Who Is The Wicked Son?

by Chana Klein

I get calls daily from parents suffering because their children do not fit into the box of the yeshiva or the regular classroom. I hear from parents who are frustrated with their sons and daughters who are not what they pictured they would be before they came into this world. I, too, have been one of those parents and have struggled with school systems and other challenges for my children. Now, it is my life work.


Is this in the Torah? Isn’t everything? Some of our children are disabled in some way in that they do not fit into the yeshiva or into the public school classroom. Does the Torah teach about how to treat a child who has some kind of disability?


There is a story in Shmuel II that appears to be a prototype for how to treat a disabled person.


First we find out that this person is lame and then we learn his name is Mephiboshet. Being disabled was his identity for the fact that he was disabled is mentioned five times. The Tanach does not mention anything even twice unless there is a reason. So it must have been really important to the story.


When King David became king, he wanted to do chesed (kindness) for the family of his beloved friend Jonathon, son of the late King Saul. 

Ziba, a servant of the family of King Saul told King David about Jonathon’s son. King David sent for Mephiboshet who was shaking in his sandals thinking the king will have him killed. But King David showed only kindness having Mephiboshet at his table every night, giving him ownership of property and even having him sit in his court as a judge (Berachos 4a)


And King David was blessed in having a united kingdom during that time. Even when King David had to flee from Jerusalem because of his son Absalom, his whole kingdom followed and was loyal to him. “The king left followed by all the people…” (Shmuel II 15:17)


Mephiboshet tried to follow as well. But Ziba, his servant, left him behind and when David asked about him, Ziba lied that Mephiboshet stayed with Absalom to get back the throne of his grandfather (King Saul). King David got angry and gave all of Mephiboshet’s property to Ziba.


When Absalom was killed, David returned to Jerusalem.  He saw Mephiboshet in sac cloth with uncut nails and other signs of great mourning. Mephiboshet explained to him that he had been trying to get to him and made it all the way to the outside of the city but was not able to get further without help. He explained that he was mourning until the king returned.


This is the clincher. David looked at him and cut him off: “You need not speak further.” The king misjudged the disabled man and decreed that he and Ziba shall divide the property. (Shmuel II 19:30)


“The moment that David told Mephiboshet ‘You and Ziba shall divide the field’ a Heavenly voice rang out and said to him ‘Rehoboam and Jeroboam will divide the kingdom.’” (Shabbos 56b)


David misjudged a disabled person and at that moment it was decreed that his kingdom be divided. His kingdom was united until he did that. How important is it to evaluate a disabled person with an ayin tov (a good eye)?


From the story of Mephiboshet, one could conclude that Heaven really cares about how we treat disabled people and takes an action against the person who does not consider them with fairness and kindness.


I refer to being learning disabled as a disability because of my own experience

My inability to read as a child and teen was a real disability for me and affected my life to a much greater degree than not being able to walk does now. It was a far greater obstacle to my life than being lame as Mephiboshet was. Can any or our children be experiencing learning disability in that way?


I sat across from the principal, the teachers and the parents of my client, Jason (not the real name). We sat at a long table, in a room of the yeshiva, surrounded by old math textbooks resting on shelves.


They were all convinced that Jason, a first grader was “trying to outsmart the law.” They expressed that they felt that all of his behaviors were done on purpose in order to give everyone a hard time. The yeshiva administration and the teachers were adamant that Jason could not continue to attend this school. They claimed that they do not have the resources to handle a child like Jason. They were calling him in essence, a rasha, “the wicked son.”


At the end of first grade, I met with them as his advocate and as the person working with him, his family and his teachers to increase his learning efficiency and behavior.


But who is Jason really? Is he “the wicked son”? Is he wicked at all? Was it right to try to exclude him? Is there another way to move this child so that he may thrive in a classroom?


It really was not that difficult or complicated. I worked with Jason on his sensory integration issues, on getting him motivated and aware of how others see him.


By a few months into second grade, Jason pulled himself up to getting an excellent rating everyday on his daily report home.  I knew things were excellent with him when the teacher’s only complaint was about some minor issue even though he was working on a high level and behaving in class.


How can I explain who this child, who they thought was trying to outsmart the law, really is? During one of our sessions, he played with one of the boxes of toys that I have for use during sessions. He was examining a large crayon.   In Yiddish, he asked if he could keep the crayon.   “You can take that home and keep it,” I told him.   “Then the other children,” his mom said, “will not have it to play with when they come here.”   “No, it’s fine.” I insisted. “I have plenty of toys for other children. No one will miss anything. Please take it,”

Jason put the toy back in the box. He would not take it no matter how much I insisted. To this “rasha,” the thought of depriving another child of a toy was beyond his level of choice. He just would not do it. no matter how I persisted in giving it to him.


During another session, I had asked Jason to clean up the toys he was playing with. Aware of my use of crutches to walk, in the next session, he cleaned up without my asking. Then, he put the box he was using in the place where he saw that I keep them. As far as I am concerned, this “wicked son” is an absolute tzadik. He is truly good.


12-year old Alex (not the real name) was considered to be like a “wicked son” by the school and was very difficult at home as well. The most immediate concern was that he hit his little brother. I met with Alex and his mom. It was true that Alex was hitting his brother. I asked him why. He explained that his little brother comes in his room and messes up projects he is working on that are important to him. We thought of a solution to keep his brother out of his room and the hitting stopped.


Mom had other complaints about Alex. She told me what she wants from Alex. In turn, I asked Alex what he would want from his Mom. For cooperating with some kitchen chores and behaving the way Mom wanted, Alex could have chosen what he wanted. He could have requested a new bike or some other costly item. It was that important to his mom. Yet, knowing that, Alex chose a subscription to a Torah magazine. He wanted that more than anything. It is often said that we get to know a person by how he spends his money, by the choices he makes. Alex chose to have access to more Torah. How holy this “wicked son” really is! 


Who is the “Wicked Son?” Is it possible that he is really among the most holy of the Jewish people? These children who think for themselves may become the great ones of our future. How many of our leaders had been considered “the wicked son” as they were growing up?


We don’t know who each child will become. You can’t know what is possible for him or her. We have to give each a chance. We have to judge them favorably. We can’t leave them out. It’s wrong to say our school can’t handle him or her. How will we then be judged? Are we more righteous than King David that we can afford for our own souls to leave out a child like that?


What would happen if we emphasized to each child how holy s/he is? What would be the response to letting the Jason’s and Alex’s and the Miriam’s and Jennifer’s know how God smiles at who they really are?


Copyright © 2010 COPYRIGHT CHANA KLEIN. All rights reserved.

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