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Family

The Essential Component of Jewish Continuity

Single Parenting

By TorahLab

A father takes a day off from work to go to the city with his child. The child comes back so excited and begins tot tell his mom about the wonderful time they had. He talks about the things he saw, the food he ate and the gifts he received. With every word of happiness the mother rejoices. She rejoices in her child’s joy and she feels proud of herself in the decision she made to marry such a wonderful man.
Let’s take a similar scenario. The trip, the sights, the gifts, the re-telling with just one change – the parents are divorced. White becomes black, every word that should be causing joy in the mother is causing pain. Now the child becomes the meat in the sandwich.
According to halacha, one must have the same amount of respect for his mother and his father. If, however, ones father requests water and at the same time ones mother requests water, one should give it to the father, because the mother also has an obligation to show honor to her husband. If they are divorced, no such obligation rests upon the mother. The child could serve whomever he wishes. They Chazon Ish qualified this rule by stating that this refers to a case where honoring one’s father is not at the expense of the mother. It would be illogical to fulfill the mitzvah of honoring one parent by offending the second. If honoring one parent dishonors the other, then one must extricate himself from the entire situation.
If ones parents command him to disregard a law of the Torah (take me shopping on Shabbos, etc.), then the child must not obey. It therefore follows that if a father or mother command their child to disobey their spouse or ex-spouse, which in fact is asking the child to violate the Torah, the child should not obey. One must listen to his / her parents’ e.g., if ones father or mother needs to talk or elaborate, the child must listen with respect. If, however, the parent is speaking lashon hara, slander, than listening would constitute a sin. Whenever sinning is involved, one is exempt from the mitzvah of honoring ones parents. If a parent is disparaging his or her spouse to a child, the child is in fact forbidden to listen.
An exception to the rule of lashon hara may exist in a case of cathartic therapy, where it may be permissible to speak one’s heart for the sake of mental health. However, in the view of the Chazon Ish, the child is not a candidate for listening. By listening to one parent he is dishonoring the second parent. It is totally improper for a parent to put his / her child into such a situation.
This is a good place to note a related point. Divorce creates new problems. High on the list is loneliness. God said after creating the first man, “It is not good for a person to be alone.” This requires some analysis. The Talmud tells us that at this time, Adam was living in the most luxurious setting, the Garden of Eden. God assigned angels to look after him. They poured him wine, fed him grapes, and barbecued his food for him. Not a bad situation. Yet God decided that man cannot be happy in this situation. The reason for this, explains Reb Chaim Shmuelevitz, is that although Adam was surrounded by angels, angels have no heart. When residing with people who have no heart, he is alone – and alone doesn’t work.
Because of this loneliness, the single parent tends to relate to the child differently than before. The child begins to fill a void and takes the place of a spouse or a parent, counseling his or her parent, as a spouse would. A complete role reversal could take place.
This is very dangerous. It is extremely important in all relationships that one acts according to the natural terms of that relationship. When a child is not treated as a child, one in not only robbing the child of childhood but is in effect taking away the child’s parents.
The real issue of our opening scenario is jealousy and hate.
Theoretically, everyone agrees that the worst thing in the world is for a child to be put in the middle of domestic disharmony. The Talmud teaches that there are three partners in each person: God, father and mother. All three are indispensable to the child. Just as life cannot go on without God, it cannot go on in a normal fashion without one of the parents. When parents get divorced it doesn’t mean that the child must become an orphan. However, if a parent constantly barrages the child with the iniquities of a former partner, he / she is, for selfish reasons, taking a parent away from the child. If both parents engage in this warfare, they are leaving the child an orphan. No one wants to do that. But when we are offended, insulted, obsessed with hate, or in any way deflated, we lose control of ourselves. The pain we feel in the pit of the stomach when someone hurts us makes us crazed with animosity. Our ability to act in good judgment is completely lost.
Let’s look at Moses, our greatest teacher. The Midrash relates an episode that took place on the last day of Moses’s leadership. It was mutually decided by God, Moses, and Joshua that Joshua would take over the mantle of leadership during Moses’s lifetime. On the last day of Moses’s life, Joshua was the leader. According to the Midrash, Moses appeared at Joshua’s tent, which was an unusual site. Upon seeing Moses, Joshua ran out to meet him. Moses walked on Joshua’s left, affording Joshua the respect as leader, and together they walked to the Tent of Meeting. When they arrived, the Cloud of Glory, which usually descended upon Moses, came down on Joshua and left Moses outside. When the Cloud lifted, Moses asked Joshua anxiously, “So what did God say?” Joshua replied, “When God spoke to you, did I ask you to tell me what He said?” (A prophecy may not be shared with others unless God himself commanded that it be shared.) Moses began to scream. He said, “Give me a hundred deaths and not one feeling of jealousy!” Moses was the holiest and humblest of all men, yet he felt overpowered by this feeling of jealousy. What then can we say?
The cycle of animosity snowballs. It’s amazing how some of the most civil situations turn into the most dreadful. How does this happen? King Solomon said, “Like water, face onto face, so are the hearts of man to each other.” When one sees his reflection in the mirror or in water, exactly what he puts in is what he gets out. If he smiles into the water, the water will reflect a smile. If he frowns, then he will be greeted with a frown. So too the heart of man to man. How I act in a situation will directly cause the reaction of my fellows. If I approach a situation with love I will most likely receive love in return, if I approach it with hate, I will probably receive hate back. The cycle can reach unimaginable bounds. A super – human effort is needed to break it. Without God’s help it could never be done. But, for the sake of our children, it must be done.
The Baal Shem Tov took the reflection concept a step further. A person, he says, usually does not have an accurate self-image. If one sees a photograph of himself, he says it doesn’t look like him. If he hears his voice on a tape, he says it doesn’t sound like him. But it does. How do we find out how our behavior really looks? Says they Besht, God in his kindness places a person before us who looks exactly like us. If we find the other person’s behavior ugly, it may be a sign to look inward. Maybe we look the same.
A great man once asked: Judaism always places importance on the right. We put on our right shoe before our left, we put on our tefillin with the right hand, etc. Why then is the most important part of the body, the heart, on the left side?
The answer is a matter of perspective. If I believe that my heart is for myself then it’s on the wrong side. If, however, I believe that my heart is for the person standing in front of me, then it’s on his right side, just where it belongs.
The very design of the human being incorporates the ability to feel and help my fellow Jew. That is why God gave us a heart. Let’s use it.

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