Included in the Book of Numbers is the story of Korach and his followers, Dathan and Abiran, who lead a revolt against Moses and Aaron. While still wandering in the desert, these rebels question Moses' and Aaron's authority. They are unwilling to listen any longer to instructions, and they clearly are unhappy with the hierarchy of power. They accuse Moses and Aaron of elevating themselves above the community. Their rationale is that the entire community is holy, not just Moses and Aaron. But Moses' reaction is particularly interesting: He falls on his face, as if bowing to Korach. Many theories exist about Moses' intentions and the lessons that can be learned from his response.
By "falling on his face," Moses teaches us how to act upon our rights as parents. He doesn't act rashly. He takes the time to carefully reflect upon the situation at hand so that he can respond judiciously. After a nights' sleep (although it's not clear from the text whether he sleeps fitfully or not!), he lets the rebels know in no uncertain terms that their behavior has been aberrant, that they have overstepped their boundaries.
Aberrant behavior, overstepping of boundaries, questioning of authority-We've all experienced these acts one way or another, either with our own children or as the teachers of children. It's natural for children to push the envelope, to see how far they can go in an attempt to get their way. It's part of the growing-up process. How we handle ourselves as parents or teachers will set the stage for future situations and the acquisition of life skills.
How much easier it might be if our children came with a manual! Because this isn't the case, we instead learn how to be parents by modeling our own parents, by seeking their advice or the advice of friends who are parents, by following examples we see demonstrated by other parents, as well as by trial and error. Some of us visit therapists to learn how to deal more effectively with our children. Some read self-help books about rearing offspring.
One of the purposes of these Torah study supplements is to help you view the Torah, our holy book, as a source of inspiration and guidance for raising your children. Although the text is thousands of years old, there is much to be gleaned from the five books of Moses-wisdom that can be applied easily to the decisions we make as Jewish parents and teachers of young children.
While Moses waited until morning to respond to Korach, as parents, we sometimes find ourselves in situations that demand our immediate attention, where quick reactions are important to the health and safety of our children. We don't have time to explain patiently the importance of not standing in the front seat of a grocery shopping cart when our 4-year-old is about to fall out face first. Our adrenalin rushes, we raise our voice, we grab the child, and we ensure his or her safety. Only when the child is seated safely again in the cart and our heart has stopped racing can we then explain patiently why he/she mustn't do that again. In such situations, there is no other option. Certainly, our child's safety is uppermost in our minds.
However, when circumstances allow us to think and consider all the dynamics of a situation, like that of Moses, we can model a thoughtful and measured response. Whether it means waiting a day or more to think about our answer or taking a deep breath and not spitting out the first words that come to us, our children will benefit by this behavior.
Parshat Korach helps reinforce the idea that parents and teachers need to think about how to handle difficult situations, whether with their children or students, or even with their peers. They also need to be aware of the ramifications of their choices. Moses, with his measured, reflective response to a subordinates' challenge, can teach all parents to think beyond the immediate moment, to think about how their actions will shape the future actions of their children.
Questions and Ideas for Parents:
- Do you think a parent is justified in saying the words "Because I said so" to his/her children? What other messages are being sent when a parent says these four words?
- If you were Moses, how would you have reacted to Korach and his band of rebels?
- Do you think children should be allowed to participate in important family decisions? What do children learn by participating in decision-making discussions?
- What kind of daily decisions do you encourage your children to make?
Questions for Children:
- If you ask your parents for a new toy and they say no, how do you feel?
- Do you think children should get everything they want?
- Have you ever had a temper tantrum when you didn't get what you wanted? How did you feel when you were finished? Can you think of other ways you can get what you want that doesn't involve having a tantrum?
Pages 1127-1140 in The Torah: A Modern Commentary Revised Edition, by W. Gunther Plaut.