As he is
In this week’s Torah portion (Vayeira), Yishmael and his mother are cast out of Avraham’s home. They find themselves in the desert without food or water and Yishmael is at the brink of death. His mother casts him under a tree and weeps in the distance. At that moment, God miraculously makes a well appear and an angel calls out to Yishmael’s mother saying, “Do not fear. Hashem has heard the voice of the lad as he is now.” The commentators explain, Yishmael is being judged for his current actions, not for what he has done or will do. Right now he deserves to live, even if that results in future grievous crimes.
The wayward son
Interestingly, this contrasts with the “wayward son” (Devarim 21:18) who overindulges in stolen meat and wine. He is brought to court by his parents and given the death penalty to prevent future transgressions. How could it be that Yishmael, who according to commentators had committed idolatry, murder, and sexual immorality, is vindicated, while the wayward son is executed for far lesser crimes?
The obvious difference
I believe the answer is clear. Yishmael’s mother was devastated to lose her child. However, in the case of the wayward son, it is his own parents who bring him to court. Once parents give up on a child all hope is lost and there is no chance for rehabilitation.
This paradigm is borne out in the literature. Whether your child suffers from academic difficulties, addiction, mental illness or criminality, your support and belief in them is literally a lifeline. The more parental support people have, the better their chances of overcoming challenges. Relationships can be challenging with plenty of drama. As a parent, never lose sight of the subtle influences you have on your children and the fact that against all odds your connection to them may be life-changing.