Posts on the topic of "Parenting"
We're all incredibly busy, and sometimes our myriad responsibilities – work, social, health, etc. – clash with the core goal of giving proper attention to our children. So assuming we cannot give them optimal attention 100% of the time, how can be assured that our children will have the secure feeling that we absolutely love them with full devotion?
There's a story told about Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, the leading Torah scholar in America from 1936–1986.
One of Rav Moshe's grandson's was becoming a Bar Mitzvah, but Rav Moshe was unable to attend, as it coincided with a major rabbinical conference taking place the same day.
Rav Moshe's son, Rabbi Reuven Feinstein – the father of the Bar Mitzvah boy – was asked how he felt about his illustrious father not being able to attend. His answer: "It's alright. I know that my father loves me."
He then described a few incidents in his childhood which served as a constant reminder of his father's great love for him:
In the New York winter, before waking up his son for school, Rav Moshe would put the boy's clothes on the radiator so they would be toasty-warm.
Over the years, many famous and important people joined the family's Shabbat table. Yet Rav Moshe never allowed any visitor – no matter how wealthy or well-connected – to supplant his son's seat next to his father at the table.
I thought about this in reading an article by Erin Kurt, who spent 16 years as a teacher around the world. Every year, she would ask her students what their mother did that made them feel happy or loved.
She reports that
surprisingly, many of the responses were the same. Year after year, in every country I taught, and in every type of demographic, the students were saying the same things and had the same message:
It's the small things that their mothers did that meant the most and that they remembered.
Here's a list of the top 10 things kids say they remember and love most about their mothers:
1. Comes into my bedroom at night, tucks me in and sings me a song. She also tells me stories about when she was little.
2. Gives me hugs and kisses, and sits and talks with me privately.
3. Spends quality time just with me, not with my brothers and sisters around.
4. Gives me nutritious food so I can grow up healthy.
5. At dinner, she talks about what we could do together on the weekend.
6. At night, she talks to me about anything – love, school, family, etc.
7. She lets me play outside a lot.
8. We cuddle under a blanket and watch our favorite show together.
9. She disciplines me. It makes me feel like she cares.
10. She leave special messages in my desk or lunch bag.
So what's the key to instilling a lifelong feeling of security, acceptance and love? Small acts of thoughtfulness that make your kids feel important and cared for. Good advice.
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I just returned from the Bris of my first grandchild, Noson Eliyahu Tal, and would like to share some of the many thoughts running through my head.
At the conclusion of a Bris, there is a special prayer the parent recites:
"May my son's heart be as open to Your Torah as the Ulam, the great entranceway to the Holy Temple."
This reference to the Ulam is not simply a poetic expression. It is based on the Talmud (Eruvin 53a) which quotes Rabbi Yochanan as saying that "the minds of the 'earlier scholars' were as broad as the entrance of the Ulam." The Talmud then identifies these "earlier scholars" as Rebbe Akiva and Rebbe Elazar ben Shamua.
This raises a question: Why are the new parents praying for their child to reach the level of Rebbe Akiva and Rebbe Elazar ben Shamua? These were great Sages from 2,000 years ago, and in our generation nobody reaches such a level!
I believe some insight can be found in the Talmud (Sotah 12b): When Batya found baby Moses floating in the river, he refused to nurse from the Egyptian women, and would only nurse from his mother. Moses required "kosher" food, since in the future he would be speaking directly with the Almighty and needed to maintain the highest level of purity.
Today we would never expect to reach the level of Moses, just as we don't expect to reach the level of Rebbe Akiva. And yet the Code of Jewish Law (Rema―Yoreh De'ah 81:7) says that the preferance to nurse from a Jewish woman applies equally today!
From here, Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetsky (Emes L'Yaakov 2:7) learns a principle: Every human being has unlimited potential, and we should never place any limitation on our hopes for a child's greatness!
This idea of encouraging the greatness of each individual was a hallmark of my father, after whom my new grandson is named. As an accomplished chemist, my father had attractive opportunities in the private sector, e.g. an offer from a large food company to develop ways for breakfast cereal to stay crunchier longer in milk. But he wanted to do something meaningful that would genuinely help others. So he became a university professor, where he taught not only the advanced levels, but also insisted on teaching the entry-level chemistry course. He believed that if you give someone a good foundation from the start, that will carry them through the future.
Over the years I have heard of many of my father's students who excelled, got good grades, and went on to become successful teachers in their own right. This was due in no small measure to my father's guidance, encouragement and belief in their great potential.
With children, so much of their success depends on encouragement from the parents. The Talmud (Yerushalmi―Yevamos 1:6) discusses how Rebbe Yehoshua became such a great tzaddik. When Rebbe Yehoshua was a baby, his mother set his baby carriage outside the yeshiva. This little baby was exposed to lots and lots of Torah learning and thus grew up to become the great Rebbe Yehoshua.
Yet how did this contribute to Rebbe Yehoshua's greatness? As a baby, he certainly didn't comprehend the complex rabbinic discussions in the yeshiva. Rather, what made Rebbe Yehoshua great was the influence of having a mother who was willing to sacrifice herself to bring him there every day, who showed him the importance of having strong Jewish values, and who believed that one day he could sit amongst the great ones.
It is with tremendous gratitude to the Almighty that I celebrated today my grandson's Bris. We have unlimited hopes for this gorgeous baby. May he exceed them all !
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Yesterday, life hit a new high: My daughter gave birth to my first grandchild ― a beautiful, bouncy baby boy.
It is, in my estimation, life's greatest milestone.
When my wife and I got married and started a family of our own, we enjoyed every moment of this new and exciting adventure. Yet as the main characters in this script (and due in no small measure to our youth and inexperience) we did not appreciate it all from a deeper, outside perspective.
Now one generation later, as my daughter and son-in-law repeat the process, we are able to relive our own transition to parenthood, this time with a deeper appreciation. We know the dynamics, the pitfalls, the learning curve ― and the pure joy. We can step back and watch the thrill of this beautiful new family unfold.
Now here's why this strikes me as the peak lifecycle moment: Even more than the joy of having children is the joy of grandchildren.
Most creatures in the world have parent-child relationships ― whether a mother lion protecting her cubs or a mother bird feeding her young. Only the human being has a concept of grandchildren, of perpetuation beyond a single generation.
Our forefather Jacob, on his deathbed, blessed his grandchildren before blessing his children (Genesis ch. 48). It was a recognition that being a grandparent connects us to our future family line, an expression of our uniqueness as human beings.
And the reverse applies as well ― in my grandson's eyes, I am a key link to his past. That's why I've chosen to be called not Grandpa or Saba (Hebrew), or even Abuelo (Spanish), Dedushka (Russian) or Oupa (Afrikaans). I'm going to be called the Yiddish ― "Zeidy." Judaism is so steeped in tradition and this will be a link to our ancestral roots in eastern Europe.
Indeed, my own father would have wanted to be called Zeidy, had he lived long enough. This is my small way of honoring his memory. I only hope that I can be as good a Zeidy as he surely would have been.
My prayer is that our new (as yet unnamed) grandson will bring much nachas to his family and community, fulfilling the will of God with sincerity and joy, and always blessed with health and peace.
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By now you've probably heard about Stephanie Decker, the Indiana mom who lost her legs protecting her children when a monster tornado sucked her 8,000-square-foot house into its vortex and caused it to completely collapse.
Stephanie describes how she and her two small children went down into their basement to ride out the storm when the violent winds began to break glass and literally move her house. In a split-second decision, Stephanie tied them up in a blanket and threw her own body on top of them in order to protect them from falling debris. Everything from furniture to steel beams landed on her ― puncturing a lung, breaking seven ribs, severing her two legs.
Stephanie prayed to survive and to be able to see her children grow up. Her 8-year-old son crawled out from the rubble and ran for help, while Stephanie made a farewell video on her cellphone. In the end, Stephanie's life was spared and the two children walked away totally unscathed.
This is one of those unique stories that gets to your core ― the kind that brings great sadness and inspiration at the same time. And with Jews around the world celebrating Purim today, I keep coming back to the words of Queen Esther. She knew that approaching the King without an appointment was punished by death, yet she viewed her mission to save the Jewish people thusly: "If I perish, I perish" (Esther 4:16).
When it comes to sacrificing for something that we deeply believe in, we are capable of super-human efforts.
And this has me asking: What am I capable of?
If Stephanie Decker could give up her legs for her children, what can I do for my family? Is there any sacrifice too great? If Esther was ready to give up everything to save the Jewish people, what can I do for my community? What could I do for the world?
Purim is a holiday of great joy. It is also a time of awesome spiritual power. Our Sages say that before embarking on her dangerous mission, Esther recited Psalm 22 ("Ayelet Hashachar"). So too, every individual can recite Psalm 22 and pour his heart out to the Almighty on Purim day.
The world is in desperate need of repair, on so many fronts. We each have a super-human capacity to fix things, to achieve the Jewish mission of tikkun olam. Let's make this Purim a great one.
with thanks to Yonit Rothchild
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I never quite understood the rabbinic statement that if you speak negatively about another person (loshon hara), you acquire their transgressions. It always sounded to me like magic. How exactly does that work?
Today I went grocery shopping, and two of my sons helped take the groceries from the car into the house. I told them to be careful because there were a few bottles. One of them wasn't careful enough and a bottle broke, leaving a messy puddle of olive oil smack dab in the middle of the kitchen.
I didn't know who had done it, nor did I feel the need to know. I wasn't planning to punish anyone, but I did feel that the message of acting responsibly was something they could both benefit from hearing, irrespective of "who did it."
So I got the two boys together and said: "I'm disappointed that you weren't careful enough. This was a job that boys of your age can surely handle."
At which point one of them piped up and said, "I didn't do it."
I was shocked! In order to raise his own stature, he cast the blame on the other. I never asked who did it; that wasn’t part of the discussion.
Speech that reflects negatively on others (loshon hara) is no small mistake. The Talmud identifies it as the specific problem that caused the destruction of our Holy Temple, and which remains at the core of our 2,000-year spiritual exile.
At that moment, with the oil spilled on the kitchen floor, I understood. By speaking negatively about another person, you acquire their transgressions.
God works with us "measure-for-measure," meaning that instead of meting out "punishment," He arranges "consequences" that are commensurate with our mistaken action. In this case, one of my sons sought to implicate his brother for breaking the bottle; the reciprocal consequence is that he himself acquires that mistake.
Interestingly, this concept is codified in Jewish law: Under certain circumstances, false witnesses ("Aidim Zomemim") are dealt the very same punishment that they intended to generate with their false testimony. For example, if witnesses conspired to obligate someone to pay $1,000 that he does not owe, they must reimburse their intended victim that sum of $1,000. (Deut. 19:19)
The end of the story? I turned to my son who spoke negatively and asked him to clean up the olive oil. And he totally understood why.