Posts in Your Mother’s Guidance

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.

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.

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!

The Journey and the Destination

July 20th, 2020 Posted by Practical Parenting, Your Mother's Guidance 2 comments

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

The last section of the book of Numbers is known in Hebrew as Masei – journeys. It recounts the 42 journeys that the children of Israel took in the desert over the course of 40 years. Interestingly, the Torah doesn’t just give us a list of the places they went, but for each one we’re told, “And they traveled from (place A),”  and “and they camped in (place B).” The next sentence says, “And they traveled from (place B),” followed by “and they camped at (place C).”  There seems to be a lot of redundant information here.  Why do we need to be told not only the name of each campsite but also about each journey between camps?

The recounting of each of the 42 sites evoked a memory of something that had happened there, an important step on the nation’s journey.  But we also need to know that it isn’t only the points in time when things happen that are important. The journeys and processes that get us there also count.

It is easy for us to feel fulfilled and good about a positive accomplishment or depressed by a negative action, but those actions, good and bad, didn’t happen in a vacuum.  There was a journey that led up to them, and that journey in and of itself is important.  For example, if at the end of the day we snap at our kids, that’s the action, the point in time that something happened.  But what was the process?  It might have involved us skipping meals that day, worrying about something or other, trying to do too much in too short a time… There was a journey that led to us losing our patience.  It also works in a positive direction.  When we smile at our kids and have patience for them at the end of the day, it is because of the day’s journey we went on, the decisions we made that led us on a path to a happy outcome.

Each campsite is important; something momentous happened there.  But each journey was equally important.  There are times that we forget to connect the dots between our journeys and our destinations and also between our kids’ journeys and their destinations.  I’d like to share an example with you that happened in my home yesterday.

One of my children spent much of the day bored.  She wasn’t interested in doing anything I suggested, and she asked me if she could have time on the computer.  I knew that screen time would stifle creativity and leave her feeling even more disgruntled and unfulfilled so I said no.  That was the journey.  I allowed her to feel bored, to wander the house picking up books and putting them down, picking up a drawing pad, sketching for a bit and then putting it down, and I tolerated a fair bit of whining in the middle too.  Guess what?  About 4:00 in the afternoon, she took ownership of her day. She went for a bike ride, decided to write a play that required a lot of research, and got her cousins and siblings excited about putting on her play for Shabbat.  When she went to bed last night she felt that she had had a wonderful day.  Her destination was joyous and fulfilled, but it was because of the journey she went through.  Sometimes we forget that boredom can be a good thing, a journey inwards to creativity.  Sometimes we forget that the processes are important in determining what the end product will be.

In child-raising, we don’t just click a button and get a resilient, healthy, happy child.  It’s an outcome of all the decisions we make along the way. It is about the type of journey we are traveling as well as the one we allow our children to travel.

Keep it Simple

July 6th, 2020 Posted by Practical Parenting, Your Mother's Guidance 4 comments

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

Deuteronomy 18:13 says, “You should be tamim with Hashem your God.”  Tamim is a difficult Hebrew word to understand. It is alternatively translated as simple, blameless or perfect. None of these capture the whole picture. One of the main transmitters of ancient Jewish wisdom, known as Rashi, beautifully discusses this Hebrew word. His elucidation here is especially appropriate considering that the verses surrounding this one deal with the forbidden practices of magic and sorcery.

We are not to try to uncover the future, to predict it, or stress about it.  Rather we are supposed to look to God as the one who gives us each moment, and we should accept each moment as it is, with simplicity.  At one and the same time, plan, work and strive for the future while also trusting in the moment. While “simple” has a negative connotation in English, simplicity is a different ball game. Here it is clearly intended as a lofty aspirational value. This is such a powerful statement and such a challenging concept. 

This idea may be especially challenging for mothers.  After all, we are the ones who are responsible for the future generation!  Surely we need to worry about the future!  Surely if anyone has a right to feel anxious about what is coming down the line it is a parent whose job is to raise a child for the future!  But, no.  Apparently, that isn’t our job.  Yes, we build for the future.  Yes, we do our best to help each child be prepared for his future.  But no, we don’t run in circles and try and make the future unfold the way we want it to.  No, we don’t get anxious or stressed about what will be.  We try to accept with simplicity everything that God brings upon us in the moment.

I’d like to suggest one reason why I think this idea is challenging for some of us and what we can do about it.  I think mothers tend to extrapolate from today’s reality and worry that what is today will always be the reality.  You know what I mean, don’t you?  For example, a mother who is worried that her son is bored in school can very quickly assume this means he will always be bored in school. Before you know it, her mind has jumped to what will happen if he’s bored in school forever: what if he starts disrupting the class, maybe he’ll be kicked out of class, eventually he’ll be kicked out of school, he’ll end up in the streets and be estranged from God.  All these calamities can run through a mother’s head simply because her son told her he was bored in his first week of school. 

Or maybe a mother got a call from her child’s teacher that her daughter was mean to a classmate today. That mother’s brain can jump right from today’s instance to the whole future of this child, worrying about what this means in a much bigger, more general way than the incident requires.

I think a message we can take from this verse is to accept life as it unfolds and let God take care of foreseeing the future and bringing it about.

Walking this way with God, not stressing about the future, is also a great lesson to teach our children.  Especially as anxiety in children has skyrocketed in recent years, this may be a lesson we want to consciously teach them over and over.  We can share with our children that we can trust in God and accept what He gives us at this moment without worrying about the next moment.  It’s truly a lofty vision, but one that will help our children day today just as much as it helps us.

I want to thank each one of you who has reached out to me to tell me you appreciate the ‘Your Mother’s Guidance’ column.  It really means a lot to me when I hear that you are reading and enjoying it.

 

Devotion on Steroids

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

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

Numbers 7:1 says, “And it was on the day that Moses finished erecting the Tabernacle…” Ancient Jewish wisdom asks why Moses is credited with the Tabernacle when we know that Betzalel, Ahaliav, and a team of others actually did the work.  The answer is that Moses is credited with the Tabernacle because he dedicated himself to it with devotion. The Hebrew phrase is mesirus nefesh, which implies devotion and dedication on steroids.  Even though others actually did the work, Moses was completely dedicated to making sure each piece was made according to the dimensions and descriptions Hashem had given him.  Because of his devotion for the Tabernacle, he gets the credit.  Similarly, even though King David’s son Solomon built the Temple, it is called “House of David” because of his mesirus nefesh for it. 

Apparently, when someone has mesirus nefesh for something, even if they don’t actually do the job completely themselves, the job becomes entwined with their essence and it becomes their own.  Do you know when else we see this?  A high school teacher of mine years ago pointed out to us that often in the Book of Kings, kings are identified as the sons of their mothers.  This isn’t what you expect—kingship passes from father to son, so why does the prophet tell us their mothers’ names?  For the very same reason as above.  Mothers were moser nefesh to raise children who became kings, so of course they have to be credited.

There is a lot of mesirus nefesh going on in all of our homes these days.  Every time we push ourselves to answer one more request, to read one more story, to speak calmly one more time, to bite our tongues from criticizing just this once, we are showing our devotion and dedication to our families and raising our children.  The problem is that sometimes we downplay our mesirus nefesh.  Maybe we get upset with ourselves when we don’t live up to our hopes, yet we don’t credit ourselves for all the times that we do.  We don’t even notice when we do a good job, but we notice when we fall short of what we expect.  Mesirus Nefesh doesn’t mean doing a perfect job or finishing the job completely.  It means staying dedicated, staying devoted.

Moses kept checking with the artisans: “Are you making it the right size, the right way?”  He stayed with it from beginning to end. He didn’t hand it over to Betzalel and walk away to something else. 

We do that too.  Day after day we try to be present, patient, calm, consistent, and that counts for a lot.  The question of whether we attain our goals all the time is not relevant when it comes to mesirus nefesh. What matters is that we keep coming back and trying again.  It is the dedication mothers show by working on themselves and their parenting day after day that translates as mesirus nefesh. And that counts.

Children Raising Mothers

May 20th, 2020 Posted by Practical Parenting, Your Mother's Guidance 2 comments

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

While discussing the role of the Levites, Numbers 3:4 mentions Aaron’s sons Nadav and Avihu who had previously died.  The verse says:

“Nadav and Avihu died before God when they offered an alien fire before God in the Wilderness of Sinai, and they had no children…”

This verse makes it seem as if they died for two reasons; first, for bringing a sacrifice they shouldn’t have and second because they didn’t have children. What is that about? 

The Chassam Sofer, a transmitter of ancient Jewish wisdom, explains why their not having children contributed to their deaths.  Having and raising children is the ultimate path to self-development.  I have a friend who has a blog about her homeschooling family.  Her motto is “Homeschooling builds character….In the mother.”  She is so right, but it isn’t just homeschooling, it’s parenting.  Raising children forces us, their parents, to stretch and grow way beyond any measure we did before having children.  You thought you had cultivated the character trait of patience when you were in high school?  Wait until you’ve been kvetched (whined, complained) to all day long and then you get woken up right after you’ve fallen asleep.  That’s when you begin to learn about patience! 

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Words Build Worlds

May 5th, 2020 Posted by Practical Parenting, Your Mother's Guidance 3 comments

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

Leviticus 16 describes the service of the High Priest on Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement).   An integral part of both the High Priest’s work on Yom Kippur as well as each individual’s Yom Kippur and repentance process is an oral confession (16:21). It isn’t enough to feel regret for one’s sins or to think about changing or even to make a decision to repent and improve. Speaking aloud is a necessary component.  Why?

We all know how many thoughts move through a person’s head each day.  We have so many ideas, plans, inspirations, resentments that pop into our heads and most of them fly right out.  Ideas are filled with potential, but unless we do something concrete to actualize them, they disappear.  Their energy dissipates. The very act of taking an idea and verbalizing it, saying it out loud so our ears can hear it, makes it real.  Our ideas begin to have power when we verbalize them, because only after we say a thought and hear ourselves say it, does it become real to us.  A thought is fleeting, but a word begins to build reality.

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Balancing Home, Work and School

April 27th, 2020 Posted by Homeschooling, Practical Parenting, Your Mother's Guidance No Comment yet

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”.

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