No one dreams about raising lazy children!
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My children play a card game called Perpetual Commotion. Each player is given a uniquely colored stack of numbered cards. The game is played by placing as many cards as possible from that stack (based on a complicated set of rules well beyond the scope of this article) into various piles in the center, and whoever is able to place the most cards from their stack into the center is the winner.
The custom at the end of the game, in my house at least, is for all the players to excitedly sift through the large pile in the middle to pick out their color to see who won. Recently, however, at the end of a game, one of my kids just sat in his place, watching all the activity without even moving a muscle. “Aren’t you going to get your cards?” one of his siblings asked while busily collecting all the red cards in the middle. With a sly little smile, he smugly responded, “No. I’m just going to wait for everyone else to take their cards and then my color will be the only one left.”
“Hey, that’s a great idea!” I said to him.
And then, after an appropriate pause for effect, I wondered out loud to no one in particular while I gathered up the green cards: “Hum. I wonder what would happen if all of us thought that way too? What if every one of us had that same attitude of waiting for everyone else to do their job first, so that our job would be easier?”
The obvious answer: Nothing would ever get done.
The Torah records in this week’s Parsha how the Jewish people began to donate the necessary materials for the construction of the Mishkan, the Tabernacle. Meanwhile, as the people were lining up with various goods and materials, the leaders of the Tribes, the nisi’im, had a great idea. “Let’s let everyone else go first. The people will donate whatever they can, and then we’ll fill in and complete whatever is left.”
It was actually a very generous offer. Imagine the absolute glee of an executive director with someone like this on his side at the beginning of a capital campaign: “Hey, listen, this is a big campaign. But I don’t want you to worry about it. Do what you can do, and whatever is left at the end – I’ll cover it!”
Yet Hashem was not pleased with the leaders. The reason, Rashi explains, is that at the core of their offer, generous as it might have been, was an element of laziness. The leaders were willing to sit on the sidelines and watch while the Jewish people excitedly contributed to the construction of Hashem’s house. They purposely allowed others to take care of a project that they should have been involved in themselves.
The leaders took note and remedied the situation. Months later, when the Tabernacle was complete, they were the first to say, “We want to bring the inaugural offerings. We want to be the first Jews to be involved in the initial service of the Tabernacle.”
No parent aspires to raise a lazy child. We all want to have children who are the first to say, “I’ll help clear off the table from dinner.” Or, “I’ll help bring in the groceries from the car.” The problem is that we all have a natural tendency to be lazy, to just sit on the sidelines (or the couch), and watch others do the work so that we don’t have to. How do we inspire our kids to rise above that, to move, to take initiative and action?
It’s called modeling. Our kids need to see that behavior. The greatest device we have to show our children how to overcome that tendency is to be the first ourselves to jump in and help when help is needed.
Mommy sits down at the dinner table. “Oh, I forgot to put the drinks out.” It’s tempting for Daddy to use this as a valuable teaching moment in the fine art of helpfulness, and to point to one of the kids and demand, “Quickly, go help your mother before she has to get up again!” Unfortunately, instead of helpfulness, he’s actually taught his children the fine art of sitting on his throne, barking orders to those under his jurisdiction. If Dad’s not around, it’s unlikely the children will jump up to help the next time this happens.
Instead, Daddy can be the first one to jump up and announce, “I’ll get the drinks!”
When children grow up in a home where Mommy and Daddy are quick to offer their help to each other, they learn the value of helpfulness. They see it. They live with it. And then they’ll do it, too. And then when we do need to delegate activities and chores around the house to them (as we should do), they will appreciate the need to put aside their own needs and quickly jump in to do that which is necessary.
After all, our goal is more than just to raise kids who don’t sit on the side waiting for the cards to be taken so that their job is easier. We want to raise the type of children who quickly jump in to be the first ones to pick up their cards so that someone else’s job is a little easier!
Have a great Shabbos.