click here to jump to start of article
  • Torah Reading: Naso
Join Our Newsletter

Get latest articles and videos with Jewish inspiration and insights​

The Heavenly Report Card

The Heavenly Report Card

Maybe you're not such a bad parent (spouse/friend/person) after all.


Our lives on this planet seem to be totally results oriented. No matter how hard your tailor tries, if he doesn't finish the suit on time he doesn't get paid. We don't reward him with 80% payment if the jacket is only missing one sleeve. The suit is useless without it. He gets nothing. And that is reasonable.

But on the Heavenly Report Card the grading system is very different. Our Sages teach us that the relative success of our endeavors is not really in our hands. Surely we must put in our fullest efforts in any task we undertake, but what ultimately transpires is beyond our span. How often are we faced with a situation where despite our most heroic and skilled labors, the end result falls far short of our expectations? Conversely, sometimes things just seem to "work out" despite our paltry investment.

Upstairs, we are never judged by the end product; only by our intentions and our corresponding effort toward fulfilling our objectives.

"Ben Hei Hei says: The reward is in proportion to the exertion," (Ethics of our Fathers 5:26).

God, in His infinite wisdom, gave us free will - the ultimate gift. And in doing so, He designed a system whereby he could reward us strictly for trying. The results are totally up to Him.

Upstairs, we are never judged by the end product; only by our intentions and our corresponding effort toward fulfilling our objectives. When we do that, we are 100% successful - regardless of the outcome.


Life's greatest insights come in all shapes and surprises. Often they are packaged in profound experiences and dramatic episodes. But sometimes they are delivered in simple little packages - containing reminders of things we all know, but too often forget. I have Jake and Sharon to thank for the previous one.

Jake and Sharon are devoted and loving parents. To them, raising children is much more than a filial obligation or a playful recreation. It is a calling.

When I first met them they were married for six years and already had four children. Jake had built a small but thriving consulting business while Sharon spent 24/7 consulting with bottles, pacifiers, and nurseries.

They had sought my counsel regarding Ari, age five. He seemed to be moody at home with a penchant for tormenting his sisters, and his teacher had used the word reclusive in describing Ari at a parents/teacher's conference.

J and S were overwhelmed, but at least they realized it. They pulled no punches. They came with prepared questions and freely confessed to their helplessness with Ari.

"Don't ask me how a 42 pound five-year-old can completely take over a family of six, but it has happened. I've seen it," cried Jake.

The details are not especially relevant. Suffice it to say that we spent five subsequent appointments discussing some management strategies for dealing with Ari. At a three month follow-up session the parents reported some very minor improvements in Ari and only slightly more substantial progress in their own coping skills.

It was 12 years before we met in person again.

"Let me guess," I said when they called. "Ari turned 17."

Jake wore an enormous yet artificial smile as he entered the office but Sharon's tension could not be masked. I barely had time to ask, "How are you guys doing," when Sharon dropped her purse on the floor and blurted, "We are losing our son."

Jake and Sharon then proceeded, taking turns spilling out the specifics of Ari's swift and steady decline into a world of confusion. I was doing little to interrupt their venting voyage, just letting them unleash some of the agony was probably more valuable than any great wisdom I could offer them.

Ari never did better than 'C' work, usually worse than that, despite his obvious intellectual capacities. Only in 7th grade, under the tutelage of an exceptionally dynamic Hebrew teacher, did Ari display any real motivation to learn.

"He was so happy that year," recalled Jake. "He had friends; he had a spark - he laughed. We thought we had turned the corner."

"But after his Bar-Mitzvah," continued Sharon, "everything went south. We tried to get him to see someone, but he refused. He wouldn't see you because he knew we had spoken to you about him. You were off-limits - but so was anyone else. He never said why."

Over the next few sessions I learned that Ari had become exceedingly withdrawn in high school. He vacillated between religious fanaticism and total secularism. He would often just seem to drift into his own world, displaying very occasional fits of anger that manifested his deep underlying frustration with himself and his situation.

All the while Ari continued to attend school, but he developed obsessive-compulsive symptoms that sometimes included bizarre rituals of excessive cleanliness. His grades even improved, but socially he was inappropriate and he certainly unhappy.

I remarked how tragic the situation was, especially since it was so clear that therapy and medication would likely have helped him - but he just wouldn't hear of it.

Jake and Sharon continued to come on a weekly basis for a while, detailing the heartbreaking odyssey that had unfolded before them.

"The pain has been unbearable," said Jake, "but at least it never divided me and Sharon. If anything, it has brought us closer. And ironically, maybe because of Ari, we have put so much more into the other kids. Thank God, they're all doing great."

She buried her face into her hands and the tears flowed shamelessly. "I'm a failure."

Hard as I tried there was simply no idea that I came up with in the ensuing weeks that they hadn't already attempted. They wrote him letters. They stayed up nights, both with him and with each other, trying to find some common ground to relate mutually with Ari. His grandparents pleaded with Ari to get help - to no avail. His teachers attempted to engage him. Neighborhood rabbis, even kabbalists, prayed for him. Nothing worked.

She buried her face into her hands and the tears flowed shamelessly.

"I'm a failure."

I could see that Sharon had reached the breaking point. I just let her cry; partly because she needed to and partly because I really had nothing to say to her. My only lame intervention was gently pushing my box of Kleenex closer to her.

Many minutes went by without a word being said. The ticking of my fake grandfather clock never sounded so loud.

Sharon finally looked up at me and wiped away her final tear. Her tired eyes seemed to beg me to say something…anything…that might remotely soothe her.

"I know you feel like a failure and that the pain you are in may never ever go away. The hurt is beyond description.

"All I can say to you is that as long as I have known you, you have been an incredible parent. Raising your children properly was and will always be your number one priority. That is something to be very proud of.

"But success in parenting, like in most things, is really not measured by how your kids turn out. That's a mistake. We both know kids who happened to turn out great despite having parents who couldn't care less about them. That's just the way it is. We don't really understand why.

Regardless of what Ari does with his life, you and Jake could not have been more successful.

"A great rabbi once reminded me that true success in life is measured by how much effort you put in. You're no failure. Frankly, Sharon, in my book, you are 100% successful. We all hope things will turn around, but regardless of what Ari does with his life, you and Jake could not have been more successful. You have done everything you can and more. You are both champion parents."

The quiet returned to the room. I wasn't sure if my impassioned remarks hit home or not. Sharon looked at the floor and then at me. I thought I saw her smile.

"Thank you," she finally said.

"Thank you so very much. I feel like I have waited 17 years to hear the words that you just told me."


We parents need to remember that we're judged by our sincere efforts, not the results. Don't get caught up in the mundane Earthly marking system. When you do your best to raise your kids with solid values, unremitting love, and sensible discipline, while also being an appropriate role model for them to emulate - you are automatically a complete success - no matter how they respond. It isn't easy to keep that focus, but it can save you barrels of frustration, disappointment, and guilt.

The same dynamic actually holds true in countless areas of life. As long as you're doing your absolute best, whether it's trying to raise money for a really important project, learning subjects that seem out of reach, attempting to close a mega-deal, or just baking a cake or choosing a cool tie - you can and should consider your efforts totally successful. It's hard, but don't be misled by the outcome.

What the future holds for Ari I cannot say.

And Jake and Sharon surely have some tough challenges ahead. They may still experience pain, frustration, and disappointment. No one can really know why.

Hopefully, though, failure is no longer in the picture.

May 21, 2005

Give Tzedakah! Help create inspiring
articles, videos and blogs featuring timeless Jewish wisdom.
The opinions expressed in the comment section are the personal views of the commenters. Comments are moderated, so please keep it civil.

Visitor Comments: 21

(21) Anonymous, February 25, 2008 10:55 AM

"sorry...(4)" and "not so sure (9)"

Clearly neither of these commets are written by parents (or, parents of adults). If they ever become parents, and I do mean this sincerely and with a whole heart, may G-d help them, for it' been my experience that sometimes (always? G-d forbid) Ha-shem eventually places one into the shoes of the individuals/into the very situations they have been judging...lo aleynu and G-d forbid. May Ha-shem bless all of us with only true, "Yiddishe nachas" from ourselves and ALL our children and above all may we all give nachas to our "Aba B'Shomayim" - our Father in Heaven most of all!!!

If we are to understand R' Salomon's description properly, this article was clearly refering to non-abusive, healthy, sincere and loving parents who truly were doing their best.
One of the hardest things in life to remember (I know because it's an ongoing struggle for me) is that even when we think we can, we can not judge -not even truly "awful" parents - critically. That 100% G-d's domain, not ours. We are commanded to judge (our fellow Jew)on the side of merit - period. (Hey, I didn't make it up! ;-) We are commanded to honor our parents - period. No exceptions for crummy, even abusive, parents (of course we are not obligated to make ourselves punching bags, emotionally or physically, either - a qualified rav needs to be consulted to understand the extent of the obligation in such cases).
Can we judge their actions? Absolutely. Their character, or how Ha-shem will deal with them? No way.
Also, dear child, it's good to keep in mind that (again, this is not my thought, this is the truth as brought down by CHAZAL) the way we judge others is precisely the way we will be judged by G-d - so judging on the side of merit is not only a Torah obligation but good for "selfish" purposes as well. Have mercy on your own soul by having mercy on the subjects of R'Salomon's article, who clearly did everything within their power to help the son they loved - and on your own parents, who in thier own dysfuction fell indescribably short of your needs and expectations - and are likely not in the category of the parents in the Rabbi's article.

One of the hardest things we have to do for ouselves and for the world around us is to learn from the past, not blame it or stay stuck in it; take 100% responsibility for our present, and work tirelessly on our emunah - which, when you feel you've been dealt a "bad hand" is all the more difficult. (I'm over 40, and I still feel like I've barely made a dent - but that won't stop me from trying!)

And, to the point of #9: as for "bad" kids (so to speak)coming from "good parents" and vice versa...don't believe it? Take a good look at Tanach! :-) Ever heard of Yishmael, son of the righteous (like we can't even conceive of!!!) Avraham? Or Esav, son of the inconceivably righteous Rivka Imenu and Yitzchak Aveinu? (G-d help us, we're still dealing with those adversaies today!!!!!!!!) How about the absolutely wicked son of the righteous Kind Hezekia? Just to name a few.
Or, looking at the opposite dynamic: Did Rivka Imenu or Rachel Imenu or Leah Imenu spend their lives bitter, angry and blaming because they were raised by rashayim? No. They built themselves from scratch - they cleaved to Ha-shem and made themselves into the holiest of holy women.
In the non-Jewish world, there are numerous modern day examples of people who came from abuse, dysfuntion, poverty, crime - and made something of themselves - perhaps even more than had they come from a boring, "happy childhood." Oprah is one well-known example, as are numerous individuals spearheading organizations championing causes for the less fortunate - on behalf of inner city kids, crime rehab, eduation for the underprivileged, medical care for the poor, you name it...the list goes on. Are they exceptions to the rule? Perhaps - as, perhaps, are the "bad apples" from truly good homes.
Of course there is an interplay and influence between parents and their children, but only Ha-shem, and the hard-wiring of the child, determine what that influence will or won't be. I.e., what will inspire one child will discourage another. What will increase one child's sense of self esteem and self worth will destroy anothers. What will bounce off one chid and leave them utterly unaffected will saturate and wound another to their very core. If you oberve children of large famililes - most, anyway, you will see this to be the case. Kids aren't "blank slates" -we all came in here hard wired with our own tempraments, proclivities, sensitivities, challenges, talents...past life stories and soul tikkunim to affect.
Often the influences outside the home - where these days kids spend most of their time, by the way - are profoundly (and not always positively) influential.
Parenting, "good" or "bad" can influence, but not determine the Rabbi Salomon said. The "outcome" is determined by the free will of the individual, and ultimately the Will of Ha-shem.
I am close with a family who grew up together, close in age, with the exact same parents, the exact same environment, subjected to the same parenting style/attention, etc. As adults, one of the 3 has nothing but praise for his parents, and happens to be one of the most optimistic, positive, grounded, emotinally healthy individuals I have ever met in my life. Another sib is a great guy - but keeps everything inside, continues to have frequent conflict and "issues" with the parents, and would likely not rate them as such terrific parents. The third has "made peace" with them, but will readily recount all the shortcomings, abuses, neglects, and failures of those very same parents, but will also admit that they did some good. Point being, you just never know. Never.

One last thought: how broken, in how much pain, how warped and sick does must an individual's psyche be to harm others - especially one's own children (i.e. in the case of emotional and/or pyscially abusive parents)? Does it "excuse" or make "okay" their behaviour? Never. But would you ever, ever choose to spend a day being them? Feeling their feelings, being as wounded, sick, broken, pained as they most surely be? Of course not. Rahamim. We all need rahamim. I heard an esteemed rav say that even with regard to the Palestinians!! that we cannot judge them, we may not hate them. We should PRAY FOR THEM. We want EVIL to cease and desist, not PEOPLE. If this is true for non-Jewish terrorists, all the more so our own parents, neighbors, community members! All the energy you spend judging and criticizing and analyzing, and continually re-abusing yourself in your own mind by replaying the past! - use that energy to PRAY for them!!! Pray for yourself! Pray for humanity!!
It's all in Ha-shem's hands, we have to turn to Him and ask Him to heal all the wounded, twisted, broken souls out there - our own included!! - for peace to reign and for moshiach to come - and for our world to be a vessel for Divine Light and Blessing. May it happen soon and in our days.
I wish you only love, joy, healing, simcha, gratitude and an abundance of Torah blessings!

(20) Anonymous, April 9, 2006 12:00 AM

sorry but it's not how it works

My parents have been failures. It took me decades to pick up the pieces. I won't judge them, but I am glad I am not in their shoes and I won't have to defend myself about those actions in Heavenly Court.
Those who destroy one single soul, it is as if they destroyed the whole world. Yes "Jake" and "Sharon", that's what you'll be held responsible for, in Heavenly Court. It's not enough to try. Even the suicide terrorists and the nazis have a concept of right and wrong, and they struggle (even risking their life) for what they think is right. The difference between them and us is the REALITY CHECK. Do a reality check "Jake" and "Sharon" and Rabbi Solomon too, and you'll see the pain of young Ari, and you'll know those parents have failed.

(19) Anonymous, March 21, 2006 12:00 AM

no better words

there is no question about it , the Heavenly assistance you had that day in your office is remarkable. may you continue to be such a wonderful 'meesenger'. you were certainly acquired the Next World in that moment.

(18) Shilah, January 23, 2006 12:00 AM

I understand. Maybe illness?

I understand your grief. Our daughter had an incredibly rough transiton into puberty, and it took 2 years to figure out the cause: she had developed bipolar. Apparently it often doesn't show up until the brain begins those huge changes that come with the entrance to puberty. She'll always have to be on medication, but at least we have her back...her real self, alive ! & loving, & creative, & faithful to G-d. Though only 15, she is one of my favorite people to be with. This, after spending several months thinking "I don't WANT to be a mother any more !" ...remember, G-d was the perfect parent, gave His first kids the perfect environment, and still they chose to sin. Take joy in the small things...even just one clean spot on the floor; just one sock picked up...there may be days when your main accomplishment is to refrain from running away & changing your name. So, that's an accomplishment ! celebrate ! You deserve nachas, even from yourself -- especially from yourself, because besides HaShem, only you really knows just how tough today was for you. Remember, He keeps track of all our tossings; He puts our tears in His bottle; He rewards the faithful,also, not only the winners. G-d bless & sustain you.

(17) sharon, January 12, 2006 12:00 AM

do you think

Do you think sometimes things like ari could be genetic like spergurs desease that often goes unreconised just asking as my own son who is 18 is alot like this thank goodness i have a child that is naturally gifted nothing to do with me i take no credit that gods doing.but my 18 yr old is difficult the only thing i can say that he responds to is love & praise basic needs i guess & no matter how much i try to push him in the right direction at this stage only tiny steps of success for the effort ,like learning how to walk he seems to fall over more.but i am thinking about looking at medical resons as well, maybe it will help us all cope including him.

See All Comments

Submit Your Comment:

  • Display my name?

  • Your email address is kept private. Our editor needs it in case we have a question about your comment.

  • * required field 2000
Submit Comment