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Parshas Bo (5775)

The Girl Who Cried Wolf: A Talmudic Tale

The Talmud in Sukkah 56b relates the following story:

It happened that Miriam, the daughter of Bilgah [a family of Kohanim, priests, who held one of the twenty-four watches taking turns serving in the Beis Hamikdash, the Holy Temple in Jerusalem] became an apostate and married an officer of the [Syrian] Greek kings. When the Greeks entered the Temple Sanctuary [in the days of Matisyahu the High Priest] she stamped with her sandal against the Altar, crying out, “Lokos! Lokos! [Greek for “Wolf! Wolf!”] How long will you consume Israel’s money and yet not stand by them in the time of oppression!” When the Sages heard about this event [after the miraculous victory in the days of Chanukah], they fastened the ring [of the watch of Bilgah, as a punishment for this incident], and closed its window.

[Ed. Note: Twenty-four rings were affixed to the floor of the Temple Courtyard where the slaughtering was done. The rings could be raised so that the animal’s head could be inserted in them and locked in place during slaughtering. The ring assigned to the watch of Bilgah was permanently stapled to the floor so that it could not be raised. This forced Bilgah to use the ring of another watch and thus suffer embarrassment.]

The Talmud asks: According to the one who said that the watch of Bilgah was punished because of the actions of Miriam the daughter of Bilgah, do we punish a father for the sins of his daughter? “Yes, we do,” explained Abaye. “As the saying goes, ‘The child’s talk in the marketplace is either of his father or of his mother.’” [The Talmud asks:] But may we penalize the entire watch because of her father or mother? Replied Abaye, “Woe to the wicked and woe to his neighbor”. [The neighbors of the wicked suffer the same fate, and Miriam would not have degraded the Altar unless she grew up hearing her family speak that way.]

From this Talmudic tale about a girl who cried wolf, we learn two important life lessons:

1) Our kids are listening to what we say way more than we think they are, and they are greatly influenced by the things they hear – for better or for worse - especially at a young age. As Tom Carper writes: “Unbeknownst to a lot of us, our children actually listen to just about everything we say and, even more so, watch everything we do. They notice the choices we make and the company we keep.” In fact, much of our kids’ world view is shaped by what they hear and absorb from us, their parents, as they sit together with us at the dinner or Shabbos table. Miriam daughter of Bilgah grew up with negative attitudes towards the Temple service because of the many discussions that her parents had - and that she likely heard – in which they spoke adversely about the Altar and the animal sacrifices. We must be extra careful about we say, especially around our children, who absorb any lashon hara (gossip) and other negative speech they hear directly into their little, impressionable brains. As well, our kids are definitely watching our actions, and they can readily see how seriously – or not so seriously - we take our religion and our connection to Torah and mitzvah observance. This, too, will greatly impact on their choices in this regard in the future.

2) One of the biggest free-willed decisions we are likely to make in our lives is our choice of neighborhood and community in which to live (this also includes our choice of shul/synagogue in which to join and become members.) This decision often impacts the friends we and our children make, the company we keep, and our spiritual growth – or lack thereof. As Abaye taught us in the Talmud: “Woe to the wicked and woe to his neighbor”. If our children are adversely influenced by friends and neighbors, causing them to develop negative attitudes towards religion, synagogue services, other people, etc., we have only ourselves to blame. We are responsible for the neighbors we choose, just as the entire watch of Bilgah was punished for allowing themselves to be affected in a bad way by Miriam’s family.

The lesson that our children do in fact listen more than we think and are greatly impacted by our words and actions is echoed in this week’s Torah portion, Parshas Bo. Moses tells the Jewish people that in the future their children will ask them when they witness the Paschal Lamb and all the other Passover rituals, “What is this work to you?" (see Exodus 12:26). As we read every year on Passover in the Haggadah, this is actually the question of the Wicked Son who removes himself from the community and does not want to join in the Seder. The commentators explain that the reason why this son is so turned off from the Passover service and from Judaism in general is likely the fault of his parents. If he can refer to all the Seder rituals that his parents are preparing as mere “work”, it is obvious that he must have grown up listening to his parents complain and grumble a lot about having to do so much work in preparation for the Passover holiday. This negative attitude no doubt impacted the son to the point that he now wants no part of this work, and he refuses to join the Passover Seder with the rest of his family and community.

So the next time one of our kids cries ‘wolf’ and starts developing antagonistic attitudes towards things which we would have liked for them to cherish and hold dear, let’s remember that it likely comes from our own attitudes and from those with whom we hang around – and to whom our kids are listening more than we would have liked.

[Sources: Ein Yaakov: The Ethical and Inspirational Teachings of the Talmud, with translation and commentary by Avraham Yaakov Finkel, Aronson Press 1999]

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