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Some Post-Purim Ponderings-Purim, Mishloach Manos and the Family Unit

This week, in the spirit of “ah gantz yohr Purim,” we will discuss a Purim-related issue, but it’s no joke.

Every year, there is the classical belly-aching about mishloach manos. “It is too much, too hard, the themes have gotten out of hand, and where is the paper plate with the apple and slice of homemade cake?” And the list goes on.

I will not address any of those issues, but leave them for the Readers Write column, where such issues seem to take on a life of their own.

When Peer Pressure Mounts…Call on the School “Police”?!

What I do want to address, however, is something that I recently saw in a local publication. A woman with a large family complained that it was becoming very difficult for her to keep up with her children’s mishloach manos. As a result of peer pressure, the themes were becoming increasingly elaborate and costly, and the number of children in their classes who they felt compelled to give to was also becoming increasingly difficult to maintain, both financially and practically. The well-meaning letter writer therefore suggested that the schools make rules about what to give and to whom.

 

When reading the letter, I certainly sympathized. It is impossible not to notice how the bar is constantly being raised. What troubled me even more, however, was the proposed solution. Indeed, a subsequent letter writer questioned why this should be a school issue. That writer stated that parents should assert their parental authority and use this as a teachable moment to inculcate the ideal that every family has different standards and different ways of doing things, Every family is special in its own unique way, the writer said parents should teach their children, and we should not look to schools to legislate every issue involving peer pressure.

 

I totally agree, but I would like to expound further. These letters were specifically addressing the issue of mishloach manos, but I think that there is a critically important underlying issue regarding the responsibilities of families vis-à-vis schools that needs to be addressed.

 

ASSAULT ON THE FAMILY UNIT

 

It is increasingly evident in the secular world that the institution that has been most critical in building, sustaining and preserving society is under attack. That institution is called “The Family.” In the secular world, family has become a quaint thing that some people still have. It is not deemed in any way as something critical to survival. The fact that the institution of marriage has been irreparably damaged on all fronts and that even people who end up marrying view having children and raising children as a personal choice and preference that every individual should make is destroying society. As if this choice and choosing a type of car or the color scheme in your dining room are all on equal footing…

 

The fact that it is almost impossible to earn a living today without two breadwinners has also weakened the family unit. In the secular world, most career women see the advancement of their careers as taking precedence over marriage and children, and even when there are children, they are often raised by others for a major part of the day because both parents are working.

 

Although in our relatively sheltered frum world we like to think that these societal difficulties are not relevant to us, in truth they are very relevant.

 

The Jewish family is also under assault, not just because so many mothers are also breadwinners-and that takes its toll, regardless of the justifications, but in many other ways as well. That is why it is absolutely imperative that we strengthen the family unit in every way that we can. (I know that many of our younger readers are still a little upset with me for suggesting that teens make sure to go on Chol Hamoed trips with their parents and siblings, try to take family summer vacation trips together, and try to enjoy one family seudah every day of Chol Hamoed. I have been accosted in the street by some wonderful young men asking me if I am really that seriously disconnected from reality.)

 

RELINQUISHING AUTHORITY WEAKENS THE FAMILY

 

The truth is that any task – even a commendable one – that is in the purview of the parents and the family that is relinquished to the school weakens the family unit.

 

Chazal tell us that it is the obligation of a father is to teach his child Torah. It is the father’s obligation, not anyone else’s. Only later, when it became too difficult for fathers to do their duty, was the idea of melamdim instituted.

 

The melamed is the shliach of the parents and is not there to replace them. Having a shliach as a teacher is a bedieved. It is not the way it should be. It is done out of lack of choice. Thus, anytime that we can keep a chinuch task within the family, it is imperative that we do so.

 

One may then ask, if even Chazal understood that parents usually cannot teach their children and the job has to be given to melamdim, why can’t we just make the school in charge of everything?

 

INSTITUTIONS AND SELF-SUSTAINMENT

 

The answer is that a school is an institution, not an individual. Let me explain. An institution, no matter how good it is, cannot and will not replace parents. Why? It may not be politically correct to say this, but there is one mission that virtually every institution has that you will not find on its mission statement, because it supersedes its mission statement.

 

Let us first analyze a non-chinuch institution. Say the purpose of the institution is to produce a cure for cancer. When the cure is found, will the institution disband? Of course not. It will find something else to cure. What follows is that the primary purpose of the institution is the institution itself and ensuring the continued existence of the institution.

 

For example, if an institution was established to produce a work on Shas Talmud Bavli, when the team finally finishes Talmud Bavli, do you think they will stop? Of course not. They will do Talmud Yerushalmi and who knows what else.

 

A school or yeshiva certainly has the hallowed task of being mechanech Jewish children. But it is still an institution, and if the institution is not sustained, there will be no mosad. That is why we find mosdos that will not accept certain students even though it is good for the student and would perhaps not even significantly affect a class. If it will not put the institution in a “good” light or the light that the leaders think it should be in, they will not do it. Why? Because, by definition, the primary purpose of any institution is the ensuring of the continued existence of the institution.

 

This is also the reason why we should be suspicious of any government intrusion into things that are normally in the realm of the family. When the government decides what values we should have, what schools should teach and the like, we should be very suspect, because if there is any organization whose primary purpose is self-preservation, it is government.

 

KEEPING RESPONSIBILITY WITHIN THE FAMILY CREATES A COHESIVE FAMILY

 

As good, as altruistic and as capable as a mosad is, it still cannot reach the level of a family. Therefore, only when there is absolutely no choice should anything be taken out of the purview of the family’s responsibility and given over to the school.

 

Does an organization feel? Does it think? Does it care? It is not possible for an inanimate object to think, feel or care.

 

The reason we make this cardinal mistake is because, historically, many great institutions were established or run by great individuals. This ideal, which we sometimes find when people mistakenly assume, “The mosad will take care of you,” “The yeshiva will take care of you,” “The Chassidus will take care of you,” indicates that the leader of that mosad will take care of you. It is important to understand that leadership, especially institutional leadership of ever growing organizations, is rarely limited to one individual and rarely limited to one remarkably great individual. Those individuals are one or two in every generation.

 

This is why every time a school begins to do something that a parent should be doing, even something good, in the long-term it will end up weakening the family unit, which is a terrible thing, especially today, when there are so many outside nefarious forces weakening the family unit.

 

Thus, the well-intentioned woman who thought it would be a good idea for the school to make these rules is mistaken, not only because it is important to inculcate a lesson of histapkus, of being satisfied with less, and not only because it is important to stress to children that one not run after every fad, just because others are doing it. More significantly, she was mistaken because it is so pivotal in today’s world to assert the individuality of the family, to convey that the family creates the best atmosphere possible for a child to spiritually flourish. Abdicating family responsibility to the school weakens the family. Making one’s own rules strengthens the family and enables parents to cultivate the one thing that assures, happy, well-adjusted, spiritually anchored avdei Hashem: the Jewish family.