d!
This is extremely relevant to parenting troubled teens, or children who don’t follow our path. One of the hardest things in parenting troubling teens is when a parent brings his own life into his child’s mishaps. A parent may bring guilt from his/her own past, and the child’s dysfunctionality is just a trigger to remind the parent’s past. Or, a parent’s anxiety over the parent’s own future can be aggravated from the dysfunctionality of the teen.
All this troubled teen needs is space, trust, love, acceptance, and patience for his teen-traumas to cure, or for his prefrontal cortex to heal. Some teens have a chemical imbalance in the brain that most commonly effects one of three functions: long term perspective thinking, values related to justice and perception of consequence. The parent or teacher tries to talk sense, and the teenager just stares at the parent, like a fish looks through a fish tank. No communication. Trying to get these teens educated is harder than nailing Jello to a tree. Anything that makes sense that you want to tell your troubled teen, DON’T SAY! If it makes sense, and they are not getting it, telling them that just makes them feel more confused.
As a parent, you need to stay sane, even if you have no sleep. The first step is to realize that this child’s dysfunctionality needs a loving home, a loving and patient parent. A parent who can look at his/her dysfunctional teen as an inhouse patient that needs to heal – something which can take a minimum of two years. Teenage brains can go through this, from 15-25. Human brains, different from animal brains, start off with only a fraction of the brain size of their parents. At birth, the brain is 25% of its future adult size; by 1 year of age, the brain is 75% of its adult size, and by 3 years of age, the brain is 80% of its adult size. By 7 years of age, the brain is 90% of its adult size, but there is something through teenage years that grows, and that you need to have patience with. This is a time where the child needs the parent’s love and acceptance more than ever. Although Marijuana, or any drug that you take into your body is not good for you, specifically at these ages from 15-25, such substances will cause irreversible damage to the brain cells and to the emotional intelligence that are being constructed and completed at this time of one’s life.
But you have to let them be, without having your own life involved, as long as they are not really putting themselves in danger. This child, this soul is on its own path, and has its own Tafkid. And as much as they make themselves look macho, they need their parents’ love, hugs and home, more than ever before.
Here is a bittersweet story that I heard this week from Rabbi Zaid, a well-known speaker in Israel. He went to speak to the dislocated families in the North. “I spoke two weeks ago in the Leonardo Club in Tiveria. They had their displaced citizens. It is not normal when someone needs to live so long in a hotel, away from home. Exile is one of the hardest things in life. It looks nice that they are in a hotel, but they want more than anything to go back home, and back to their private lives.
I spoke there, giving them Hizuk, some Emunah, trying what I could. I told them, guys, I love you… There was a young girl there, who sat in the front rows, that raised her hand. I said, yes, Tzaddeket. She said, “Rabbi, all of us here,… we love you too!”
Wow! This girl spoke to my heart. I spoke to the father of this child. I asked the father, How did you merit having such a girl?
He said, Rabbi, you tell a lot of stories. I will tell you a story that in your life you never heard. He said an incredible story. “I am Bucharian. I live in Kiryat Shemoneh. Rabbi, 25 years I did not have children. More than that, after 22 years, I found out, with my wife, that we have no chance of having kids. It was a very hard year to accept this, but after we accepted it, we got used to it, to live without kids. The Hazon Ish did not have kids. His students were his children. What can we do?…
I had a neighbor that lived nearby, a man who has a son and daughter. Yosef and Dinah. How nice. I was good friends with this neighbor. His son Yosef eventually went off the beaten path of religion, as a rebellious teen. He also started using all types of drugs, going to all types of bad places, and Dinah was following in his path. My neighbor came to me and said, “You don’t have kids; I do have kids, but it is like I am living without kids, for they are not going in my path. What is life worth having kids like this? Maybe it is better not to have kids at all! Who says that life is worse without kids?”
This was so painful to hear. I told him, your kids are like my kids. I said, I will take care of your kids.
He went to Yosef and said, “Tell me what type of car you want. Any car. I will buy it for you.” Yosef said, are you serious? I said, yes. I had money saved up, because I never had to support any kids. I told him, I will buy you a convertible Porsche, I will give you whatever you want, even a card for unlimited gas. (Cars in Israel are much more expensive to buy than USA. Partially because the taxes are high, to pay for the tolls. In USA, you pay for tolls when you drive, but here you pay for tolls, in the taxes of the original purchase. Also, gas here is much more expensive.) I just want you to stop doing all your craziness, using drugs and visiting inappropriate places. Deal?”
The boy stopped all the things he was doing and started learning with this childless man. He brought Yosef back, he had the time to deal with him. Not only did Yosef start praying and keeping Shabbat, the boy also started learning every day a little bit of Gemarah, G-d’s holy Torah. After about a year, they finished together Massechet Taanit. He said, we are going to do a Siyum Massechet, and your parents will come, to give them some Nahat. In the meantime, because of this, Dinah also started coming back.
The siyum Massechet they did in Chazor Haglilit, next to Kiryat Shemoneh. They took a small hall, and Yosef got up to speak. He said, “I want to tell everyone here that I am now asking from my parents’ forgiveness for causing them so much pain.” He cried. He asked forgiveness from Hashem, for doing what he did. He thanked this childless neighbor for trusting in him, for buying him all that he bought him. It was very emotional, and when he finished speaking they all danced with him.
The next day, Yosef was driving his Porsche, and a truck ran over him and killed him. Decrees of Heaven, we just don’t understand. Just like we don’t understand how a country with the highest intelligence in the world, can’t figure out where 180 hostages are for 100 days?!? The highest-ranking people in Israel security are saying nothing is making sense; it is all G-d’s Hand. Simhat Torah taught us the biggest lesson: that everything is G-d.
The father of Yosef sat Shivah, and also, the spiritual father, this childless man, also sat shivah and did Kriah, as if he was an adopting father. At the end of the Shiva, the two fathers went up to the Kever. At the Kever, the real father cried and said kaddish, and said, Master of the World, you took my son from me! One request I have from you! Take that Neshama and give it to my friend, give him a child! A year and a month later, after 26 years of childness, miraculously, this man had a child, and he called him Yosef.
It was a very emotional Brit. And the father of Yosef came to get a blessing from this new father, as he was the Sandak. The father of Yosef said, “You not only deserve a Yosef, for saving my son Yosef, you also deserve a Dinah, because my Dinah returned to religion because of your helping Yosef. You should merit to have a daughter as well, and fulfill the Mitzvah of Pru Urbu, to be multiplying and fruitful.” A year and a half later, they had a girl and called her Dinah.
After telling me his story, he said to me, “These are Yosef and Dinah that you see here. These two kids are very high Neshamot! They sit in the front row of every class, and Dinah prays in the Ezrat Nashim while Yosef is praying beautifully in the men’s section.”
Sometimes, you need to separate yourself emotionally from your child to help them, in the sense that you have to look at your child as if he were the neighbor’s child. Your child is living his own world, and his Neshama is on its own path, nothing to do with you. Almost every great man in history had trouble with his kids. Adam, Noach, Avraham, Yitzhak, Yaakov, King David, King Solomon, Eli Hakohen, Shmuel, Hizkiyahu, Shimon Hatzaddik… Even Moshe Rabbeinu, who promised his father-in-law Yitro that he would allow his oldest son to be a priest for Avodah Zarah (there are two opinions of who the child that wasn’t circumcised in the hotel on the way down to Egypt was. One opinion is that it was Eliezer, the younger, just-born son. The other opinion is that it was Gershom, about whom Moshe gave his word to Yitro that he would allow him to become a priest to Avodah Zarah, and he could come to recognizing G-d on his own. In the end, because of this deal, Gershom’s son became the priest to Pesel Micha Avodah Zarah).
We all have different mountains to climb in our life. Sometimes, people fall and tumble down. But as a parent, you need to stay climbing on your own mountain. Your child is on his/her own mountain.