Obedience is a word that is somewhat out of fashion but that doesn’t mean it is not important. So how do we learn it and more importantly how do we teach it. The first step is to understand why it is so difficult to be obedient. In Tanach we find a story with Dovid Hamelech on his deathbed making his son Shlomo promise to put Shimi Ben Gera, who at one time was the head of the Sanhadrin, to death. Shimi had cursed King David and was condemned to death. Shlomo once crowned called upon Shimi and instructed him to relocate to Jerusalem. Included in his instructions was the warning that if he ever left Jerusalem he would pay for it with life. What was Shlomo Hamelech the wisest man doing? Who would not want to live in Jerusalem? What is the big deal to live in Jerusalem all your life – there are many individuals who have lived in the same city all their lives.
The Navi continues to tell us that Shimi ends up leaving Jerusalem and as a result got the death penalty. Two of his slaves ran away and in an effort to recapture them, Shimi pursued them all the way out of Jerusalem. As we pointed out earlier Shimi was a very learned person, he was the head of the Sanhedrin why did he risk his life for the sake of two slaves? This story gives us an insight into human nature. We are wired to resist someone controlling us – When there are rules, even if they were made for our benefit, our natural tendency is to try and find a loophole and even risk getting caught to show that no one can control everything we do. Understanding that this is how we as humans are wired will help us overcome this natural tendency.
We just read last week about the Red Heifer. The Torah when introducing the Halachot of the Poroh Adumah says “Zos Chukas Hatorah” – The question is asked, the Mizvah of the Poroh Adumah is but one of 613 so why is it introduced as being a Mitzvah that represents the entire Torah. The commentaries explain that of all the mitzvos in the Torah, the Mitzvah of Poroh Adumah is unique in that it is inherently illogical. There are many Mitzvos that are difficult to understand like shatnez, not eating milk and meat but with all of them we are able to rationalize that these Mitzvos are there for our Neshoma or that they have a symbolic significance such as remembering the Exodus from Egypt – However, with the Mitzvah of Poroh Adumah it just doesn’t make sense. On the one hand it is used to purify individuals who have become Tameh and paradoxically it makes anyone who comes into contact with it during its preparation, impure.
When one keeps a Mitzvah that don’t make sense he is making a statement I am keeping all the Mitzvos for one reason and that is because Hashem wants us to keep it. The Torah here is telling us that when you keep this Mitzvah this demonstrates the reason you keep all the other mitzvos and therefore it is through keeping this Mitzvah you become entitled to get the rewards for keeping the rest of the 612 Mitzvos.
When children understand that we are ready to follow a higher authority we are helping them get the tools and the skills to be obedient and follow their elders. Society portrays the obedient child or spouse as weak when the reality is that the right type of obedience shows an immense amount of strength. Sure, we need to explain to our children why we want them to do things that they may not want to do – but ultimately they need to understand that we are the parent and they are the child and what we are asking of them is for their best even if they don’t understand it at this point in their lives. When a child gets that and follows what his parents are asking that is what the Mishne in Avos refers to when it says who is a strong person? One who overcomes his Yeitzer.