Two good friends and the mothers of teenagers decide to get away for a few days and check into a classy resort hotel. Just before dinner one of the two women invites the other to join her for a drink at the bar. “No thanks,” says her friend, “I never drink.” Why not?” asks the other. “Well,” she replies, “in front of the kids I don’t think it’s right to drink. And when I’m away from the kids, I don’t need to drink.”
It seems as if teenagers, and by extension, all children, have earned a reputation for giving their parents heartache. Perhaps some of it is deserved. Sometimes children fail to live up to their parents’ expectations. Yet that is not necessarily bad: a point effectively made by the Torah. Korah rebelled against the authority of Moses and God. In his rebelliousness, he attracted a wide variety of like-thinking people who were disgruntled at Moses’ leadership. His children, however, were not among his supporters. In fact, the Torah takes pains to specifically mention that when Korah and his followers were swallowed up by the earth (Numbers 16:32), his children did not die (Numbers 26:11).
Despite what might have been Korah’s expectations that his children would take his side, they did not. Instead, his three sons went on to be singers and poets, as befitted their Levitical heritage. Eleven of the Psalms bear their names. Even more significantly, one of his three sons, Elkanah (Exodus 6:28), is considered by tradition to have been one of the most righteous men in his generation (Numbers Rabbah 10:5) who goes on to father the prophet Samuel (I Samuel 1:19f and see Rabbi Abraham ibn Ezra’s commentary to Numbers 26:11).
Had Korah’s children dutifully – but foolishly – taken their father’s side, they would have died. While these children’s behavior might have caused heartache to their father Korah, it brought satisfaction to God and honor to themselves. Accordingly, Rabbi Joseph Karo, author of the Shulhan Arukh, rules that if a father directed a son to violate a commandment of the Torah or even a rabbinical one, the son need not listen (Yoreh De’ah 240:15). Sometimes a father’s directives – let alone unspoken expectations – must be set aside because of the greater concern to do what is right. That children refuse to follow their parents should not necessarily be a cause for grief.