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Toldot(Genesis 25:19-28:9)

How To Raise Emotionally Healthy Children In A Crack House

Newly Revised


There is nothing like a challenge. Mount Everest blindfolded, the 3-minute mile, a Mars landing. Great, but they all pale to a piece of cake compared to raising emotionally healthy children.

Of course, you could make it easy on yourself instead. For those of us who are, well, wimps. You know, like climbing Mount Everest without a blindfold, running a 4-minute mile, going to the Moon, or raising children in a crack house.

Ah, there is nothing quite like a crack house to help raise healthy children.

I know at this point you must think I have lost it. And if that is you, then this week's Torah portion drops the proverbial bombshell of parenting.

Rashi, the pre-eminent Torah commentator, tells us that both Rebecca and Isaac prayed for children, but it was only Isaac's prayer that was answered (Genesis 25:21). This is because, even though both were righteous, Rebecca's prayers were not as great as Isaac's. Rebecca was the child of an evil person while Isaac was the child of a righteous person.

Now, I really want you to understand what Rashi is NOT saying. He is not saying that because Isaac came from a "better" home, he was greater than Rebecca. He's not saying that the children of righteous people are righteous. He's not saying that at all.

It's not BECAUSE Isaac came from the home of Abraham that he was righteous, it was in spite of it.

Listen again to what Rashi is saying. Isaac's prayers were more precious to God because he struggled more, he had greater challenges, he learned how to get past the enormous obstacles of life and become a righteous person. He was holier because he had a more difficult life: He was raised in the home of Abraham. Rebecca had an easier time of it: Her parents were the crack dealers.

Let me give you a parable: Which is easier, for your children to be financially successful when raised in the home of Bill Gates (you know, the guy who's picture is on the dollar bill) or in abject poverty? Intuitively, we would answer the Gates home (does anyone have his address?) But that's the wrong answer. As evidenced in real life, the children of rich people often don't achieve much. They have too much to lose and very little to achieve. It's hard to make it on your own, to achieve your own success, when your daddy owns half the Internet. If the son of Bill Gates becomes a "Bill Gates" in his own right, not only did he achieve something remarkable, but he actually achieved something greater than Bill Gates!

It's true, the child of Bill Gates will have a lot of money, but achieving success is much, much more than that. How does the son of Bill Gates overcome a challenge? How does he find a challenge? How does he chart a new course, discover new paths of success?

That's really tough. Growing up in abject poverty is so much easier because the difficult path is almost obvious.

For Isaac to be righteous in his own right, not just the son of Abraham, not just do it by rote and follow Abraham's direction, required such strength of character that he was greater than Rebecca, who was basically raised by animals.

For sure there are very rare cases of two or three generations of wealthy, successful people. But when it comes to being good, although there are many people who came out of the most awful of homes, real crack houses, who raised themselves to become remarkable and righteous. There are righteous among the nations for sure, we Jews don't have the exclusive. But when it comes to raising the second, third, fourth and 100th generation of righteous people, you need more than a crack house to get that right, you need a Torah.

I know a lot of observant families try to shield their little progeny from the evils of this world (me, too), but not having the newly religious (so called Baal Tshuvas) as guests is not the way to go. Sure, they aren't the Isaacs of the world, but unless you are into climbing Mount Everest blindfolded, you can make your parenting job a little easier by inviting a few of the Rebeccas - Baal Tshuvas, that is - over to the house. They won't turn your home into a crack house, but they will let your children know what is wrong with one.

* * *

BRAINSTORMING QUESTIONS TO PONDER

Question 1: What have been your three biggest struggles? Do you think they made you a better person?

Question 2: Look at the struggles you are going through now and try and figure out how they will make you better

Published: November 11, 2006

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Visitor Comments: 8

(8) Becky, November 1, 2013 6:50 PM

Clarificatin I think....

I am Ba'al teshuva and thank G-d the members of our community constantly invite us over for Shabbos and Yom Tov meals. I have heard it said that there are two ways to learn Torah - one through the Torah (wise way) and the other through the world (the hard way). The ones who come from not-so-good homes are destined to learn it the hard way. When they hear the Rabbi speak or when they learn, they can relate the lessons through actual life experiences. For example, it is easy for someone like me to understand why dressing modestly is important, but for the women who grew up dressing modestly they don't have the experiences reinforcing the whys they just do it. So Rebecca saw and experienced things her neshema knew was not right. When she finds the Torah - it's a relief that she's not crazy. For Issac he's just doing what he was told.

More blunt - Tell me how many people can resist pushing the "red button" when told not to? Essentially Rebecca has seen the "red button" pushed due to her "not-so-good" upbringing so she now knows why not to push the button again. Issac on the other hand is not pushing the button just because he was told not to - which in my opinion is harder.

(7) J.L.G., November 7, 2010 1:31 AM

Hmmmm...Don't know if I completely agree

Interesting - this could go both ways. I do agree somewhat with Rabbi Baars, that when it comes building financial wealth, perhaps those who live in abject poverty are motivated more, although some would say that there are certain behaviours and investing habits that are passed along from the wealthy to their children which makes it easier for their children to accumulate their own wealth (see: "Rich Dad, Poor Dad")...But, I agree with Roberta - Baal Tshuvas, in many occaisions came from good homes, but perhaps they had a few experiences (whether observing friends, secular media, or simply a revelation), whereby they simply said they did not buy the "Western World" narrative of how to live their lives...I'm a Baal Tshuva, and I think my parents are fantastic - they have taught me incredible manners and values, and they are probably the reason why I am on the path to begin with (Even though they themselves are not religious). I will say this however - it may be harder for a Baal Tshuva, simply because some of the mitzvot may contradict their parents wishes (i.e. your parents ask you to help them move on shabbos). And, I will also say its tough, b/c when you are a Baal Tshuva, my opinion is that you should try to bring your entire family into the fold, and that its your responsibility to (for instance) try to have a kosher shabbat dinner. A person who grew up religious focuses on their own learning/growth, but doesn't need to worry as much about their parents who are already religious and fulfilling the mitzvot.

(6) Roberta, November 4, 2010 4:58 AM

I am not a crack dealer

You illustrate the hidden challenge of having to search for our own challenge, the special task G-d has given us so that we can learn and work on our own personal and spiritual growth. Finding a challenge isn't so easy for a child who is given everything she thinks she wants. A child who is abused or neglected may be strong enough to work hard to find a better life and may discover spiritual strength, as well. Some of these people find personal and spiritual fulfillment from Torah and a Torah-observant lifestyle. But so do people from more traditional homes, with two loving parents who do their best to provide a good life for their children and try to raise them to become good people. My daughter is one of these people. As an independent adult, she became increasingly observant over the past year, and studied with her local synagogue and Jewish community, and married another Baal Teshuva a few months ago. She is very happy in her new community. She and her husband continue to learn and observe more mitzvahs every day. My daughter has chosen this way of life to move closer to G-d, not to run away from intolerable abuse. I think you'd enjoy having them visit you and your family. Even though neither of them grew up in a crack house.

(5) Anonymous, November 18, 2009 3:39 PM

I enjoyed reading your parshah notes,I just think you oversimplified things,often children from broken homes or very difficult backgrounds unfortunately follow similar paths or make even bigger mistakes then their parents, We do have free will and people do break from their past and family negative influences but this is often the exception not the norm unfortunately.If a person does not become aware or meet a teacher or someone who can guide them to a better path of living they are often stuck.I had the privlege of meeting an Aish Rabbi in my town who was very instrumental in helping,guiding and teaching me a better path. Thank you for the article.

(4) Alan Drake Tyree, November 16, 2009 4:29 AM

Fun Fact.

You think climbing Mount Everest blindfolded is something? Try climbing it blind! Believe it or not, that's what Erik Weihenmayer did. Google his name on the internet to learn more. I just wonder what he would be thinking if he heard this article? Probably, been there, done that. Alan Drake Tyree

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