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TorahAnytimes Newsletter Behar-Bechukotai

Parshat Behar-Bechukotai

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik


"The TorahAnyTimes" Newsletter

Parashat Behar-Bechukotai 5781                                        Print Version
26th of Iyar, 5781 | May 8, 2021

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik

Rabbi Label Lam
Weekly Accomplishments

Close to ten years ago, I began something with my family every Friday night that I have continued to this very day. It is a rather simple exercise and process, yet a rewarding and enriching experience. My only regret is that I did not think of this idea sooner.

As my family and guests sit down to the Shabbos table, I ask the following question: “What did you do this week that gave you a feeling of accomplishment?” We then proceed to go around the table and have each person share something. The answers and ideas we have told and heard over the years have been greatly inspiring at times.

For example, one of my kids said, “I studied hard for a test.” Personally, in my family, after each person shares something, we sing a little chanting song, as if we were applauding. Another said, “I received extra change in a store, and I chose to give it back instead of walk out and keep it.” We chanted and cheered for that too. This continues, until we have gone all around the table and everyone has had a chance to share one weekly accomplishment.
Everyone has something to say that is personalized, speaks to them and fits to where they are in life. I once has three boys over, and one said, “I had a nice conversation with my mother.” We broke out in song. Another answered, “I finished the entire Sefer Tehillim this week.” The third boy piped up, “I made it to davening in the morning three times this week.” When a person can express their accomplishments and reflect aloud, they are able to value what they have done and look towards what other progresses they would like to make.

It is an incredibly valuable and Shabbos table enhancing idea to run with. Enjoy the process.

Rabbi Benzion Klatzko
The Ten Commandments

Allow me to present to you what I call, “The Ten Commandments of Raising Extraordinary Children.” First and foremost, it is imperative to repeat to yourself over and over that each of your children are different. They may look alike, but however similar they are, they are still different. Yet bearing this in mind, there is a model of parenting I would like to outline which addresses raising children across all spectrums, and speaks to all children, irrespective of differences.

These commandments can best be conveyed using a letter my son wrote to me and my wife upon the occasion of his twenty-second birthday and shortly before his marriage. We will use his own words to guide us through the commandments and outline the lessons they teach therein.

To my dear Mommy and Tatty,

This letter is long overdue. Too long. Twenty-two years of hakaras hatov (gratitude) cannot possibly be expressed in a single letter. A three-hundred-page volume is more appropriate, and so this letter should be viewed merely as a table of contents. These words are yotzei m'libi – emanate from my heart – and I am sure they will be nichnasim el libchem (enter your hearts) ...

Naturally the first few years I cannot recall, however, that doesn’t exempt me from my obligation for hakaras hatov. Those years were a true kindness out of love with nothing in return, because a one-year-old cannot say “thank you.” So I'll thank you now for bringing me into existence. For even a child, who all the parents did was give birth to him and then abandon him, is still obligated in kibbud av v'em (honoring his parents).

It is all the more so true for one who was raised by their parents throughout life. They have a thousand times more of an obligation. Who can count the nights you rocked me to bed, the trips to yeshiva, the chol hamoed trips? I am very much aware that money does not grow on trees, and I am aware of the effort to support the family. I definitely do not take it for granted. I compare myself to a poor man who is unexpectedly approached by someone who pulls out a big wad of bills, leaving the pauper with a great debt of gratitude hard to estimate. You bought me hats, suits shoes etc., costing hundreds of dollars apiece. You paid my tuition these years, you invested thousands of dollars towards plane tickets, hundreds to build my sefarim collection. Living in our house is like living in a free hotel for years. I don't take for granted coming home to a heated and air-conditioned home. These things cost money, and somebody had to pay for it. Everything I needed was paid for lovingly.”

Commandment #1: Teach your children to say, “Thank you.”
If that is done, then one day, your child will not even take a heated home for granted. I have often noticed that the first change in individuals who leave the fold of Judaism is a lack of gratitude. Lack of appreciation to their parents, teachers and life itself. When gratitude is instilled as a fundamental value of your family, your children will be inclined to help around the house when asked because that small chore pales in comparison to the debt of gratitude they have for all that you have done. And how do you teach gratitude? Start by modeling such behavior yourself with your spouse. When gratitude is seen between parents, children will soak up gratitude, gratitude and more gratitude daily.

Commandment #2: Make your words sweet and encouraging.

My son continues:

The words and encouragement I received as a child are completely responsible for any accomplishment I have done. For when a child sees the appreciation from a parent, this gives the impetus to continue to achieve.

Our children are judged every day and every moment. We live in a world where a person’s dress, haircut, makeup and grades dictate how “liked” they are. Children should find home to be a sanctuary against the stifling judgments which are cast upon them. Provide them with optimism, positivity and encouragement. Tell them, “I love to watch you color; I can see it makes you happy…” “I love to watch you wake up every morning; you look refreshed…” Phrase your sentences in a way which showers them with a positive self-image and self-respect.
This doesn’t mean that you should not discipline your children. It merely means that for every strong word, offset it with ten kind, sweet words. Build your children up and empower them; do not demote them any lower.

Commandment #3: Be enthusiastic about Judaism
How fortunate was I that your sole source of nachas (contentment) from me was from my spiritual achievements. The fact that you were so excited about it got me excited about it! I have a thousand memories of positive reactions, compliments and encouragement which gave me confidence until this very day, and when my own motivation is low, I draw upon all those positive comments. One particular instance that you may have forgotten long ago but stands in my memory like yesterday was when I was in ninth grade. I finished Maseches Gittin for the first time, and when I told you 'Tatty I finished Maseches Gittin!’ the tremendous excitement in you, and the mazal tov I received from you planted a seed of encouragement that was responsible for me completing it a number of times subsequently.

The extent of your enthusiasm about Yiddishkeit will directly affect your children. If you are enthused and excited about attending a ballgame but slow to join your child for a father-son learning program, realize that you are sending a message. Our children are smart, and they will see right through us. If we want to raise children to be excited about Judaism, we must be excited about it ourselves. We cannot cut ourselves slack and expect our children to outdo us. If we want our children to get up for davening, we must do the same. Model enthusiasm and it will create a culture of enthusiasm in your family.

Commandment #4: Be Patient

You were always patient and concerned about me. Sometimes you understood what was bothering me, and you helped me understand myself.

Be patient with yourself and be patient with your children. If your child is not progressing as you envisioned, support them and remain positive. Children blossom at different stages and there is no cookie-cutter model to follow. Yes, schools have expectations for different ages and grades, but do not let that dictate your children’s life and self-respect. It is not cataclysmic for them to fall behind and need extra help. Stay the course with them and continue to have an unrelenting, deep belief in them.

Commandment #5: Give mussar in a way that itself teaches mussar

Another major area of guidance is your form of mussar (reproof). I know few people who can give mussar and admonishment more effective than you, Tatty and Mommy. No sarcasm, no nagging, no yelling, rather simply reminding and suggesting. It was always carefully worded, always productive and solution-oriented. You didn't point out every little thing that could be perfected about things I would eventually grow out of. You picked your battles, and focused on the important areas. For that, it I am extremely grateful. The education you gave me, through your mussar, about middos has made an indelible impression on my consciousness. The greatest thing you stressed was no chutzpah (disrespect) and no dishonesty, and I cannot thank you enough for instilling within me those things at an early age. The prime cause for our family having such respect for each other was the complete intolerance of chutzpah from a very early age.

Mussar means correcting someone when they have done something wrong. However, how we give musssar is the greatest mussar. For example, if your child is careless and knocks over a cup of juice, say, “Yaakov, I know that you will be more careful next time…” instead of, “Watch where you’re looking! Don’t be careless!” If your child receives a parking ticket, say, “I know you will leave the house earlier next time so you can park in the appropriate place,” instead of, “Really? You got a ticket! How much is it going to cost?” Your child is smart. They will pick up on your subliminal message conveyed by a more positive tone.

Commandment #6: Make life fun

I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for investing an incredible, endless amount of physical and emotional energy, time and money towards giving all of us kids the most fun and amazingly enjoyable childhood. There are countless memories of exciting family activities and adventures that marked my younger years which I now look back to with great fondness. I realize that not every child has parents who invest so much into this area. Although I don't know how appreciative I was at the time, today, I look back and feel grateful beyond words.

Fun is a not a necessary evil or a dirty word. Being a fun parent and going out of your way to make things exciting is part and parcel of raising a Jewish child. Granted, as we get older, we get tired. But if you create positive memories, they will last forever. And you can be certain that you want to create an everlasting memory for your child more than anything else. When my children were home from school and yeshiva during holidays, we would learn in the morning, do some shopping in the afternoon, and at night… have a barbeque with some music and basketball.

That fun can be done at home and will not be forgotten. And when it comes to Yiddishkeit, as mentioned above, be enthusiastic. Make the Shabbos table something to look forward to. A fun life will lead to an overall upbeat attitude and healthy emotional well-being. Your child will then be in great shape to tackle their other life responsibilities, whatever age they are at.

Commandment #7: Teach your child about the potential greatness of every person

I would like to focus on the incredible Ayin Tovah (good, positive eye) that you both excelled so greatly in. You both dealt with upsetting circumstances positively and kept your cool, even when others were at fault. You didn’t make them feel bad, because you realized that many things in life are petty and are not worth being bothered by. Another aspect of ayin tovah that makes your company so enjoyable is your great respect and reverence for others. You have a supreme capability of being non-judgmental. That was a lesson I learned by observing you and was something I greatly needed to realize, being by nature very opinionated and unbending. Witnessing you deal with other people whose opinions and outlooks were different taught me to recognize and respect that everyone has worth.

Avoid putting people down and belittling others. Doing so only engenders cynicism and bitterness. How can your children grow into leaders if they do not respect the inherent greatness of other people? Using condescending words to refer to certain groups of people or the like disallows for this lesson to be learned. Realize that in order to raise extraordinary children, we must teach them that all people are extraordinary.

Commandment #8: Respect your spouse
Something I also noticed is the great respect you, Mommy and Tatty, have for each other, constantly praising one another and telling the children how special the other parent is. It is my fervent prayer that I too merit such shalom bayis, and part of that is being able to admit when you are wrong. Neither of you hesitate to admit to each other that you were wrong. There are no justifications or rationalizations.

While it is not the marriage of the parents, but the individual parent-child relationship which will have the greater influence on a child’s mental health and future happiness, mutual respect between spouses is beyond important to a child’s life. This is something which you cannot fake. When the cornerstone of growth for a child occurs within the home of a married couple, the quality of marriage between spouses will be very influential. I have on occasion asked my son where he learned to treat his wife with such respect, and guess what he tells me? “I’m just imitating what I saw at home.”

Commandment #9: Model your values for your children; do not assume they know them

Yiddishkeit was always geshmak (enjoyable), but never joking around. Yom Kippur was as serious as can be, and etched in my memory is you, Tatty, crying and praying for our family. Every year I davened with you, and davening was always geshmak, but no leitzanus (mockery), and the truth is that our home was not a home of leitzainus. No knocking of others, no mimicking.

If you want your children to learn from you, you must model your teachings with action. We assume our children understand where we are coming from, but they may not unless we directly tell them and show them. The Gemara frequently uses the phrase, “Margala b’pumeh” in reference to an oft-cited statement by a sage that became known as his signature and quintessence. That is the very point. The more we talk and model something, the more it becomes embedded deeply within ourselves and our families. Values will take root when they are spoken about and highlighted.

Commandment #10: Do not underestimate the influence of the world

Just as one learns and emulates his parents, his attitudes are affected by outside influences – the books he reads, the friends he has and the schools he goes to. You, Tatty and Mommy, took it upon yourself to see that our influences were pure. When considering moving to a certain city, if it didn't have a quality yeshiva to send the children to, that option was immediately rejected. I turned out loving to learn because you sent me to an amazing yeshiva. You always screened out bad friends, and even with the good ones, I knew that their standards were not necessarily ours. Our list of inappropriate words included more words than most of my friends, and we weren't allowed to play with the gadgets that “everybody had.”

We all wish for our children to make right decisions and lead upright lives. While this is easier said than done, we must allow ourselves to be the gatekeepers of what we allow into our homes and our families. We cannot change what the world presents to them, but we can change what we present to them in our homes. If they hear or see different values, even from their friends, we still have not lost control of our own family. A great expression to use when our children come home with divergent values than our own is to say, “Yaakov, I know that in Benny’s house they do such-and-such. In our family, you know we don’t. We have different rules and I know you respect them.” The words “In our family” reinstate your values and identifies for the child where to draw boundaries.

And that is it. These are what I call “The Ten Commandments of Raising Extraordinary Children.” Your child is a fine work of art and can be raised to extraordinary greatness. Believe in them and believe in yourself, and with G-d’s help, you will reap much happiness and contentment.

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