Posts in Your Mother’s Guidance

Take Time to Make Time

June 3rd, 2019 Posted by Homeschooling, Practical Parenting, Your Mother's Guidance 4 comments

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

Our son celebrated his bar-mitzvah this past Shabbat, which included reading aloud in synagogue from the weekly Torah portion. His portion began with the words,  “If you walk in the way of my laws,” Leviticus 26:3.  The obvious question is why the Torah uses the word  ‘walk’?  Ancient Jewish wisdom says that this phrase is referring to Torah study.  How is walking part of studying Torah? 

We can learn an answer to this question from the behavior of King David.  David, like mothers, had many competing demands on his time.  He was the king of the nation and had national, political and military decisions to make.  He was also a Jew who carried his own personal obligation of Torah and self-development.  How did he balance the competing demands? 

The answer is that each morning instead of just waking up and starting to tackle his to-do items, King David would go to the Torah study hall to gather his thoughts.  There, in the study hall, he would organize his schedule for the day and decide how much time to devote in each part of the day to each of his responsibilities.  By making these scheduling decisions in the inspiring atmosphere of the study hall he was able to prioritize more effectively and leave more time for Torah study in his day than he would otherwise have had.  So in essence, walking to the appropriate place to plan his schedule led to more spirituality in his day. This is one of the reasons that walking in the ways of God is the introduction to this section of the Torah.

You and I probably can’t go to a study hall as we plan our day each morning with our cups of coffee.  But we can learn not only the importance of planning our days and schedules but doing it within the context of a spiritual connection. This will help us align our priorities correctly and schedule accordingly.  For me, spending time each morning, not just praying, but taking a few minutes in my room for what my children call, “Mommy’s private prayers,” gives me a chance to connect to God, orient, and center myself, and think through my day with my head in the right space.  When I come out from my private time I feel more prepared to tackle the many items on my calendar for the day wisely and well. 

We can all learn this lesson: taking the time to plan our daily schedules within a context of connection to God will enable us to focus on what is truly important to us and must be in our schedule, and which items can be dropped or delayed on each day.

Timing Matters

May 13th, 2019 Posted by Practical Parenting, Your Mother's Guidance 1 comment

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

According to the ancient Jewish divisions, chapter 16:1 begins a new portion in the book of Leviticus.  The verse begins, “And God spoke to Moses after the death of Aharon’s two sons, when they approached before God and they died.”  Ancient Jewish wisdom asks why the Torah tells us that the instruction that will follow was given after Aharon’s sons died. It answers with an allegory about a patient receiving detailed instructions from a doctor. The patient might be tempted to ignore them. However, if the patient is told, “These are your instructions, follow them or else you will die just like Mr. Ploni died,” he will feel the warning more viscerally and is more likely to obey orders. 

The day after the death of Aharon’s sons was the right time to communicate relevant laws to future priests.  There are right times and wrong times to try and instruct or correct people.  It’s interesting that one of the sins of Nadav and Avihu was their inability to wait for life to unfold in the right time.  These sons of Aharon used to say to each other, “When will these old men, Moses and Aharon, die so we can be the leaders of the nation?”  That time would have come eventually, but they were unable to appreciate that there are wrong times and right times and to wait until the time was right.

I’d also like to point out that the lesson God instructs the priests right at this time, adjacent to the deaths of Nadav and Avihu, is one of timing, “…he should not come at all times into the Sanctuary.” Rather, there is a specific time on the specific day of Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) when it is the right time.

What can we mothers learn from this?  Timing matters.  Sometimes we want to tell our child something, to correct them or direct them, and we feel the urge to say it now because we want the relief of unloading our pent up emotions.  But that is often not the right time to speak.  Rather, we should have patience and wait for the time to be right before we correct or direct. We need to do it at the right time for our child when they can listen and learn in the best way.

I will end with the reminder of what we already know; connection precedes direction.  Almost always, if not always, the best time to teach our children is when they feel connected to us, in a state of closeness and love.  When we tap into our loving relationship with our children, when our children feel close to us, that is the best time to teach.  I don’t know if this is the Torah’s message here, but I will note that the context of this discussion is the Yom Kippur service, the day that we are closest and can come closest, into the Holy of Holies, to God.

For today, let’s try to find the right times and try to create the right times of loving connection before we direct or correct our children.

4 Sons = 1 Man (or Woman)

May 5th, 2019 Posted by Practical Parenting, Your Mother's Guidance No Comment yet

As part of the Passover Seder (program) we speak of four sons, each of whom is found in Scripture.  They are described as the wise son, the evil son, the simple son, and the son who doesn’t know how to ask.  Each one’s questions, or lack of them, needs to elicit an individually crafted response from parents. My father explains at each seder that these aren’t four distinct people sitting around some family’s Seder; rather these are characteristics that make up each of us.  We all have a bit of each type of child in us, and different people have different percentages of each of the four sons in their makeup.  Why is this important to us now?

Within many families, regardless of whether the parents initiate this or not, the children see themselves in defined and labeled ways.  “I’m the studious one. She’s the funny one.  He’s the responsible one.  She’s the creative one.” Maybe also with negative terms: “I’m the lazy one.  He’s the rebellious one.  She’s the messy one.”  The Jewish approach is to reject such labels.  There aren’t four different sons;  each human being has aspects of all types!  Sometimes I study, sometimes I laze around.  Sometimes I act responsibly and sometimes I make messes.  The Torah viewpoint is nuanced, and we have different specific responses given to each of the four sons because at different times we all need one or another of those answers.  Sometimes we need a metaphorical punch in the teeth and sometimes we need someone else to take the lead and guide us through an issue we don’t even recognize as problematic on our own.  Each of us and each of our children are individuals made up of many components and qualities. We can recognize and celebrate our nuances instead of defining and confining ourselves or others into narrow boxes. 

I’d like to suggest that Passover and other holidays are a good time to look at our children and at ourselves with this viewpoint in mind.  Often on these special occasions we spend time with our extended families. When adult siblings get together, sometimes a funny thing happens.  We may find ourselves playing out narrow roles that we assigned ourselves and our siblings years ago.  It can be so frustrating to feel that you’re a mature adult who’s grown out of her childhood roles, and then you go back to your childhood home and find yourself reacting to each other the same way you did 10 years ago!  Yes, you may have seen yourself or been seen as a certain way back then, but now we can put on the lenses of the Passover Haggadah to appreciate that we aren’t one way or another.  Labels don’t fit people!  We are nuanced composites of many different attributes, that shine or glare in different ways at different times.

When we can appreciate the four sons in each of us and the four sons in each of our children and extended family members, we can let go of our old rigid confining ideas, and truly move into the freedom of Passover.

Faith in the Future: the Musical

April 28th, 2019 Posted by Practical Parenting, Your Mother's Guidance 1 comment

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

In Exodus 15:20,  Miriam leads the Jewish women in song after the splitting of the Red Sea.  Actually, if you look at the verses closely, she started while still in the middle of the sea!  And it wasn’t just singing: these women had musical instruments ready for just this moment!

Imagine if you have to leave your home—not an apartment you’ve been in for a few months, but a home you and your family have lived in for over 200 years!  You are in a huge rush—so huge that the dough you’ve just finished kneading has no time to rise.  What will you take with you?  I can think of many things I would want to take, and honestly, musical instruments don’t even make the it onto the top 20!  Why did the women take instruments?  The great transmitter of ancient Jewish wisdom, Rashi (1040-1105),  tells us they were so sure Hashem would perform miracles for them and they would want to sing their thanks, so they prepared accordingly.  Amazing, isn’t it?

But let’s look at Miriam’s life a little more closely.  This isn’t the first time we’ve heard of her.

As a young child, Miriam saw that the pain and distress of the Jewish people had led to husbands and wives separating.  We’re told she saw that there would be a redemption and there would be a redeemer born, and convinced her father that Jewish couples had to continue building for that future even while today looked dark.

When Moses was born, the whole house filled with light.  Everyone knew he was special. Yet when it came time for him to be put in the river, who is the only one who stayed with him to watch and see what would become of him?  Miriam, the person who excelled at seeing a glorious future even in the darkest moments.

The women singing with their drums and flutes, led by Miriam, were exemplifying confident faith—looking with confidence into the future and being sure that the future was one of glorious redemption.

This is the legacy we have inherited and this is the one we need as we raise our children.  It can be easy to get stuck in the moment with our children and feel frustrated at whatever difficult stage we are currently dealing with.  In truth though, we need to look into the future with confident faith, and have the vision and faith to see our children in the future as adults, where the exact same qualities that are so exasperating right now, can be their greatest strengths.

My mother often tells of reading a story from Natan Sharansky’s mother. His mother shared that as a child he was so stubborn and strong-willed that he would gladly remain in the corner all day instead of apologizing for whatever he had done.  I’m sure that was incredibly frustrating for his mother—we’ve all dealt with stubbornness and it isn’t easy.  Imagine though if his mother would have known how his stubbornness would serve him and the Jewish people as an adult when he spent over 9 years in the Soviet Gulag as a prisoner of conscience! 

Confident faith requires us to look beyond the here and now and see the potential for the future.

This is true both in viewing our children’s inherent qualities and also to keep in mind as we make decisions about how to raise them.  It’s crucial that we look beyond the short term and envision the beautiful future which will come from each child and each situation.  This is the gift of confident faith with which we have been blessed.

What Do You Do?

April 10th, 2019 Posted by Practical Parenting, Your Mother's Guidance 2 comments

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

I was thinking about chapter 40 in the book of Exodus. Ancient Jewish wisdom describes how  God wanted to give Moses the honor of assembling the Tabernacle because he hadn’t been involved in the contribution and building process.  The words used by one transmitter are, “she’lo asa Moses shum melacha b’Mishkan,”  “for Moses had not done any work for the Tabernacle.”  Excuse me?

Is there any person, perhaps even including the main craftsman, Betzalel, who was more directly involved in building the Tabernacle than Moses?  Who was it who communicated every instruction from God regarding the donations for and the construction of the Tabernacle? Who carved and brought us the two tablets which are the center point of the Tabernacle?  If you look at the Scripture describing the Tabernacle, Moses is part of it over and over and over.

What can it mean when ancient Jewish wisdom says, “Moses hadn’t done any work for the Tabernacle.”?

I have not yet learned an answer to this question.  Nonetheless, here is what I do have for you.  Doesn’t this scenario sound somewhat familiar?  Can you think of anyone you know who may at times feel that they aren’t doing great things? Accomplishing what they could? That they are somewhat anonymous in the larger world?  And yet… this person is behind everyone else’s accomplishments !

How many times does the wife and mother in a family feel that everyone else is doing things, stretching, growing, and they are only the facilitators in the background?  We register our kids for activities and lessons, drive them there, and help them practice their new skills.  Who’s the one noticeably accomplishing?  The child obviously—we just provide support.

We run our homes and provide the background support that allows our husbands to grow in their careers and life paths.  When we do our job well, it allows everyone else to do their jobs well, but to an uneducated eye it may seem as if we’re doing nothing while everyone else is doing everything.  It is even possible to look at ourselves and our Tabernacles and think, “I haven’t done anything!”

This struck me last night as I was listening to my son practicing his Torah reading (again) for his Bar Mitzvah. Please God, on that day he will be up in front of the congregation reading the Torah for the whole community.  It may look as if I had nothing to do with it.  But truly, I will be behind his success just as Moses was behind each part of the Tabernacle. Yet in a way, it will look to those present as it looked in the desert—as if Moses, “had not done any work for the Tabernacle.”

Maybe that is why Moses gets the final task of actually putting it all together—the final step of creating a Tabernacle where before there wasn’t any structure.  Yes, he wasn’t directly involved in contributing or building, but in reality he was everywhere and everything.  And we are the same.  We mothers may sometimes feel that we’re not accomplishing, but, just like Moses and the Tabernacle, we are really the force behind everything that everyone else in our family accomplishes.

First Connect – Then Direct

April 2nd, 2019 Posted by Practical Parenting, Your Mother's Guidance No Comment yet

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

The first verse of the entire book of Leviticus seems to have a superfluous phrase.  It begins, “And He called to Moses, and God (God) spoke to him.”  One classic transmitter of ancient Jewish wisdom from the 11th century focuses on that the extra phrase.  Why did God call to Moses before He spoke to him? What is that calling? 

The answer is truly mind-opening both in our relationship with God and with our children.  For all statements, and for all sayings, and for all commands that God gave to the Jewish nation, God preceded the instruction with a “calling,” which is a language of affection, a verbal expression love.  And here, at the beginning of God speaking to Moses from the newly constructed Tabernacle, is the right place to let us know that every time God spoke to Moses, He got his attention first by calling to him with love.

Ancient Jewish wisdom gives us a bit more detail.  Each time God was going to speak with Moses, He didn’t just start commanding him.  First God would call “Moses, Moses” and Moses would answer “Here I am,” “Here I am,” and after that God would speak to him about the commandments.

What I love about this idea is two-fold.  Firstly, the reminder that commandments are not cold, calculated commands, but rather each one stems from an expression of God’s love for us.  But secondly, and of vital importance for us mothers to know: God is modeling for us how to give directions and instructions to our children.  First connect. Then direct.

Imagine this.  Or if you’re brave you can try it yourself.  Picture a family of small children at the playground.  The kids are totally involved and focused on their games and activities and their mother is totally focused on her friends or her phone.  All of a sudden she looks at her watch, sees that it’s dinnertime and calls to her kids, “Children! Come off the playground now. It’s time to go home.”  Often, that won’t go over so well.

Now picture the alternative.  The children are playing, totally engrossed in their activities.  The mother may be talking to her friends, but she is watching her children, making eye contact, smiling at them, and being generally responsive to them. The mother looks at her watch, sees it’s time to go, but before giving the command, she walks over to her children, looks them in the eyes, calls each one by name, and connects with love.  Maybe she takes a moment to ask them if they’re having fun, or what their favorite activity was, or maybe she shares with them what she noticed them doing that looked like fun.  After 15 seconds of connection she says the exact same thing as the first mother. “Children!  It’s time to go home.” 

If you can’t imagine the difference I beg you to try it.  Children who have been collected by their mother emotionally with warmth and love are ready to be instructed and directed, and they respond naturally and positively to that direction.

This is what we learn from the very first sentence.  Before God spoke to Moses with an instruction, He always began with calling him with love and connection.  This tool is a powerful strategy for parents.  For today, try calling your child by name, making eye contact, smiling, giving warmth and love, before asking him to do something.  You may think this will take too much time, but my experience has been that it actually saves time, because a child so instructed is usually happy to run and obey his parent right away.

Let me know how it goes!

The Joy of Sadness

March 24th, 2019 Posted by Practical Parenting, Your Mother's Guidance 2 comments

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

Ancient Jewish wisdom draws a connection between two months of the Jewish year that at first glance seem to stand in opposition to each other. We are told:  Just as when [the month of] Av enters, our joy is diminished, so too, when [the month of] Adar enters, our joy increases.

A connection and equality of sorts is made between the sadness of the month of Av, when both Temples were destroyed, and the joy of Adar, when the redemption of Purim took place.  Why?  I would like to share with you a thought I had on this.  Please know that I did not see a source for learning this lesson and I am not saying that this is what ancient Jewish wisdom is trying to teach us, simply, this is what came to my mind when thinking of this saying.

In the last month I have heard from several administrators in different schools that the line they hear most frequently from parents of their students is, “I just want my child to be happy.”  Doesn’t that sound nice?  Of course they want their children to be happy!  They’re not evil people!  But the truth is, if a parent’s goal is for his or her child to be happy, now, in their childhood, they’re  really not doing their best to align their child up for a lifetime of happiness.  In order to feel joy, we also need another part of our calendar cycle to instill in us the feelings of grief and sadness.  We can’t just experience happiness. To feel joy we also have to be open to feeling all the other emotions that are part of the human experience.

It isn’t easy to parent a child who is feeling grief, anxiety, fear, shame, or any other negative emotion, but it is important to let our children experience those feelings, to let them fall and fail but be there with them to help them get up again and process their feelings.  A child who is allowed to struggle and feel negative feelings, will be truly capable of feeling positive feelings of accomplishment, pride and joy.  Adar can’t exist without Av.  They’re related. We need to be capable of feeling each emotion at the right time, and we need to allow our children to experience all those emotions too, with our loving support.  It doesn’t work to say, “I just want my child to be happy!”

We also need to acknowledge how challenging it is on us as parents to help a child work through difficult feelings.  It can take a lot out of us and that’s normal and okay.  The important thing is not to dodge that responsibility because it is too hard or painful but to get ourselves the support we need while we parent unhappy children.  When a child of mine is going through something difficult, that may be when I need to make my life simpler, cut things out of my schedule, and ask for help because the reality is that parenting a child who is suffering is time-consuming, draining, and challenging.  But it is still necessary and valuable.  We have to help ourselves be able to help our children in their good times and their bad times, in the Adar of their lives and in the Av of their lives because we learn to live with joy by also feeling pain.

No Results Guaranteed

March 17th, 2019 Posted by Practical Parenting, Your Mother's Guidance 4 comments

A “Your Mother’s Guidance” post by Rebecca Masinter

The book of Exodus ends with the completion and assembly of the Tabernacle.  The description of assembling the materials, building the vessels, and sewing the tapestries and clothing for the Priests are in the active tense, “and he made,” “and he placed,” with one exception.  Verse 40:17 says,  “And it was in the first month of the second year on the first of the month that the Tabernacle was erected.”  The actual assembly of the Tabernacle is said in a passive voice, “was erected.”

Why? Ancient Jewish wisdom describes that after the children of Israel brought all the components of the Tabernacle to Moses it was time to assemble it.  God wanted to give Moses the honor of actually assembling the Tabernacle but the planks and pieces were so huge and heavy that Moses knew it was impossible for a human being to lift them and put them in place.

As ancient Jewish wisdom beautifully states, Moses said before God, “How can it be erected by a human being?” 

God said to him, “You do your part—make an attempt so it looks as if you’re doing it, and it will rise and be assembled by itself.”

And that is why the verse says, “…the Tabernacle was erected” in a passive voice. It assembled itself.

Wow!  I’m going to share with you an idea that I would have rejected as a mother of young children, but has become very dear to me as they have grown older.  We put in our effort.  We make an enormous effort to parent well, to be good mothers.  And that is our responsibility. We have to make our attempts. To the rest of the world it may look as if we are raising our children!  But the truth is that just as it appeared as if Moses was lifting the Tabernacle and it was really happening independently of him, the development of our children is really independent of us.  The outcome of how our children turn out, what type of person they become—that is up to God. 

I have a friend who went to speak to a Torah scholar about one of her children who was born with innate behavioral challenges. Despite years of various efforts and therapies, my friend was still very concerned about what would be with this child in adulthood.  The Torah sage told her, “That’s not your concern.  You put in your effort to be a good mother.  You make an effort to research doctors, providers, and treatments within reason, and that is all!  What will be with him and who he will become is not dependent on your actions.  That is up to God.” 

Our children’s successes are not due to us, and our children’s struggles and failures are not ours either.  Our job as mothers is about effort;  the outcome is independent of us and dependent on God (and the child’s own input).

This is really a mind-blowing idea and it may not resonate with each of you, and that’s okay.  For me, it resonates.  We put in our best efforts, do our best and have faith in God who can bring about the results without our help, in the same way as the Tabernacle was assembled.

Olive Oil and Resilience

March 5th, 2019 Posted by Your Mother's Guidance 1 comment

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

Exodus 27:20 provides the direction to crush olives to prepare clear olive oil to use in the Tabernacle.  The children of Israel are often compared to olive oil.  One of these ways is that just as olives need to be pressed and crushed before they release their oil, the Jewish nation also reveals its beauty and greatness after going through periods of pressure.  History bears this out, where times of tragedy and oppression have led directly to periods of great spiritual greatness.  After the destruction of the Second Temple came a huge period of Torah learning as happened also after the Crusades.

We know this to be true in our own lives as well.  I, and I’m sure you too, can look back on periods of great difficulty with gratitude.  We know that we have become stronger, bigger, better people by going and growing through hardships.  Rabbi Hauer in Baltimore calls this Post Traumatic Growth Syndrome. He connects it to the month in which Purim falls, Adar, versus the month of Passover, Nissan. In Nissan the Passover redemption happens miraculously and completely.  Adar is more complicated. After Haman’s plot is uncovered Esther tragically remains in the king’s palace and the Jews remain in exile.  Sometimes we have to work through difficulties to reach complete redemption.

I believe that this concept is important to remember as mothers.  Often the “mama bear” instinct is so strong in us, that we may want to shield our children from pain or stress.  Yet, our tradition, as well as current research on resilience, or grit, stress the importance of even children persevering through difficulties and bearing discomfort to come out stronger.  I recently had the opportunity to talk with school administrators who shared that due to parents complaining whenever their children feel uncomfortable because of their school workload, they respond by continually lightening the curriculum.

I know it’s painful to watch our children in pain, and I really hope you don’t misunderstand me.  I am not promoting hurting our children!  Yet, by allowing them to persevere and struggle through discomfort, we are giving them the greatest gift.  We are helping them recognize that they have tremendous strength and resources, that they have God’s help and love, as well as our own, and that we believe in their ability to rise above their circumstances.  We can build resilience in our children, but not by shielding them from discomfort.

Let’s try to share our own resilience and experience with our children.  We can share with them a challenge we faced in our day and how we were able to work through it.  We can share with them the strategies that helped us work through our challenge. We can share how we felt during that difficulty, and how we feel at the end of it.  We can model that pressure and discomfort lead to growth and greatness, just as the pressed olive, yields pure oil that can illuminate the Tabernacle’s Menorah (candelabra).

A Child’s Coat; a Mother’s Love

February 21st, 2019 Posted by Practical Parenting, Your Mother's Guidance 4 comments

A Your Mother’s Guidance post by Rebecca Masinter

Exodus 28 details the clothing that the Priests and High Priest wore while doing the service in the Tabernacle and Temple.  The Torah describes them as “Bigdei Kodesh” “holy clothing”  because of their function of being worn in holy service. I’d like to share with you another instance in Scripture of holy clothing and this one came about through a mother’s love!

I learned this many years ago from Rabbi Meir Prengler, currently of Los Angeles, and it was so powerful and beautiful that it stuck with me. 

When Hannah brought Samuel to serve in the Tabernacle under the priest, Eli, she was giving up her beloved son obtained miraculously after years of childlessness.  Out of her great love for her son, Samuel,  she made him a special coat – a meil, so he would have something of hers with him even when they were apart (I Samuel 2:19). 

With each stitch she sewed, she imbued the coat with her love, and a mother’s love is eternal.  This explains why the coat grew with Samuel as he grew, and even remained his after his death.  Later,  after Samuel died, King Saul needed to talk to him from beyond the grave and how did Saul identify Samuel?  The man with the coat (I Samuel 28:14).

Rabbi Prengler told us that the great love that Chana instilled in this coat made it an item of holiness, so spiritual that it even surpassed death.  We can’t begin to comprehend the power of our actions or the effect that our love has and will continue to have on our children. The truth is that a mother’s love is powerful beyond belief.

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