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TorahAnytimes Newsletter Chukat

Parshat Chukat

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik


"The TorahAnyTimes" Newsletter  Print Version 

Parashat Chukat
7th of Tammuz, 5777 | July 1, 2017

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik

Mrs. Yael Kaisman
External Successes, Internal Successes

As we all know, a most fundamental principle of the Torah is “Love your fellow as yourself.” It is the phrase which typifies a Jew’s attitude towards his fellow brethren and colors the nature of his interaction and care for others. Nevertheless, what is obvious yet at times oblivious, is the latter part of this phrase: we are to love ourselves.

It may seem strange to consider, but although we may naturally always be thinking about ourselves, do we really love ourselves? Ask yourself: do you love who you are? And foremost, what does it mean to love yourself?

I remember once hugging my two-year-old daughter and going through everyone in our entire family who loves her. “Mommy loves you,” I said, “Abba loves you and bubby and zaidy…” I continued listing her aunts, uncles and siblings, until I was completed. Within a heartbeat, she looked at me with both innocence and glee and added, “And I even love myself!” At that very moment, I whispered a short tefillah to Hashem that she always should feel that way about herself.

Yet what does loving yourself really mean? Simply put, it means that you feel that you have what you need to become who you can become. You deeply appreciate the totality of yourself and your potential and recognize your true qualities. The question for parents thus becomes, what can be done to foster this unconditional love within our children? What and how can we teach our children to love themselves?

Real Internal Successes

Years ago, I began thinking about this. At times, we identify a strength or success of ours and believe that the same success is what our child needs also to feel worthy. If we excelled in a certain area of life, we place high value to it, and thereby wish for our children to also experience that achievement. In my own personal life, I was strong in academics. It was thus a turning point in my own outlook and thinking process when I was once told at a Parent-Teacher Conference for my daughter in third grade, “She is doing wonderful.” “What does ‘wonderful’ mean?” I thought to myself. How wonderful is wonderful? It was at this point that my mind starting racing with ideas, which would go on to become extremely formative in my own approach to parenting and education.

The dilemma is as follows. Oftentimes, our children are winners of awards for the gifts Hashem has given them. They may be intelligent, beautiful, organized or creative and be recognized for such capabilities. We may say, “You’re so smart and so beautiful; I love you so much!” If these, though, become the only source of our praise and approval, we can easily begin to overlook the effort and work they have expended into developing positive character traits which are not innate. Naturally, we bunch the phrases together and directly or indirectly draw a parallel between their intelligence or beauty and our love for them.

But what if they are not smart or the most creative? Wouldn’t we still love them? The above expression is thus a message which can and should be conveyed to our loved ones, but should be tempered by us praising other internal areas they excel in too. The first and foremost step to ingraining ourselves, our children and our students with a love and appreciation for themselves is understanding the difference between characteristics which are inborn blessings and those which have been honed through internal struggle and success.

Real successes are quantified by the efforts we put in relating to the most important part of life, namely, the development of ourselves as mirror images of Hashem. When we become more G-dly and stretch our capacity for compassion and patience, which we can call internal successes, we are reaching beyond innate parts of our character and developing new traits which heretofore may not have been a part of us. It is in this arena that we can begin to truly value who we are as a person and love and award ourselves.

External Successes as Stepping Stones

But this process goes further and deeper. This does not mean that our traits of intelligence and orderliness should be ignored; to the contrary, they are very important stepping stones towards internal successes. If we are more organized by nature, we are in a better position to achieving more. External success can thus be used as a means for developing ourselves as people. In example, a person’s success in working hard at a job is not solely the paycheck, which is the external success and by nature gets the bulk of praise and admiration, but the discipline which was developed through working and which will in turn be used in serving Hashem. We ought to therefore celebrate and appreciate the discipline, patience and listening skills indirectly gained from the external success, because those former internal successes are real achievements and what move us closer to perfecting our character and coming closer to Hashem. The external success is thus celebrated insofar as it relates to the internal success.

If a child thus gets a high mark on a test, how are we to respond? If we merely praise the grade, we are focusing on the external success and overlooking the internal success. What is thus wise to highlight is the internal effort. “When you studied, you are terrific; when you got the mark, how fortunate are you that when you studied you did well.” The child now understands what it means to work hard, and regardless of the grade earned has honed that important trait of diligence and appreciates it. In this way, the praise we attach to the effort as opposed to the result will only deepen the child’s value for hard work in life.

Use it Well

Last but not least, external successes and inborn traits are both blessings and challenges. The best way we can ensure that these parts of ourselves remain blessings instead of overwhelming challenges is by using them well. Use your beauty to become a role model of modesty which people will look up to, and do your utmost to make sure it does not become an obsession and source of conceit. The best advice is thus three words: use it well. Take your beauty and become someone more gracious, giving and sensitive because people are drawn to you like a magnet and you are left with numerous opportunities for kindness. Channel the external success and turn it into a true, everlasting internal success.

If these are the messages we send our children – the importance of internal successes, how external successes can be a means towards character development and what it means to use our inborn traits and external successes well – we are on our way towards positive parenting. Our children will be led on a path in which they appreciate not only their efforts, but their achievements as well with a healthy attitude. Whether they earn the grade or win the game as they wished, they succeeded on multiple fronts. They worked hard, developed inborn and new character traits, and internally succeeded, if not externally succeeded. Every effort is thus a victory and cause of celebration, for a person has grown, developed and learned something new about themselves and life. And when this is the feeling which swells up within a child, a healthy self-image will blossom and the heartwarming line which all parents eagerly await to hear will follow, “And I even love myself!”

Rabbi Yitzchok Dinovitzer
Living by Example

During my early years of kiruv and outreach work, I would often be out of the house running around shortly after the kids would be put to sleep. More or less, my schedule had me learning with one boy at 7 o’clock, a group of students at 8 o’clock and a few other kids at 9 o’clock. It was a very rewarding experience, and something which allowed both the kids and myself to grow closer to Yiddishkeit and more identified as a Torah Jew.

But there is something which educators, kiruv professionals and certainly parents must always remember and be proud of while they carry out their daily routines and schedule. Allow me to share with you exactly what I mean by way of an anecdote.
Just about every night before I would leave my house for my numerous little teaching jobs, I would head over to my bookshelf and grab one book to learn with this boy, another few books to aid in teaching one group of kids and so on. I would wish my wife and the kids good night, jump into my car and head off.

One night, as my wife and I sat around the table, we noticed our little three-year-old son get into his little play car which he would pretend to drive around the house in, and “drive” over to the bookshelf. He then slowly made his way over to one corner of the bookshelf and grabbed a couple books, then moved over a few inches and grabbed another book and then another. Now holding a small stack of books, he opened the little trunk in his play car and gently laid the books down. He then got back into his car and turned around, driving straight towards the front door of our house.

I looked at my wife and she looked at me. “Where are you going?” curiously asked my wife of our son. Looking back at us, he innocently replied, “I’m going to teach Torah.”

It didn’t take long for my wife and I to realize where he had picked up this little routine from. It was exactly what I, as his father, would do every night. But his act of mimicking my behavior sent a much greater and profound lesson than mere entertainment and a cute story to remember years later.

The greatest impact we can leave on our children is through our real-life example. When they see us carrying out our daily routines and schedules, it leaves an indelible impression on them. We may not always consciously realize it, but through osmosis, they pick up on our mannerisms and character traits.

And especially if we wish to imbue them with an appreciation and love for Torah, the place for that to begin is the home. We as parents are no less educators than our children’s schoolteachers, and must appreciate that more effective than one hundred speeches is the example we set and the strong rapport we build with them. Our beautiful children will wish to follow in our footsteps and gather their books together, ready to teach and learn Torah when they see that we do the same.

Rabbi Dovid Kaplan
A Torah Life

For one man living in a small out-of-town area with his family, it was not surprising that his family was the only Jewish one within miles. Nevertheless, his family passionately adhered to a life of Torah and mitzvos and maintained a deep appreciation for Yiddishkeit. The three boys in the family – Avi, Yitzi and Yanky – of course had no other boys to play with aside from their non-Jewish neighbors. Yet, despite their differences, they befriended the neighborhood kids and spent hours together.

It wasn’t until the end of December that Mr. Murphy, father of one of the neighborhood families, pulled up in his car with a large tree in his trunk. Avi, Yitzi and Yanky were of course outside playing at the time, and as soon as their eye caught notice of Mr. Murphy and the exciting new “tree” he had purchased, the boys offered their help. Mr. Murphy quickly took them up on their offer, whereupon the tree was carefully carried from the car into the house.

Placing the tree in the middle of the house, the boys stared on in wonderment. This was something they had never before seen, and were considerably intrigued by. “Mr. Murphy,” Avi hesitantly and shyly said, “can I ask you a question?” “Sure,” gladly welcomed Mr. Murphy, “go ahead, what is it?” “How tall does the tree have to be?” “Avi,” somewhat confusingly replied Mr. Murphy, “it doesn’t have to be any specific height. It can be as tall or as short as you want.” “Okay, next question. How close to the window does it have to be?” “It doesn’t really matter; you can leave it right in the middle of the room.” “Really…” Avi wondered aloud. “And what if some of the leaves start turning brown...?”

Unbeknownst to Mr. Murphy, Avi as a young Torah Jew was equating the laws of a Lulav to the “laws” of a X-Mas tree. All that our children see inside our homes is one mitzvah after another. It may not appear as if our lives are infused with mitzvos all day long, but we would be wise to think again.

Rebbetzin Ruthie Halberstadt
Our Mothers’ DNA

It is interesting to note, as our Sages teach, that we have four Matriarchs – Sarah, Rivkah, Rachel and Leah. Yet what exactly does it mean to have made it to Matriarchal status? There were plenty of great women in history, and amongst them prophets. Only four of them, however, are known to be the Mothers of the Jewish people. What did they do to enter such a category of sorts?

Let us take a look at two simple, yet insightful Mishnayos in Pirkei Avos (5:3-4):

“There are ten generations from Noach until Avraham… Ten tests Avraham Avinu was challenged with and he withstood them all…”

Striking is the description and appellation the Mishnayos attribute to Avraham. When depicting the generational progression in the former Mishna, he is described simply as “Avraham.” Yet, in the following Mishna, when discussing his overcoming of ten tests, he is called Avraham “Avinu,” and given Patriarchal status. Why is that so?

The answer, I once beautifully learned, lies in the discussion of each respective passage. The latter Mishna which focuses on how Avraham passed incredible ordeals is teaching us just exactly what he accomplished in doing so. By surmounting these trials, Avraham fixed into his nature a chain of genetics and created his fatherhood. Through triumphing over these challenges, he ingrained such greatness into his DNA and thereby imbued into our DNA centuries later the same capability to withstand the most difficult of situations. It was precisely these tests which earned him the title of “Father.” The former Mishna, on the other hand, merely provides a timeline and thus simply lists Avraham as such without any subsequent appellation.

The Imahos are the same. In serving as the mothers who laid down the foundation and framework of the Jewish nation, what they accomplished in their lives and the heights they achieved were so significant and deep that it actually modified their spiritual DNA and genetic material. It was this which earned them motherly status of the Jewish people and has been passed down throughout the generations to each and every one of us today. Their refined middos and spiritual aspirations are a part of our genetic makeup and something we ought to strive for and can achieve in our own unique way.

A Short Message From
Rabbi Paysach Krohn

One of the most important aspects of marriage is good communication. In order to ensure that the house runs properly and each spouse understands the needs and wants of one another, they must be on the same page and wavelength. Sometimes, however, there can be exceptions. I remember once hearing how an English boy remarked to his newlywed wife who was from America, “You look like a million pounds!” It is important for spouses, as best as they can, to learn each other’s mannerisms and “language.” It may seem simple, but the effort and effect will go a long way.

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