Posts in Practical Parenting

You’re So Lucky – Really?

October 19th, 2020 Posted by Practical Parenting 2 comments

Scott Adams is the talented cartoonist who draws the Dilbert comic strip. Dilbert pokes fun at work-related issues, so it wasn’t surprising that Mr. Adams tackled business ZOOM calls in the days of COVID. The comic strip I saw featured a call interrupted as a father trades in his professional persona for that of a frustrated dad responding angrily to children rampaging noisily in the background.

This cartoon sparked quite a conversation among a few mothers in my community.  A number of them told how they could relate to this scenario, while a few ventured to say that their children understand the need to be quiet while Mommy is on a business call or conference. What intrigued me was the language some of the mothers in the latter group used. They spoke of how lucky they were.

I beg to differ. Children are not born with a “don’t-interrupt-mommy-when-she’s-on-an-important-call” gene. Until they are past babyhood, they cannot understand that their parents have lives apart from them. For those months and years, it is up to mothers and fathers to make plans that will allow them to conduct uninterrupted adult conversations. Once children have passed that point, not interrupting is a lesson that needs to be taught. Some children will accept guidance easily while others will need a slower and longer learning curve. However, unless there is a severe underlying condition, even older toddlers can be taught not to talk loudly, run around or interrupt parents for a reasonable amount of time. Wise parents understand that the length of time reasonable for a seven-year-old isn’t reasonable for a three-year-old, but the younger child certainly can and should be expected to begin regulating his behavior. Luck isn’t the operative word; the applicable words for parents to employ are patience, persistence and positive consequences.

Many years ago, my mother-in-law was chatting with a young mother whose four-year-old kept on interrupting their conversation. After continually shushing her daughter, the somewhat embarrassed mother said, “I can’t wait until my daughter outgrows this stage.” With more candor than tact, my mother-in-law replied, “Children outgrow shoes, they don’t outgrow bad manners.”

Can you have an adult conversation while your children are awake? My guess is that time, effort and loving guidance have more to do with that reality than does luck.

Maps, Graphs and Charts: Yes, They Still Matter

October 6th, 2020 Posted by Homeschooling, Practical Parenting No Comment yet

Over the course of the festival of Sukkot, Jews who follow a Torah path make every effort to eat outdoors in a Sukkah (a temporary “hut” built to certain Biblical specifications). This year, my husband and I did not build a Sukkah of our own as we do most years. Instead, we are relying on sharing the Sukkot of our gracious children and neighbors. In that way, we found ourselves this morning having breakfast with a 20-something young man, son of one of our host families.

This charming and accomplished youth asked us a question about our beloved boat trips in the Pacific Northwest. As my husband replied, he realized that our young neighbor, an east coaster,  wasn’t familiar with the area. From experience, I knew what was coming.

“When you are going on a journey or to a new place, do you look at a map to get the lay of the land?” my husband asked.

“No, I use my GPS,” came the expected reply.

Even today, our home is stocked with maps. We do not set out on a long trip without a paper record of the areas through which we will be going. The above conversation is one that my husband frequently has, especially with those under the age of 35. Each time, he is amazed at the answer. While GPS has its highly respected place in our lives, my husband cannot imagine not having a mental overall picture against which the GPS voice can be measured. Leaving oneself open to befuddlement if the directions mess up, as they certainly sometimes do, is anathema to him.

As the discussion continued, I remembered a homeschooling resource that I valued and enjoyed. It is possible that my children enjoyed it as well, but whether they did or did not, it bore its fruit. The series, Maps, Charts and Graphs by Modern Curriculum Press began with a first volume geared to second grade and then increased in complexity for quite a number of years. It taught how to read maps, graphs and charts, explained different types and uses of each of these tools, and imparted interesting information along the way.

I did a quick search and found that this series is still available. In all honesty, I last saw it many years ago so I cannot guarantee that the product hasn’t changed. I’m sure there are many newer competing products available now as well. But I do think there is value in practicing this material on paper rather than only via a computer or an app. This recurring conversation with young men and women who have little or no familiarity with maps led me to want to share this resource with you.

The Squabble – er, Debate

September 30th, 2020 Posted by Practical Parenting 1 comment

A number of parents sat with their children to watch the first presidential debate of 2020. They hoped to teach their children about the importance of being able to articulate one’s policies, how to carefully frame one’s arguments and what issues affect this great country. That is not exactly the lesson that emerged.

The debate (which admittedly I turned off before it was over because I was so  dismayed) seemed to be an enactment of a Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle story that was beloved by my children. For those of you who are not familiar with Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, this fictional character is the source of wisdom for neighborhood mothers, adored by their children, and the solver of all sorts of parenting dilemmas.

In the story I am recollecting, a mother approaches Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle for advice because her son and daughter are always squabbling. Breakfast means an exchange of, “His piece of toast is bigger than mine,” and “She’s sitting too close to me.” That bickering continues through the whole day, exhausting both the parents. (Confession – I don’t have the story before me so these examples may not be accurate, but I am capturing the idea.)

After consulting Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, the very next morning the mother and father begin to implement the recommended cure. Instead of greeting their normal, pleasant parents, the children awaken to a mother and father who are whining about unfairness, carping at each other and complaining about the slightest thing the other one says or does. It doesn’t take long before the little boy and girl realize how unpleasant it is to live in a house where family members talk over each other, call each other names and moan and whine, treating each other and everyone forced to listen to them with gross disrespect,

If your children saw the first presidential debate of 2020, hopefully they learned that same lesson.

The debate has not change how I plan to vote. The two men represent two very different visions of America, one of which I see as a road to improvement and the other as the road to destructive socialism. That isn’t a choice that foolish statements or a show of poor character is going to affect. However, both President Trump and Vice-president Biden acted more like badly behaved ten-year-olds than adult statesmen. That is embarrassing and disappointing and an apology is due by both to the citizens of the United States.

Two Mountains; Two Choices

September 22nd, 2020 Posted by Practical Parenting, Your Mother's Guidance 4 comments

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

I have been spending a significant amount of time listening to and speaking with mothers who are trying to determine what is best to do for their children this school year.  It is clear to all of us is that this won’t be an easy year, not for teachers, not for parents, and not for children.  No matter what decisions the mothers I’ve been talking to end up making, they are decisions that many of them never wanted to make, never wanted to think about. They, and all of us, have been forced into a situation that wasn’t our preference.

There is an insight in Deuteronomy 11:29 that can help us all realign and greet the upcoming school year, whatever choices we make, in an optimal way.  Moshe begins the section by saying,

“See I am setting before you today blessing and curse and you have a choice, you can pursue the blessing by following Hashem or you can choose the curse by turning away from  Hashem.”  (Deut. 11:26-27)

Then Moshe gives us a tiny glimpse of what will happen later on as he continues, “and you shall deliver the blessing on Mount Gerizim and the curse on Mount Eival.”

Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch (1808-1888) beautifully points out that Mount Gerizim and Mount Eival are the perfect mountains to illustrate the difference between a blessing and a curse.  He says:

The two mountains, located side by side, present the most striking, instructive visualization of a blessing and a curse.  Both of them rise from the same soil, both are watered by the same precipitation, rain and dew.  The same air passes over them both, the same pollen is blown over them both.  Yet Eival remains starkly barren, while Gerizim is covered with lush vegetation to its very top.  Thus we see that blessings and curses are not dependent on external circumstances – but on the manner in which we react to these circumstances.  Hence, whether we are blessed or cursed is not dependent on the superficial conditions that are imposed upon us, but on how we deal with them—on our attitude toward that which should bring us blessing.

Wow!  Blessings and curses are not dependent on external circumstances but on the manner in which we react to those circumstances!  That is exactly what I need to hear, what my children need to hear, and what each mother I’ve talked to this week needs to hear.

It is easy to fixate on the external circumstances: how can my child learn in a mask all day?  How they can handle socially distanced lunches and recesses?  How can my child cope with more Zoom classes?  Lots and lots of external circumstances which we may be tempted to think are the problem!  But no, it’s not the circumstance that are the problem;  it is our attitude to them that can be the blessing or the curse.

This is such an empowering message, for ourselves, and to give over to our children.  Yes, the circumstances are out of our control, but our attitude is within our control and at the end of the day, our attitude is all that matters.  We can fill ourselves with delight and anticipation of all the growth, all the learning, all the new opportunities that are coming our way and we can share that with our children. That is the message of Mount Gerizim and Mount Eival.  External situations just don’t matter all that much; it’s what’s inside of us that counts.

Keep It New and Exciting

September 15th, 2020 Posted by Homeschooling, Practical Parenting No Comment yet

Two weeks ago was our grandson’s first day of school. He isn’t a five-year-old starting kindergarten, but rather a fourteen-year-old beginning high school. As a homeschooler, he learned a great deal, but he never set foot in a formal school environment.

His parents were not compelled to send him; one of his older brothers is homeschooling high school and he could have taken that path as well. However, our daughter and son-in-law, in agreement with their son, thought that this school would be a perfect match and offer him a great deal.  It has been thrilling hearing his reactions. His excitement as he leaves for school each day (a day that runs from 7:45 am to 9:30 pm as it includes a great deal of Torah study) is a joy to behold. We laughed with delight at his exclamation, “Math teachers are awesome!” when an obviously talented teacher explained a difficult concept.

He is confused by one thing. While some of his classmates—none of whom were homeschooled—are eager learners, others slump into their seats as class begins and prepare for a nap. He cannot understand their lack of interest.

As adults, parents and teachers have the awesome opportunity of introducing so much of life to innocent children. One of our gravest responsibilities is making sure not to diminish the wonder of life and learning for the next generation.

A talented parent or teacher can peel open a book revealing depths not necessarily evident on a first reading. A mentor can point a child towards an understanding of history that will help the youth become a greater person. A science teacher can reveal the wonders of the universe and God’s creation to thirsty minds and hearts. Those same educators can crush a love of learning, impoverishing and harming a child.

Maybe your children are going back to school, either in person or online. Maybe you are taking those first exciting, scary and momentous steps and homeschooling for the first time. Let’s hope, and what’s more take steps to ensure, that whatever teachers our children have, we and they are not among the Grinches stealing the pleasure from education.

  

Honey vs. Stings: Talking to Our Children

September 8th, 2020 Posted by Practical Parenting, Your Mother's Guidance No Comment yet

Dear Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin,

    I have listened to your podcast “The one big thing you can do now to improve your finances & family and your social life” several times now, but I still have questions.  I am a mom of 4, and as such I do a lot of teaching, guidance, correction and discipline with our children, throughout the day. 

How does one teach, guide, correct,  and discipline with honey always on the lips instead of stings? 

I know that G-d has given us as parents the responsibility to train up a child in the way he or she should go, so when they are old they will not depart from it as Proverbs 22:6 says.  So how can you keep your mouth always honey with your kids?  Maybe it is harder for me than some because we homeschool, instead of using a G.I.C*., but I don’t think so.  I think probably most parents have this problem.   

Thanks for the suggestions. 

Much Love,

The C. Family

Dear C. family,

You are absolutely correct that most parents have this problem. It is also true is that many spouses have this problem as well, not to mention friends and employers.

But for now, let’s stick with parents. Let’s look at the four verbs you used when you said that you, “teach, guide, correct and discipline.” Those all are jobs for parents, and the real question to ask is how effective we are at that job. In other words, the job isn’t, for example, to say to our children every morning, “Did you make your bed?” If that behavior is one that we value, then our goal is to have our children eventually value that behavior as well.

When it comes to instilling more important values like telling the truth, being kind to others, expressing gratitude and others (because let’s face it, if our children grow up and don’t make their beds every day it won’t define who they are) our focus, once again, isn’t on how much we lecture but on how our words are received. It is much easier to receive guidance that is given softly and with love.

Children are by definition immature and they are also human beings so that we can assume that they, like us, don’t like following orders and they have better and worse days. As a parent, that means that you will sometimes need to provide consequences and even punishments. Here is one tip: In general, the fewer words you use, the better they will be received. Saying, “If the toys are cleaned up in ten minutes, we’ll have time for a story,” and then not reading the story if clean up hasn’t happened is enough in itself. It does not demand a lecture to go with it.

However, the biggest change parents can make is to be aware of the good. It is so easy to notice the messy room, the missing shoes, the scowl on a face. And it is so easy to take for granted the puzzle cleaned up, the tied shoelaces and the pleasant agreement. Orally acknowledging the positive means needing to verbalize the negative much less frequently. When chastisement is needed, it still can be delivered without anger.

Easy? No. Start by paying attention. In the quiet of the night, replay the events of the day in your mind and ask yourself how else you might have phrased something better or reacted more calmly. Challenge yourself only to give positive feedback during a specific time of day and expand that time as this becomes more natural. If you do have to give a reprimand, pay close attention to your tone of voice and choice of words. You will be shocked to hear how the way your children talk to you and to each other changes as you change.

Don’t aim for perfection overnight. Actually, don’t aim for perfection. Aim for improvement.

Wishing you success,

Susan

*Government indoctrination centers formerly known as public schools

What’s Positive about Pigs? (and camels)

August 30th, 2020 Posted by Practical Parenting, Your Mother's Guidance 4 comments

‘Your Mother’s Guidance’ by Rebecca Masinter

Chapter 14 of the book of Deuteronomy lists two signs that kosher mammals must possess: they must have cloven hooves and chew their cuds. A few animals have one sign but are lacking the other one, rendering them non-kosher. The Torah lists these animals.

We would have expected that when listing these animals that are not kosher because they lack a required feature, the Torah would have said, for example, “Don’t eat the camel, hare, and hyrax because their hoof is not split even though they bring up their cud.”  Since we’re explaining that they’re not Kosher, let’s begin with the quality that makes them not kosher!  But the Torah does exactly the opposite in Deuteronomy 14:7 and in Deuteronomy 14:8 when it discusses the pig.  First, the Torah lists their kosher attributes and only afterward their non-kosher one.  The verse says, “Don’t eat these animals, for they do bring up their cud which is a kosher quality, but their hoof is not split, so you can’t eat it; it is not Kosher.”

Ancient Jewish wisdom teaches us here that even when its necessary to point out a negative quality or disqualify something for a valid reason, we always should begin by pointing out a positive trait.  Every situation and every person at every time has something positive about them and we learn from here to begin by noticing and complimenting the positive even when it may be necessary to continue on to what is lacking.

What a lovely lesson for mothers!  Maybe our children don’t have their shoes tied but we can compliment them on their brushed hair.  Maybe they forgot to do their chores, but they helped a sibling in need.  Mothers surely have many opportunities to point out deficiencies, but let’s take this message from Deuteronomy and remember to stress the positives.  If the Torah can introduce non-Kosher animals with their pure characteristic, we surely can focus on the positive qualities of our pure children.

What Do You Mean I Need to Teach My Child to Read???

August 16th, 2020 Posted by Homeschooling, Practical Parenting 2 comments

Schools are opening. Or they are not. In many districts, parents simply don’t know what will happen. Meanwhile, we are being assaulted by articles telling us of the decades-long consequences that will affect different age groups if they do not get back in the classroom. College-aged students will see a lifelong lessening of earning power (Funny, isn’t it, how the soldiers returning from WWII who delayed or missed out on college did rather well economically.) Middle-school students will face unprecedented mental crises (Is it possible that was a path we were already on and, if we act wisely, school closing could lead to a different and better path?). Today my concern is for those parents who cannot imagine how their children will learn to read without an adult who holds multiple educational degrees to guide them.

I do not boast of many letters after my name indicating advanced degrees. My BA heralded the end of my accreditations and it was not in early childhood education. However, most of the children to whom I gave birth learned to read under my roof. I can’t say that I taught all of them to read because some of them taught themselves. All I did was supply an environment that provided the soil for that miracle to take place. I did follow a program with a few of the others that I will describe below and two of my girls learned to read in school, though not without consequences. Let’s discuss each of these in turn.

Our children were born into a home that teemed with books. When we moved from an apartment to a house, we filled out a questionnaire that asked how many TVs we had and whether a piano was involved. We dutifully filled in the numbers of beds and chairs we were transporting. The three strapping young men who came to facilitate the move blanched when they saw the number of boxes awaiting them. No one had asked how many books we owned.

We acquired very few toys that beeped, buzzed and lit up, but we bought lots of books for little hands. We also had adult books on low shelves that weren’t slated for destruction but that we didn’t mind teeny hands using for practice in turning pages. We kept a stream of conversation aimed at our children as we changed their diapers and took them for walks and we sat them on our laps, reading aloud as we showed them pictures that matched the words. When they were very young and still nursing, I sometimes read aloud from whatever my current reading was. I think some of the babies showed a distinct affection for Thomas Sowell. From quite a young age we played variations on games such as, “I’m thinking of a word that rhymes with coat and goat and float and we see it at a dock.” We also laughed rather than became terrified when our delighted three-year-old yelled out “dinghy” as her first guess.

Our children frequently saw us reading. Books were clearly a source of pleasure and just as they wanted to cook along with me or pump gas alongside my husband, they wanted access to the exciting, adult world of reading. For two of our children that was all that was needed. With no directed instruction, they simply began reading at about the age of four.

In our pre-homeschooling years, two more of our daughters learned to read in school. That worked for one of them but caused problems for the other. We accept the fact that children start crawling and walking at different ages, and we don’t rush to enroll our not-yet-erect eleven-month-old in remedial walking classes. We somehow don’t allow the same latitude for reading. Unbeknownst to us, one of our daughter’s eye muscles weren’t ready to read when that was the focus of the classroom. As a bright girl who loved stories she managed, but we didn’t realize until we started homeschooling that she was seeing double of some letters and had developed some other vision problems that needed correcting. It’s easy to be a post-game coach, but I think that we might have avoided those difficulties had she learned to read naturally rather than because the curricula demanded it.

For those of you counting, that leaves three more children who learned to read somewhere between the ages of five and seven. Even in those years before homeschooling exploded, there were quite a few programs on the market, but my choice was a simple paperback book called, Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons.  One child greedily lapped up the lessons at age five so that she was reading fluently in closer to 70  than 100 days, while another child showed no interest at all at that age. The book went back on the shelf with attempts every few months until finally, at close to age seven, she asked to use it and was reading on a second-grade level within a month. Our third child fell somewhere in between those extremes.

You might be surprised to discover that America’s literacy rate did not necessarily improve when compulsory education was instituted. Colonial America was a highly literate society. If you don’t count slaves, who were deliberately kept from reading, early America was a nation where the average person often knew his Bible as well as his Shakespeare. Thomas Paine’s pamphlet, Common Sense, was a popular rather than academic best-seller, while books like James Fenimore Cooper’s, The Last of the Mohicans were read for enjoyment in the early 1800s. Try reading either of those with a college student today.

My point is that the educational establishment is entirely unnecessary for most children to learn to read. Even more so, many academicians promote reading programs that inhibit fluency. If you don’t know whether your school district is whole-language or phonics-based, that is really something you need to explore. Do parents need to be aware of potential vision problems or other impediments to reading? Yes, just as they need to be alert to hearing loss or allergies. In the overwhelming majority of cases, parents are entirely competent to introduce their children to one of life’s major pleasures and gateways to accomplishment. Should professional guidance be needed (and it is needed much, much less than thought) it can be sought at the right time.

I believe that reading can be taught with no special material. At the same time, there is an abundance of useful ideas and, yes, stuff you can buy to help accomplish your objective, which in my mind is a child who loves reading and is competent in it. My recommendation is not to spend a lot of money until you have spent a lot of time snuggling and reading together and approaching the subject playfully. Do your research and try different things such as carving letters in sand, baking pretzels in the shape of letters and serving snacks with items that begin with a specific letter. If you absolutely love a program, purchase it. But ignore any sales claims that you “need” this material in order to succeed. You and your relationship with your child is actually the main requirement.

The moment when your child takes his or her first step is incredibly exciting. The moment when your child deciphers lines and swirls on a page into meaningful words is even more so. If your young one will be home this fall—and winter—and spring, consider it a gift.

What Could Go Wrong?

August 10th, 2020 Posted by Practical Parenting No Comment yet

Certain phrases such as, “Where’s the beef?” leap into the national language. Other phrases glide into the shared language of smaller groups. When my children were younger, we read many books aloud. This lasted way beyond the years when the children became fluent readers. I have fond memories of taking turns reading Thomas Hardy’s  The Mayor of Casterbridge with my then sixteen-year-old son.

One book we enjoyed as a family was a memoir written by a man recalling his late 1800s childhood. (I don’t remember the title but if anyone does, please let me know.) He and his siblings were raised in Maine by their grandfather, and our favorite chapter concerned a day when the grandfather was away from home. The children decided to bake tarts. To add a note of suspense and excitement, they doctored one tart with all sorts of less than tasty flavorings. Once baked, each child would pick a tart and they would bite into them at the same time. Most of the faces would be wreathed in smiles–while one child would grimace and race for a glass of water. The lone, unfortunate tart was known as the “Jonah,” named for the prophet who brought storm conditions to the ship he boarded.

As the tarts finished baking and anticipation grew, the children heard a knock at the door. There stood an elderly man who introduced himself as their grandfather’s friend. Returning home after a number of years’ absence, he stopped by for fellowship. After explaining the grandfather’s absence, they invited him in and offered a drink. Just then, the tarts were ready and the guest exclaimed, “Oh, it has been so long since I’ve smelled such wonderful pies!”

The children were trapped. Good manners demanded that they invite their guest to join them. What was meant as a fun game had turned into a potential nightmare! Can you imagine the tension as they sat around the table and passed the tray? As each family member bit into a tart, so did their guest. As fortune would have it, he turned red and started coughing as the Jonah effect took hold.

Once all was calm, the children explained what had happened and braced for a stern lecture. To their great relief, the guest burst out laughing. As he headed out, the good-natured man asked them to tell their grandfather that Mr. Hannibal Hamlin sent regards.

That night, the children greeted their grandfather with the message of his friend’s visit, omitting the details which might earn them a punishment. On subsequent visits, Mr. Hamlin shared their reticence.

Just how momentous the day had been was something the children did not understand until years later. Hannibal Hamlin had indeed been away from home for years, serving as Abraham Lincoln’s vice-president during his first term of office. He was returning from that position, having relinquished the title to Andrew Johnson, who shortly thereafter became president following Lincoln’s assassination.

Since reading that book, the phrase, “Jonah tart” serves as a shorthand in our family. Dozens of other phrases from shared books and movies occupy a similar place. This is by no means the only benefit of having family read-aloud time, but it is one that will linger long after the children are grown.

Shalom – How to Pursue Peace

August 3rd, 2020 Posted by Practical Parenting, Your Mother's Guidance No Comment yet

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

Numbers 6:22-27 includes the timeless instruction from God to the Priests to bless the Jewish people. The blessing begins with the word “Yevarechecha,” “May [God] bless you,” and end with the words, “v’yasem lecha shalom,” “and He should put peace upon you”.  Ancient Jewish wisdom points out to us that shalom, peace, is the ultimate blessing.

Without peace, all other blessings are meaningless.  So the other blessings add and add up until finally they finish off with a blessing for peace, the ultimate blessing.  After that there is nothing more for which to ask.

The Kli Yakar, one transmitter of ancient Jewish wisdom, tells us that the reason the inauguration of the altar, where each Prince brought offerings for his tribe, follows immediately after the Priestly blessing is because this section of the Torah hints deeply to Shalom as well.

When the Torah describes the first offering brought by Nachshon the son of Aminadav of the tribe of Judah, the verse begins with the letter “vav” which means “and”.  “V’karbano…” “and his sacrifice was”…  Beginning with “and” implies that there was one before his, even though there wasn’t!  This,, said the Kli Yakar, is to take away any desire for him to claim, “I was first”.  He is not announced with fanfare as the first. On the contrary, the sentence begins with “and” suggesting that he is one of many!

What’s more, when Nachshon is introduced as the first one to bring the sacrifice, the Torah doesn’t describe him as a prince or leader of Judah.  He is announced without his position.  This, too, is to stop him from feeling pride in his leadership role at this point, but rather at one with everyone else.

Even more, the Torah repeats over and over each Prince’s sacrifice, even though they were identical!  The Torah could have listed the first sacrifice and then said, “And they all brought the same as Nachshon”.  Instead, the Torah goes out of its way by many, many verses, so as not to make any one prince seem more or less important than another.  Each of their identical sacrifices were described in detail, for the sake of shalom.

Putting one person above another person, or one person feeling above another one, is antithetical to shalom.  In that case, why didn’t the Torah just say, ‘All the princes brought a sacrifice, and this is what they each brought’?  Why the lengthy descriptions for each one?

  Shalom is not when all differences are erased and everyone is identical.  Shalom is when everyone is respected for who they are and what they do, and not made to feel secondary or lesser than anyone else.  The Torah goes out of its way to not make the first person to bring sacrifices feel any greater, or for each of the other men to feel any less.  They are each given detailed recognition and respect, not ranked or compared. Even bringing exactly the same thing; each prince imprinted his own personal essence on the gift.

What is the message for us?  I think there is a truth here that we all can internalize in our own way; comparisons obstruct shalom.  Think for a minute about how good we feel when we finally make it to the end of a long Friday and are ready to greet Shabbat.  Everything is prepared, the house is clean, the kids are dressed, we’re dressed.  I light the candles and feel so good that I made it!  And then, maybe a little voice pops into my heads… “Big deal.  Thousands of Jewish women also managed to get ready for Shabbat today.  They probably even did it better than me.”  I had a moment of recognition for my hard work and I dashed it with comparisons.

We can also apply this concept to our children.  Each child deserves to be recognized and honored for who they are, not for who they are relative to anyone else.  When our child accomplishes something we celebrate it, we don’t inform them at what age their sibling did the same thing.  Shalom comes when everyone stands independently, not feeling second or third to anyone else.

This is a good time for us to be aware of this concept.  We have been self-contained within our families for a long while and each family did its own thing. There wasn’t much opportunity to look at anyone else and compare anything.  Now that our communities are (perhaps?) opening up, the challenge of comparisons is going to come out to attack us.  Perhaps this section is a reminder for us to recognize and respect everyone in our orbit, ourselves included, without looking to compare.  Each person, each family, is uniquely wonderful and special on their own.  No comparisons necessary!

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