Balancing Home, Work and School

A ‘Your Mother’s Guidance’ post by Rebecca Masinter

Many of us are trying to figure out a new normal as we balance work from home and school at home.  There is a struggle within us—which has priority:  Work or home?  School or home?

Leviticus 12 begins with the laws of impurity and purity surrounding childbirth.  (These are very poor translations of the Hebrew words tumah and tahara, but will serve for the purpose of this writing.) The previous chapter, Leviticus 11, discusses the laws of purity and impurity of animals.  Ancient Jewish wisdom points out that just as when God created the world, He first created animals and then man, so too, when teaching us about the spiritual state of creation, the Torah begins with animals and ends with man.  There is a well-known teaching on this that says:

“If man merits, we say to him, you are primary out of all the creations, but if he doesn’t merit, we say to him, even a lowly worm preceded you.”  There are two ways of looking at mankind.  We are either the pinnacle, the apex of creation or just the stragglers.  A prominent 19th-century Hungarian rabbi expounded on this saying that in one way, mankind is clearly inferior to animals.  Animals can forage in their local fields and forests for food and they don’t need any clothing or furnishings, whereas we have to work hard to procure and prepare food, clothing, and housing.  But in another sense, he taught, people are elevated and distinguished beyond all animals because we have a purpose and goal in life, which is to serve God and engage in His Torah and this purpose gives us grandeur and importance.  That is why the teaching says, if a person “merits”, meaning fulfills his purpose faithfully and strives to reach his potential, we say, “you are the pinnacle of creation”, but if a person, “doesn’t merit”, doesn’t act upon the responsibilities inherent in being a human, then truly all other animals are better than he, because no other creature has to work as hard as he for his basic physical needs. Then we say, “Even a worm is ahead of you”.

This beautiful message reminds us of that when we have our priorities straight, we soar to the greatest heights, but when we confuse or abandon our priorities, we struggle and sink.  And this, I believe, is speaking straight to us as mothers who have children re-starting school at home this week, and mothers who are balancing work with home.  How do we know which is the priority?

I read a beautiful article by Gordon Neufeld before Shabbat, entitled, “When Bringing School Home, Don’t Sacrifice the Home”.  He points out that a child’s deepest needs are for relationships with his parents and a home where he feels safe, loved, and at peace.  Once that is a given, then a child can learn and thrive educationally. If schooling at home threatens the child’s relationship with home, we need to know that home comes first.

Dr. Neufeld says, “Back to the pandemic at hand. There is this idea that has taken root in our society that school is the most important factor in learning, if not development itself. The show must go on, we are told. In this context, I wish to remind parents who feel pushed to become teachers or at least teacher’s assistants, that there is no more important role than being a child’s home. Whatever you do, don’t mess with this. And when things become too much, what needs to be sacrificed is anything and everything that could interfere with serving this role for a child. There is a bottom-line— something to be believed in when adversity prevails. That bottom line is home—not school. “

This pandemic is an opportunity for us to remind ourselves of the true priorities in our lives, to recommit ourselves to making sure that work at home and school at home don’t come at the cost of the home, because being true to our purpose and goals lifts us up high testifying that, “You are primary out of all creations.”

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