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Encouraging Words for Parents
By R’ Shlomo Zalman Bregman
It has been said that the Torah is the greatest and most profound “self-help” book of all time. With respect to the crucial task of raising authentically Jewish and well-adjusted children, Hashem has provided us guidance and advice that is equal parts timely and practical. Let’s take a look at a few of the seminal parenting perspectives He has provided for us. These words are especially relevant to any parent who at times feels overwhelmed by the task of raising his children.
ALL YOU CAN HANDLE
In Parshas Noach (Bereishis 6:10), we discover that Noach was blessed with three sons: Shem, Cham, and Yafes. Rashi (on Bereishis 5:32) explains that most people in Noach’s era gave birth to children around the age of 100, but Hashem did not bless Noach with children until he reached the age of 500. In reference to this anomaly, R. Moshe Feinstein, ZTL (Darash Moshe) comments that even when he was finally blessed with kids, Noach only had three. The reason for this is because the blessing of children is given out with a tremendous cheshbon (precise calculation). Hashem analyzes each person and determines how many sons and daughters he or she will be able to influence and be m’chanech (educate) properly. Hashem determined that ‘all’ Noach could properly handle was three, and so this is the number of children he was blessed with!
This should give us great chizuk (encouragement) when we encounter difficulties in the parenting of our own children. If Hashem has given us a particular child, it represents His vote of confidence in us that we have the right stuff we need to get the job done. It would be a terrible mistake to give up on a child, because by giving us this particular child, God has clearly demonstrated that we have the ability to steer this child to a life of righteousness.
STRIKING THE RIGHT BALANCE
In Parshas Terumah (Shemos 21:15-17), the Torah tells us that the consequence of hitting our parents or cursing our parents is that we should be put to death. These two mitzvos appear next to each other, but they are separated by another mitzvah – the prohibition on kidnapping someone. Why? R. Shimon Schwab, ZTL (Mayan Beis HaShoeva) says that the fact we find the prohibition on kidnapping sandwiched between the other two hints to us the psychological cause of the two mitzvos around it. In raising children, if a parent ‘kidnaps’ his child and holds him hostage and parents too tightly, the child often rebels … and the order of the verses alludes to the fact that ‘kidnapping’ is what leads to the striking and cursing, found before and after!
While parenting too tightly can be a mistake, on the flip side, there is also a danger in being overly merciful with one’s children. Later on in Parshas Terumah, the Torah relates (Shemos 23:19), “You shall not cook a kid in the milk of its mother.” Some commentaries ask why the mitzvah is expressed in this fashion. Couldn’t the Torah have simply said, “Don’t cook meat and milk together?” In response, R. Dovid Feinstein, shlita (Kol Dodi Al HaTorah) offers an explanation. The natural softness and mercy of a mother are her ‘milk.’ A parent who is too loose and overly relaxed with his kids, and is more of a friend to them than a bona fide parent, ends up ‘cooking’ the ‘kid’ by virtue of this misplaced leniency and mercy! In fact, this insight is also the meaning of a phrase we find in the book of Eichah. In describing an aspect of the Churban, Eichah 4:10 says that the “hands of the merciful women have boiled their own children.” In addition to its literal meaning, it can also refer to the concept we’ve described above.
LIGHTS ALONG THE WAY
What emerges from these three insights is that Hashem is truly our Partner as we make our best efforts to raise our children in a way that is both emotionally healthy and authentically Jewish. We must never forget that if he has blessed us with a particular child, we have the God-given potential to succeed with this child. At the same time, we must always bear in mind that there’s a fine-line in parenting, and one must strive to strike the correct balance. For this, it is essential that we turn to the authentic sources of Torah in our communities – Rabbis, Rebbetzins, and the like – for guidance in how and when to apply these timeless tools and pearls of wisdom.
May Hashem bless every parent in Klal Yisroel with the Siyata Dishmaya (Divine assistance) necessary to raise our children to lives of righteousness and Torah living!
Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Bregman is Founder of the Jewish Executive Learning Network (JELN.org), a Lakewood-based organization that shares the beauty of Torah study with young professional men in their 20’s and 30’s in the New York City area and beyond. His JELN classes are available in video and MP3 format at TorahAnytime.com. In addition to his communal work, Rabbi Bregman manages his own law firm, specializing in Corporate Law, Litigation, and Trusts & Estates. He may be contacted at Director@JELN.org.