Rabbi's Weekly Article

One Man's Thoughts

The Six Steps of Human Development, Part 1: Identity

There is a very cryptic mention in the Talmud as to the parent’s obligations to their children. It is literally one line but the impact and punch behind this enigmatic sentence is powerful. Just goes to show the preciousness of the Talmud, not unlike the Torah, which can be studied on many levels of perception and reasoning. The bottom line is that there is always more to learn.

The Talmud simply states that parents must do the following, which we will discuss and clarify as we progress. They are:

1. Circumcise
2. Redeem the first-born
3. Teach Torah to your children
4. Marry them off
5. Teach them an honest living
6. Teach them how to swim

I have often wondered as to why only these six were enumerated. I can think of so many more to add to this list. I would have added as an example – teach them to love, stick up for themselves, make the perfect sushi roll, hit a home run, deal with conflict, sew, cook and navigate basic everyday chores, etc.

Upon reflection, contemplation and inquiry I believe that these six items incorporate every other obligation I have thought of and all the ones that I have not.

We will tackle one at a time so that the true wisdom of the sages can be appreciated.

We all know a Jewish male child needs to get clipped at eight days old unless a doctor says to wait. Many of you know that the obligation to assure that this happens falls on the parents. What many do not know is why a circumcision is required. What is it all about?
The Hebrew name for this ritual is “bris milah.” The second word means circumcision, but the first word says it all, “covenant.” The circumcision ceremony identifies the Jewish child as a member of the covenant with God.

More than any other Jewish mitzvah, Bris Milah is an expression of Jewish identity. By brissing this child, we celebrate this child’s identity as a Jew.
The Talmud lists this as the first obligation of parents. Mom and Dad must give their child/ren an identity. This is not just Jewish advice; this is pure wisdom. Furthermore, advice is the wrong word. The correct term is obligation, as in parents are obliged to give their children a self.
The child must know that it took a lot for him or her to be brought into the world. There have been thousands of years of history until we are where we are.
I was speaking to a Sikh, and he shared with me some of his ancestry. He literally could trace his family tree and background for hundreds of years. While he is not a particularly religious man, he knew everything about his culture, customs and philosophy. This man clearly knew that he is a link in a long chain.

I would venture to say that a child not knowing his/her identity is deleterious to their essence. Everyone needs to belong. It is mentally unhealthy to simply float around without any foundation. It is really like a boat whose engine has been shut off and has no anchor. The boat just drifts further and further away and eventually is lost at sea. So too, a human being who has no idea of who he is, meaning, no idea of where he comes from or where he is going, is the root cause of mental and spiritual melancholy. How could it not be?
They tell the story of Einstein who was once traveling from Princeton on a train when the conductor came down the aisle, punching the tickets of every passenger. When he came to Einstein, Einstein reached in his vest pocket. He couldn’t find his ticket, so he reached in his trouser pockets. It wasn’t there. So he looked in his briefcase but couldn’t find it. Then he looked in the seat beside him. He still couldn’t find it.
The conductor said, “Dr. Einstein, I know who you are. We all know who you are. I’m sure you bought a ticket. Don’t worry about it.”
Einstein nodded appreciatively. The conductor continued down the aisle punching tickets. As he was ready to move to the next car, he turned around and saw the great physicist down on his hands and knees looking under his seat for his ticket.
The conductor rushed back and said, “Dr. Einstein, Dr. Einstein, don’t worry, I know who you are. No problem. You don’t need a ticket. I’m sure you bought one.”
Einstein looked at him and said, “Young man, I too, know who I am. What I don’t know is where I’m going.”

Parents should talk about their parents, grandparents and great grandparents in detail. Share some of the richness of conversation that you have had with them. Think about it this way. If you share some words of wisdom from your grandparents, it is very possible they are conveying what they were taught from their grandparents.
Parents should not only talk about the struggles of humankind, but also the heroism of your ancestry in particular. The Jewish people have thousands of stories of grit, bravery, gallantry and courage. Teach about the uprooting and replanting of your people in a new land. Discuss the miracle of surviving the Holocaust and not just the horrors.
I would personally suggest telling the stories of how Jews in Soviet Russia would risk their lives in order to give their child a bris. How a mohel would be retained to clandestinely perform a bris in a darkened basement or in the middle of a deserted tunnel. This way they will understand the great lengths that their ancestry went to preserve their identity. This is probably the reason I am particularly irritated when Jewish “enlightened” parents refuse to give their child a bris. Their ancestors died over their identity and yet, these parents flippantly shrug it off.    
Emphasize the point that the chain of which they are a part of needs to continue and must not stop with them. They need to continue to celebrate who they are and assure that their kids and grandkids do the same.

Please feel free to share.

A Passover Musing: The Four Sons / The Four Parents

For those of you who have ever attended a Passover Seder, you know that aside from matzah and the four cups of wine, there are the four questions and the four sons. While there is much to write about why there is so much riding on the number four, our topic will solely focus on the four sons.

The Haggadah, the book we read during the Seder, tells us that there are four sons (children – does not have to be boys only), and defines them for us.

The wise son, says the Haggadah, is the one who asks a lot of questions because he wants to understand as much as he can. This child is intrigued by the story, customs, rituals and meanings. This son has an insatiable appetite for knowledge. The more he studies, the more he knows, which will translate into the more he does. The wise one is the type of person where you teach him something and he applies it in his daily life.    

The wicked one is the classical cynic, the one who will mock anything he does not understand. He lives as a rebel and excels in nonconforming with his upbringing. More than likely he is a skeptic about everything and thus does not really listen to or even care what people have to say. He knows better and is an expert in every topic. Arrogance is a large part of his makeup.

The Haggadah says clearly that he does ask “What is this?”  The simple son wants to learn but is for the most part uninspired. When he hears the wise son asking questions, he also wants to ask. His question 'What is this?' lacks the sophistication of the wise son's question, but it reflects the same sincere desire to learn and understand. He is clearly more in the camp of the wise son than the wicked son. He simply needs an inspirational figure in his life (like the wise son whom he emulates).

This boychik is sitting at the seder. He is looking at his siblings. He sees his wise brother ask the questions and he sees his wicked brother jeer, scoff and deride. He is the most vulnerable to be influenced. It is for this reason we are sharp with the wicked son because we need to send a clear message to the non-asker that the wicked son is not appreciated.

We read the four sons year after year and it was only recently that I got to thinking that these four sons will grow into parents themselves. Let’s see what this will look like.

The wise parents understand that while their children have all been brought up in the same household, it does not mean that they will be exactly alike. In fact, bringing up all one’s children with exactly the same expectations and hopes is not really wise at all. While one child may go to law school or even better yet medical school, as this is the Jewish mother’s understanding of evolution, another child may abandon the sciences and opt for the arts. One child may be helpful, considerate and kind, while the other is the very antithesis and is cold, calculating and self-absorbed.
The bottom line is that each child is what the Talmud calls an “Olam moleh,” a complete world unto themselves and therefore as parents we need to adjust to who they are and not what we want them to be.

Obviously when we think of wicked parents, we think of child abuse or neglect. These parents are heinous and need intervention so that these children can be helped to have a better life. However, if we substitute the word wicked for bad, we can add another whole dimension to depraved parenting.
The parent who never shows up to their child’s games or theater productions or to parent-teacher conferences will inflict damage on their child, as most of the other parents managed to show up. We are talking about a chronic no show, and not someone who was unable. Likewise, the parent who makes promises and never comes through will inevitably teach their child that a promise is meaningless.  These types of parents will shout at their child if he comes home with an A-.      

The following question needs to be fleshed out. What do we mean by simple? If we mean simple as in uncomplicated, then this is a beautiful thing and probably belongs in the wise category. The word the Haggadah uses for simple is “Tam.” On many a Jewish headstone, the word Tam is used frequently to denote that this person was not a drama queen. If simple means humble or gentle, then this is not a bad thing either.
I think that this is the point. The simple parents are somewhat lackluster. They do not inspire their children to make something of their lives. For the most part the home is dreary and lifeless. These simple parents like the simple son are uninspired. What they need is for some good people to help them as they wish to be helped.

These parents are followers and not leaders. If their neighbor buys a Tesla then they will be tempted to buy one as well. They plan their children’s Bar Mitzvah celebration six years in advance as they do not want the family to think that they are shl’mazals. In other words, they seek to be like the Jones’ instead of blazing their own trail.

While it is true that child rearing has an element of divine luck to it, a large part of our child’s morals, values, character and inspiration stem from the parents. Us. The best ingredients for good parenting are love, patience; self-control; humility; self-respect; generosity; flexibility; forgiveness and a sense of fairness.
I am sure that there are many more core values than the ones listed.

Enjoy your children no matter the age and no matter which of the four categories they fit into. You are the parent for life – for better or for worse.

Feel free to share.   

Calm In The Storm

by Zoey Saacks

Mikdash Me’at
The Torah teaches that we should make our homes into a Mikdash Me’at- a mini sanctuary which serves as a dwelling place for Hashem (Exodus Chapter 25:8 ). How do we handle crisis, how do we approach the holiday of Pesach even in the most trying of times? It is up to us more than ever set the tone for our family within the holy confines of the walls of our home, to model faith and coping, to model struggle and challenges.

Family Time
Yes, in many cases we are spending every waking moment with our family members. In truth we are spending more time than ever before with our spouse or children without the routines of leaving to go to work, school or errands. Let us all take some focused time in our new days to spend quality time together. That could come in the way of a meal, a family game, a family paint night.

Quality Time
Are we spending quality time with each member of the family. Take a minute, sit down next to your child and simply ask “How are you doing?”.

Noticing the Good
We are all under pressure. Stop, be mindful and notice the good. Turn expectations into appreciation. Thank you for helping clean up from dinner, thank you for reading your sister a book, thank you for turning off the light when you went out of the room. Look for the good! Even if the good comes from a prompt, Everyone needs to bring in your dinner plate, please.

Validating Fears
The fears are real. Take the time to listen. The conversation with fear can be a dialectic. Yes, we are afraid, and yes we need to be safe responsible and take precautions and yes we can play a family game tonight. We can and need to not be crippled by fear and coexist simultaneously with bringing meaning and enjoyment into our homes during these trying times.

Being Mindful of the Information We are Sharing
Yes, we need to stay informed. Let us balance the need to stay informed and be responsible with the obligation to guard the emotional well of our family. We can turn off the news for a designated amount of time in order to listen to family music together and be present with our family. Yes, our children need to be aware of what and why we are home now, but they do not need the minute to minute update of all the information on the Coronavirus.

Balance Responsible with Sensitivity
Responsibly share information with your family and loved ones while being mindful of family members ages and sensitivities. Yes, we have the need and responsibility to be informed while at the same time not everyone family member can cope with nonstop updates and news. Clear some sacred time and air space in our homes for lightheartedness in a very heavy time.

How Does Our Family Handle Crisis
This is a question we each need to stop and ask ourselves. With the new world we have been thrown into, come new worries and fears. Just as a nursing baby feels the vibes of its mother, our family members look to us to set the tone in our homes right now. Has the world crisis brought into our homes anxiety, impatience, doom or are we being mindful to bring into our home appreciation of our loved ones, pleasure in simple activities, time for keeping order in our homes and unifying as a family to make time to sit together, eat together, laugh together and yes, talk about the reality but from a place of calm and mindfulness rather than panic and hysteria.

Physical Health and Mental Health
We are all taking care of our physical health to the best of our ability. In addition to using Purell and washing our hands, have we made a plan to preserve and care for our mental health? Is there a place for laughter in our homes, is there a plan for fun? Is each family member being recognized as an individual with their own thoughts and journey in this time belonging to a whole family?  Part of physical health beyond germs is balance. Let us not forget routine, family meals and fun physical activity during this time.

Doom vs Simcha
We each have the power within our homes to create the feeling of doom or the feeling of happiness within our holy walls of our Mikdash Me’at. We cannot choose our circumstance; we can though choose how we act and react to our circumstances.

Lastly, by definition, the times call for us to be very self-focused toward our immediate family AND within that space, what is the message we are sending to our children?  Can we model for them to take a few minutes out of caring for our own family to make a call to check in on a neighbor, friend or family member?

Let us use this time to become finer people, kinder more appreciative spouses, more patient and present parents and better selves and when we come out of this trying time, the story our family has to reflect on is a story of empathy, balance,  and appreciation. 

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