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Do Sweat the Small Stuff

Do Sweat the Small Stuff

When it comes to instilling values, it's the little things that count.


How do you make a good family great?

Many of us wait for that BIG MOMENT; you know the one I mean. The one that will make an incredible impression on our children's souls and transform them into mensches forever. While waiting for that life altering lesson, we miss out on the little moments that occur, the small insignificant encounters that seem to get lost between the pages of our day.

September means school. And school means new notebooks, supplies, and school shoes. So here I am, shopping for school shoes with my daughter. We take a number and patiently wait our turn. We find our way to a bench and are told to take a seat. But here is the problem: the mom who just left with her children and piles of shoe boxes forgot something. Or should I say ‘things'? There is a sticky half eaten lollypop along with smashed fries and dirty tissues in our way. My daughter grimaces as she step into someone's spilled coke that seeped into the carpet.

I am astonished. The salesman tries valiantly to clear all the stuff away, but one must wonder, who left all this mess here?

"Don't you get upset?" I ask.

"It doesn't pay," he replies. "I try to speak to the parents but I can't compete with their cell phones and texting. I'm happy if they give me a few minutes and finally make their decision."

Our children watch the way we leave our tables in the pizza shop.

Here is where it all begins. These are the day-to-day encounters that mustn't be overlooked. These are the moments that get glossed over but, incredibly, they make all the difference in the world. Our children absorb the way we treat the people who help us out in life, the ones who we so easily disregard and take for granted. The shoe salesman, the cashier, the bus driver, the school secretary, and the lists go on.

Our children watch the way we leave our tables in the pizza shop. There are ketchup laden trays filled with half eaten crusts and crumpled napkins piled high. They internalize the lesson and now understand that it's okay to leave my garbage behind; there will always be someone to pick up after me.

A woman I know invited a family to spend the weekend with hers. After they left, she discovered broken bed frames from too much jumping on the beds. There were dirty diapers left along with wet towels strewn everywhere.

Let's think about the little moments and realize that we can help mold mensches if we do sweat the small stuff. Children who are taught to be considerate not only of their own belongings but those of others, grow up respectful of their world and those in it.

"What Ever Happened to Respect?"

One dark December night, a group of more than 30 teens and young adults trashed a historic farmhouse that belonged to the poet Robert Frost. The New York Times describes the damage.

There were shattered windows, dishes, and antiques. Chairs had been smashed, fire extinguishers sprayed. Beer and vomit covered the home's interior. Town's people wondered how this could have happened and asked "what ever happened to respect?"

A police sergeant commented that after photographing and fingerprinting more than two dozen youths, he especially could not get over the indifference of one teen who asked him if he could use his mug shot on his Facebook page.

Torah's GPS System

We need direction as we raise our children. How can we possibly know the best path through which we can instill this seed of respect within our children's hearts?

Torah is our built in GPS system, granting us wisdom for daily life. As we follow its guidance, we gain values and character traits for both us and our children. The Torah and its mitzvahs provide us with solutions to live by.

‘Bal tashchit' is a mitzvah that means ‘do not destroy'. Living in a society of plenty, it is easy to needlessly destroy and be wasteful. In Judaism, this is not only thought of as a deficient character trait, but it is considered a sin.

Children need to know that they leave a spiritual fingerprint wherever they go.

Our sages teach us that we are molded by our actions. If we easily stomp on the world around us, we ruin more then just a flower garden or bed frame. We extinguish a force within that encourages us to be architects of this universe.

If we want our children to cherish this world and value their possessions, they must learn to make this mitzvah of bal tashchit an essential principle as they go about their lives.

Daily Encounters

There are times that we can open our children's eyes to this fundamental principle of bal tashchit. The next time you sit in a restaurant and wait for your orders to arrive, don't allow your children to pour out the sugar and salt packets. Spilling food for no reason is bal tashchit. So is crumbling bread into a million little balls and making drink concoctions on the side.

Telling kids that there are "starving kids in Africa who would love their food" is not a solution. This never worked with you and it will not work with your children. Our children need to acquire an understanding that speaks more than superficial lines.

Our children, the next generation, are the keepers of this universe and everything in it --from the trees and flowers to the benches that they sit on. When we instill in our children an attitude of caring for our world from the time that they are young, we show them that they are responsible for their actions. They have the ability to preserve and sustain; they are here to build and never destroy. Children need to know that they leave a spiritual fingerprint wherever they go. It is an invisible signature that they should sign proudly: I was here and I made a difference. And it was a good difference.

September 13, 2009

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Visitor Comments: 12

(12) Anonymous, November 30, 2011 3:39 AM

Loved this

This is gorgeous and soooooooooo true. Miss you so. Love reading your wisdom!!! Judie

(11) Anonymous, October 26, 2009 3:04 PM

When I was in Yeshiva high school, we had breakfast after shachris. I always threw my garbage out. However, the majority of the students left a huge mess for the custodian to clean up as if he was their slave. As a society, we need to reevaluate our value system.

(10) Anonymous, October 13, 2009 2:03 PM

children do as they see not as we say

Mrs. Wolf is right on target. I have worked in camps and in schools and it's incredible to watch young ladies who are from "good homes" leave garbage after themselves! We trained our children to clear our tables at pizza shops and at Kosher Delight - we explained to them that we do not tip in these places; therefore, we should clean up. When we took them to restaurants, they had to be on their best behavior too. (We had zero tolerance for table messes at home as well!) Food, we explained, is not a toy - you have to respect what Hashem gives us. Kudos to you, Mrs. Wolf - keep those articles coming!

(9) , October 9, 2009 4:25 PM

Important lesson for every one to learn

This is a great lesson that I hope everyone would read and learn from this. I think this is especially important as Jews to make a Kiddush Hashem. Where ever I go I am always consious that I set a good example by being polite, say thank you to the bus driver as I get off the bus, thank the janitor who is cleaning up our mess and Yes! cleaining up after my self! Thank you for pointing out something we should all inspire to do.

(8) Alan S., October 8, 2009 11:26 PM

People in charge should say something...

Excellent article. It's so sad a commentary about the very poor behavior of many people. It is really nothing more than a reflection of who they are as people and what they value. All this said, it is up to the people who are in charge of those that are abused to say something. For instance, in this story, I would not expect the shoe clerk to say something, but I would hope that the store manager would. (Assume the manager notices this behavior him or herself, or the clerk informs him/her while it is happening. The manager should then escort this woman and her kids out of the store, or ask her to clean up.

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