What is our job as parents? Sometimes we get distracted and think we are the chauffer, the short order cook, the referee... Our job as parents is to be educators. We are teachers. The Hebrew word for education is chinuch, which is directly related to the word Chanukah, which means dedication. What is the connection between education and dedication?
When you are really educating a child, you are dedicating them with values that are eternal. Our job as a parent is to be a teacher of values.
There are so many values we could discuss, but we are going to focus on eight core values. Keep in mind that each one is an entire discussion unto itself (hopefully this will inspire you to learn more about it).
The best way to teach these values to your child is to live them. Be a role model. Have a loving relationship with your kids, and, God willing, you will see children who will come to live these values.
Value #1: Ethical Speech
The Torah teaches us that when someone gossips about others, it is triple murder. Three people die: the one you are speaking about, the speaker, and the listener.
The person you are speaking about dies in the eyes of all who are listening. Gossip is like a fired bullet, once you pull the trigger, someone is going to get killed. You can't ever get that bullet back. Once you speak against someone, what you said is forever in the minds of all who are listening, and they will never look upon that person in the same way again.
The speaker is also being killed in the eyes of the listener. But is that really true? Isn't the speaker, who has the dirt and lowdown (they don't call it that for nothing), the center of attention?
If you're speaking badly about him, you'll speak badly about me, too.
Perhaps at the moment, but the gossiper is really committing slow social suicide every time they speak badly of others. They will not be the person that others will come to and entrust their lives with, ask advice of, or look to with respect. Because they all know: "If you're speaking badly about him, you'll speak badly about me, too."
The person killed most of all is the listener. Of the triangle of people, the listener has the most control of stopping the gossip, and if they don't, in God's eyes they are the guiltiest. So walk away, change the subject, judge the person being spoken about to the good, tell people you don't want to hear it... whatever it takes. But make it clear that you refuse to listen. Because if there is no one to listen, no one would say it.
Many say that gossip is fun. It may be fun... unless they're talking about you.
Value #2: Truth
We are taught that when God signs His name, He signs it: "Emet," Truth. Yes, we know God doesn't actually hold a pen, but we learn from this that truth is an extremely important quality.
One is never allowed to lie, except under three circumstances. The first is for shalom bayit, for peace between people. If someone asks you how you like their new haircut, or if you like how they redecorated their home, and you don't like either, you are allowed to lie and tell them that you do. People's feelings are a higher truth than this other truth. Most people are not really asking for your opinion. If they wanted it, they would have asked you before they cut their hair or redecorated. They are really asking for approval. Give it to them.
The second time one is permitted to lie is to preserve your privacy. If someone asks you if you got a $10,000 raise, and you did, you can say, "no". Why? Because it's none of their business. Your life is not an open book. You are allowed to have privacy and boundaries. (Of course, if the IRS asks you if you got a $10,000 raise, that is their business!)
The third time one may lie is to minimize your own accomplishments. If you are praised for running a school fundraiser all by yourself, you can lie and say you were just one of a committee, even though you ran it all by yourself. You know what you did, God knows what you did, no one else has to know.
Value #3: Humility
The Torah considers humility to be one of the greatest character traits, but you'll never see Time Magazine's "Humblest Man of the Year."
If I told you were going to meet the humblest person who ever lived, would you imagine him to be a small, soft-spoken kind of guy? The Torah teaches that Moses was the humblest man who ever lived, and he was no shrinking violet. He stood up to Pharaoh, met God on Mount Sinai, was victorious in war...
Humility is not "I'm nothing." Humility is "I'm something, but I don't take the credit. I know the true Source of it." When we use our talents, looks, resources, skills and intelligence, we are simply cashing the check that God wrote. Don't take pride, take pleasure. You are using what God gave you for good.
Value #4: Honoring Parents
On the tablets of The Ten Commandments, honoring one's parents is grouped with the mitzvot between man and God. Bad editing job? No, it is a clear message that your relationship with your parents has a direct link with your relationship with God. I have met a number people who grew up with religion and left it. Most did not leave because they had a problem with God, rather they had a problem with their parents.
Most leave religion because they had a problem with their parents.
Your children need to honor you – for their sake, not for yours. (My rabbi says that if you had kids so that they will serve you, an English butler is cheaper.) Your children need people to look up to in their lives. You are not your kids' friend. They have friends. They need a parent.
The Torah offers some tools to help instill this sense of honor: Your children cannot call you by your first name; they should ask your permission before sitting in your designated seat (for example, at the table, in the den); instead of saying "no," teach them to "disagree with honor" – by saying, "Is it possible we could watch for a few more minutes?"
Keep in mind, this applies to you honoring your own parents, and – gulp! – your in-laws, too.
Value #5: Tzedakah
What is the difference between the Jewish concept of tzedakah, and the non-Jewish concept of charity? Charity is: If I feel like giving, I will give. Tzedakah is: Even if I don't feel like giving, I must give. Tzedakah means "righteousness." Doing the right thing is an obligation and a responsibility.
Have tzedakah boxes in your home. Make sure your kids have their own. Teach them the Torah obligation to give 10 percent of all their money (for you it's after taxes) to others in need. When their box is full, have them decide where it goes: to your local synagogue, the poor of the community, Israel...
God created a world where there are people in need. Why does He rely on us to redistribute the wealth? Because having those in need obligates us to give, and that turns us into... givers! And that helps us to become more God-like.
Value #6: Shabbat
The Sabbath is not a day of rest. It is a day that we stop creating, and to recognize there is a Creator. We step back to remember that God runs the world.
Get the kids into Shabbat. Make challah with them, invite guests and let them make place cards and welcome signs for them, give them the traditional blessing while resting your hands on their little heads. Light candles with them, sing Shabbat songs with them, talk about the weekly parsha during the Friday night dinner (see the Family Parsha page).
Make sure your home and family life are different because it is Shabbat.
Remember, it's not all or nothing. But make sure your home and family life are different because it is Shabbat. Perhaps begin with no TV Friday night, so after dinner it's family board games, charades, story time. Instead of going to the mall on Saturday, push it off until Sunday, and use Saturday for Shabbat family walks, visiting neighbors, checking out your local synagogue Shabbat program. Make it a Shabbat shalom, a Shabbat of connection and peace.
Because more than the Jews have kept Shabbat, it's Shabbat that keeps the Jews.
Value #7: Love
There are three aspects to love. The first is knowing that love is the emotion you feel when focusing on another's virtues, and identifying that person with those virtues. Who knows your kid's virtues better than you? No one. Who knows their challenging qualities better than you? No one. And when you choose to focus on their virtues, that brings love.
Love is also defined as: "What is important to you is important to me." We don't have a TV at home. When I travel I watch ESPN in my hotel room so I can come back home and tell my son, Moshie, who is 11 and a big sports fan, about all the players I saw. I don't love sports, and Moshie knows that. But I love my Moshie.
And the Torah teaches us that it's not loving that leads to giving, it's giving that leads to loving. If you want to love someone more, be a giver. The more you give, the more you will love.
Value #8: God
My rabbi taught us that your kids have to know that you love them, and that God loves them.
When you tuck them into bed at night, ask them who loves them. They will name you, your spouse, grandparents, the family dog. Then teach them that God loves them the most. They have very few constants in their lives. They will experience loneliness, rejection, failure... and they even won't have you around forever. The one constant they have is God. Talk about Him, and get comfortable with having Him in your home. If you're not, they won't be.
Don't say, "Thank goodness," say, "Thank God." Don't say, "I was so lucky," say, "I was so blessed."
Ultimately, this whole world is about you and God. Give that gift to your kids. Everything else flows from there. That's real education and dedication. That's Jewish chinuch – a great gift for Chanukah.
This article originally appeared in American Jewish Spirit: www.ajspirit.com