Posts in Your Mother’s Guidance

Our Hearts – Then Our Children’s Hearts

August 20th, 2019 Posted by Practical Parenting, Your Mother's Guidance No Comment yet

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

I actually had many thoughts I wanted to share this week but, as happened most of this summer, I have raced through the days doing so much and also not being able to do so much. Let me try to get at least one thought down.

The words, “Hear O’ Israel the Lord our God the Lord is one (Deut. 6:4),” are known as the shema and observant Jews say it multiple times a day.  It continues: “And these matters that I command you today shall be upon your heart.  You shall teach them thoroughly to your children and you shall speak of them while you sit in your home, while you walk on the way, when you lay down and when you arise.” 

A great transmitter of ancient Jewish wisdom known as the Alshich notes two powerful points for parents.  The first is that if someone wants to teach someone else Torah or character development, he or she must first embody and contain those qualities.  That’s why the words first say, “upon your heart”. First, we have to make sure that God’s wisdom and the fruits of that are in our hearts.  They have to be part of us before we can pass them on. 

Once we have made God, the Bible and Scriptural behavior part of us, then they will be part of our children too.  If Torah is in our hearts, it will enter the hearts of our children.  That, explains the Alshich, is why the next verse doesn’t use the Hebrew word for teaching “v’limadtem,” in the phrase “and you should teach them.” Instead, it uses the Hebrew word, “v’shinantem.”  The root of this word is “SHiNuN” and it means something sharp like a sharp tooth.  (SHeiN is a tooth in Hebrew.) If the words of Torah are sharp like an arrow, and if they are coming from our own hearts, they will naturally pierce our children’s hearts.  The influence will be natural, piercing, and intense, because it comes from our hearts.

In other words, what excites us, excites our children.  What bores us, will also end up boring our children.  We can spend these last few days of summer developing ourselves, learning, growing, and strengthening our own connection to God and His wisdom. That alone will have a powerful effect on our children.

Journeys

August 12th, 2019 Posted by Practical Parenting, Your Mother's Guidance 1 comment

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

The Torah calls Numbers 33 through Numbers 36 by the collective name, “Journeys of.”  In these chapters, the Torah records all the journeys and encampments of Children of Israel during our 40 years in the desert.  Numbers 33:2 says, “Vayichtov Moses,” “and Moses wrote” their goings out and journeying. Then verse by verse the Torah tells us where we started to travel from and where we camped and again where we journeyed from and where we camped.  Over and over, 42 times!  We know the Torah doesn’t waste any words and we also know we don’t need these places as an exercise in mapping skills or historical geography.  It must be that we are supposed to learn something vital from this list of our journeys.

One lesson we can glean here is recognizing that it isn’t only destinations in life that are important, but the journeys are as well.  We fall into the trap of living our lives waiting for the next big accomplishment or stage; our own and our children’s. We miss treasuring the process day by day independent from when we actually reach the goal.  We wait eagerly for the time the baby will finish teething, the preschooler will be toilet trained, the teenager will wake up early on his own, and on and on.  The message for us here is the process is also valuable, not just the end product.  Enjoy the journey!  Appreciate it!  Recognize the process as being worthwhile and beneficial, apart from the hoped for future accomplishment.

Interestingly, the great transmitter of ancient Jewish wisdom known as Rashi, provides an allegory to help us understand these 42 journeys. He tells a story of a king whose son was ill. Father and son traveled far away to find a cure.  On the way back the father recounted to the son each place they stayed on the way and what had happened there.  This is a message of being able to look back in time and retroactively appreciate the process that led to healing and growth. 

I’m sure we can all relate to this and look back in our own lives at our own life journey where looking back allows us to see how each step led us to where we are today.

Another great transmitter, the Ohr HaChaim, says that Moses actually had a little notebook and each time they traveled and camped he wrote down a verse describing that journey in real time.  Then when they reached Arvos Moav, God told Moses to assemble all the verses recounting the journeys and put them in one place, the section we are looking at now.  In other words, Moses recorded the journeys as they happened, place by place.  To me, this is a message of valuing and appreciating life’s journeys as they’re happening, not only looking back in time but finding the meaning in our journeys day by day, in real time.  Together, these two transmissions tell us to focus on each journey as we are on it as well as looking back and getting the bigger picture that is only available over time.

For today, let’s try to savor each stage our children are in and the stage we’re in as well.  The journey itself can be beautiful and meaningful.  This section reminds us to appreciate the process rather than just the destination.

Shhh! It’s Private

July 28th, 2019 Posted by Practical Parenting, Your Mother's Guidance 2 comments

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

Numbers 24 contains the blessings that the prophet Bilam said to the Jewish nation when he was hired by King Balak for the opposite purpose.  Perhaps the most famous line of all of his prophecies is one that Jews say as part of each morning’s prayers, “Mah tovu ohalecha Yaakov mishkenosecha Yisrael.” “How good are your tents, Jacob; your dwelling places, Israel.” 

Rashi, one of the great transmitters of ancient Jewish wisdom, explains that the goodness of the Jewish people’s tents is that they were arranged so that the doorways of the tents were not facing each other.  No family could look through their tent entrance and see into another family’s home. Even though a camp of over a million people may seem to be a place where privacy is lost, the Jewish camp was deliberately structured to create and protect privacy.

There is so much I want to say on this and so much for each of us to think about!  For today, I’d like to focus on the value of creating and protecting privacy for each family.  We live in an age where on all levels, privacy is being lost.  Basic assumptions that we used to have of what was protected and private information are overturned as so much information is now public and easily accessible.  Since the culture is so overwhelmingly one that does not protect privacy, I believe we, as mothers, need to be proactive in teaching our children the Biblical value of privacy, and not just assume they will pick it up or understand it on its own.

For example, I live on a block with many wonderful families and many, many precious children.  Fairly frequently an emergency vehicle is called to our block.  The innocent natural inclination of children is to stand around in groups watching. What child isn’t fascinated by fire engines and ambulances?  In order to teach my children privacy I make a point of calling my children inside when an emergency vehicle is outside and we close our window blinds.  They know that at that moment we aren’t able to help the family that called for assistance, but we can give them the dignity of privacy. We can proactively choose to not look.  I feel strongly that this is important for me to teach my children.

Similarly, when I get off the phone there is often at least one child who asks, “Who was that?”  You would think they would learn by now that I don’t answer that question!  I say, “It was someone calling to talk to me, not you, so I’m not going to give out their name.”  I’m not trying to hoard information or act as if I’m not being open with them, rather I am teaching that privacy is important and if there isn’t a need to share someone else’s information, I won’t do so.

I believe that the message my children also receive is that just as I’m protecting other people’s privacy, so too I will do that for them as well.  I hope it’s understood that I won’t read their diaries, listen in on their calls, or enter their rooms without knocking.  Privacy is important!  (Just so you know, as far as computers in my home we stress that nothing that happens on a computer is private.  Anybody can access it even if you think it is secure, and we do monitor our children’s computer usage, openly telling them that we are doing so.)

As always, and I haven’t said this in a long time so new readers may not know how I feel: I can only share with you what works for me and my family, I don’t believe that I or anyone else can tell you what you should do with your family.  God gave each of us the wisdom and insight to know what is best for our families and please don’t take anything I share as anything more than what works for me.  As always, my hope is that you will listen with an open mind and then apply these thoughts in a unique way for your family.  Privacy is an important Jewish value, and I believe we can all think about how we teach it and model it in our homes, but your ways may be different from mine and that’s terrific!

Different Strokes for Different Folks

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

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

Recently, I found myself with two children who, one right after the other, made identical comments that were not appropriate for that time.  You may or may not be surprised to hear that I responded very differently to each child even though the issue was identical.  Why would I do that?  Well, the same reason you do it!  As any mother or teacher knows, the point of responding is not to get anything off my chest or to play my scripted role and simply say lines that are pre-determined as the response for this particular action.  No.  My response isn’t for my own sake, but for the sake of my child. Therefore, my reaction had to be different to each child because each child is different and each one needed something different from me in that moment. 

We have a reminder of this principle in chapter 20 of Numbers.  Here, we have the very enigmatic story of God commanding Moses to speak to the rock to bring forth water for the nation. Instead Moses struck the rock, leading to the decree that Moses wouldn’t lead the nation into Israel.  There are so many questions and so many lessons we can learn from this story, but I would like to share just one angle with you today.

Forty years before this point the nation also needed water (Exodus 17), and believe it or not, God commanded Moses to hit the rock to make water flow.  Why was hitting the right response at that time, but 40 years later hitting was inappropriate and talking should have occurred?  What’s the difference? 

The audience is different!  40 years earlier, the children of Israel had just left slavery.  They were just beginning to come together as a spiritual nation and they still, so to speak, spoke the harsh physical language of slavery. Hitting and physical force seemed a natural and appropriate step for people who had just come out of 210 years of physical slavery.  But now, 40 years later, it is a new generation which needs water. This generation has had 40 years of Moses’s leadership and Torah learning, and they are about to enter Israel, a land sensitive to subtle spiritual behaviors.  This generation didn’t need to learn about physical force, they needed to learn how to use subtle and spiritual powers like speech to influence nature. 

This explains why God tells Moses, “Since you HIT the rock rather than speaking to it, you will not lead the Jewish people into the Land of Israel”.  The nation needed a different style of leadership at this point in time than the one they needed 40 years earlier.  The desired result was identical – water from a rock, but the response was different because the nation was different and needed to learn something different.

I believe serves as a powerful reminder to us parents to modulate our responses to each child individually.  One size does not fit all; rather it’s different strokes for different folks!  It’s empowering for our children to know that we speak to each of them h individually and treat them individually because they are individuals. We honor and respect their individuality by acknowledging who they are apart from their siblings and trying to give each one what they need from us one by one.   We can ask ourselves before we speak, “What tone of voice, what words, what response does my child need from me right now?” and try to act accordingly.

When Our Kids “Hate” Us

July 14th, 2019 Posted by Practical Parenting, Your Mother's Guidance 3 comments

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

I think all mothers should read the story of Korach’s rebellion (Number 16).  Can anyone at all relate on some small level to Moses?  Moses, who never even used a donkey that belonged to anyone else (verse 15) but, on the contrary, devoted his life to doing for the Jewish people, teaching them , praying for them, and leading them as they developed from slaves into a free and spiritual nation is attacked.  Korach, his group and 250 others rebelled against Moses’s leadership. 

Nachmanides, a transmitter of ancient Jewish wisdom, explains why Korach picked this particular time to rebel. The issue he was upset about, the appointment of Elitzafan, happened much earlier.  Nachmanides’ words are poignant to me; he says Korach didn’t rebel when Eltizafan’s appointment was made because life was good for the Jewish people then.  After the terrible sin of the Golden Calf, Moses saved the nation with his 40 days and nights of prayer, and, “They loved Moses like themselves and listened to him.” If any man had rebelled against Moses at that time the nation would have stoned him.  So Korach bided his time and waited until things weren’t going as well and the nation just heard the decree that they wouldn’t enter Israel but would finish their lives in the desert.

Now Korach knew the time was ripe to rebel as the people’s mood was beginning to turn against Moses’ leadership. Nothing had changed in Moses’ attitude or behavior to the Jewish people but when they began to feel disgruntled, upset, and disillusioned, who are they ready to turn against?  Their leader, Moses.

I’m not sure why I find this particular Nachmanides so moving.  Maybe it’s because on some small level I can relate.  Within a family, there are times that everything is going well and smoothly, and everyone is happy.  And at those times, just like Nachmanides says, the children love their parents as themselves and listen to them.  Lovely!  But when troubles arise, even difficulties that children bring upon themselves, do you know who they take it out on? Isn’t it often Mommy?  The truth is that when a child is distressed, the safest person to attack is the person he or she know loves them despite all. So  they snap out at you and me.  And it doesn’t feel good.  No one likes to feel like the bad guy, especially when we’re exhausted from caring so much, loving so much, and doing so much good for the very people who are striking at us.  But this is the way the world works.  It happened to Moses and it happens to you and me.

What can we do in times like this?  I’d like to make two suggestions. The first sounds simple but takes a lot of work. 

Don’t take it personally. 

I know it feels very personal when your child makes a snide comment, rolls his eyes, or rebels in any which way, but we have to work on ourselves not to take it personally.  This is something I’ve worked on for a very long time and still have to work on again and again.  I can’t say it enough: sometimes our children hurt and they lash out against the person who loves them the most, similar to the children of Israel and Moses. We can’t let it be about us.

The second suggestion I am taking is from Moses’ reaction to Korach’s initial complaint.  The verse says, “and Moses heard and he fell on his face.”  One transmitter of ancient Jewish wisdom adds this word, l’tfilah—for prayer.  At those times of attack and complaints, let’s try to take a moment to whisper a small prayer, maybe one asking for help remaining calm, maybe a prayer to help us not take it personally, maybe a prayer for God to help this child who is in so much pain and doesn’t want our help right at this moment.  We can take a parenting challenge and turn it over to God who has the ultimate power and ultimate love to help both us and our children grow through the hard times together.

Peer Pressure -and Press Your Peers

July 9th, 2019 Posted by Practical Parenting, Your Mother's Guidance No Comment yet

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

In the car one day this week, one of my daughters told me a story that resonates with a lesson we learn from Numbers 13. Last summer she had been in day camp for a few weeks, and one day she had been on a bus with the camp going to some fun destination.  She thought it was funny that in the parking lot the girls all began filing off the bus silently or talking to each other, but not thanking the bus driver.  When she got to the front of the bus, she said thank you to the driver and then heard the girl behind her say thank you and the one behind her and the one behind her until the bus driver didn’t stop repeating “You’re welcome” over and over.   

What does this have to do with the twelve spies sent to see the land of Canaan?

Ancient Jewish wisdom tells us that when Moses sent the men to spy out the land of Israel he prayed for Joshua, “May God save you from the advice of the spies.”  Moses saw his primary student Joshua had learned from Moses’s outstanding quality of humility and was himself a most modest and humble person.  The problem Moses recognized was that sometimes modesty and humility can lead a person to stay quiet about his own views, instead adopting the majority viewpoint of those around him. 

Joshua’s humility and modesty put him at risk of  ceding to the majority opinion of the spies instead of holding fast to his own views, and so Moses prayed that God should give Joshua strength to resist the viewpoint of the majority.

Even without Joshua’s humility, we, and especially children, can be easily swayed by peer pressure or the behavior of the majority of those around us.  The girls on the first half of the bus weren’t intending to be rude or inconsiderate. Each one was simply doing what the girl ahead of her did, following her peer as she silently walked out of the bus.  The girls in the back half of the bus were fortunate that each one heard the girl ahead of her thank the bus driver. They too were affected by those around them and followed their peers in thanking the driver.  I believe this is a lesson for us to be aware of and to teach to our children. 

When we are in groups of people it is very easy to just do what everyone around us is doing instead of stepping out of line to do what is right.  The pressure of the majority is real and often leads to a lowered standard of behavior.  Have you ever noticed that kids in groups tend to behave differently than any one of those children would alone?  I see it all the time and I discuss it with my kids.  I want them to be on guard that even when they are among friends, they should be careful to do what they know to be right and best, regardless of what the norm is in the group.  This is a powerful lesson.  Even Joshua, the great student of Moses, needed Divine help to stand apart from majority opinion.  Surely, we can learn from this to talk to our children about the subtle realities of peer pressure and maintaining their individual sense of right and wrong even when in groups.

Am I Your Mirror?

June 30th, 2019 Posted by Practical Parenting, Your Mother's Guidance 2 comments

A Your Mother’s Guidance post by Rebecca Masinter

You are familiar with the infamous story of the twelve spies who were sent to scout out the land in preparation for the children of Israel’s planned immediate entry into their land.  Catastrophically, ten of the spies came back with negative feedback about the land of Israel, and ultimately our entry to the land was delayed for forty years until that generation was gone. 

Today I’d like to look at one line the spies said in their report while describing the overwhelming size and strength of the inhabitants of Canaan.  “Van’hi v’eineinu kachagavim v’chein hayinu b’eineihem.” “And we were in our own eyes like grasshoppers, and so we were also in their eyes.” (Numbers 13:33)

Listen carefully: First they say we saw ourselves tiny and insignificant like grasshoppers and only afterwards do they say that others perceived them that way as well.

The message is obvious.  We aren’t defined or limited by how others perceive us; it’s the other way around.  We see ourselves one way, positively or negatively, and then broadcast that viewpoint to everyone around us. Ultimately others end up seeing us the same way we do.

This in itself is a profound point and one worth a few minutes of our thought today.  We each have tremendous power within ourselves, and our limiting factor is often not what others think, but it’s primarily that we don’t believe enough in ourselves and our potential and we then broadcast that to those around us.

However, this isn’t really what I wanted to focus on because Your Mother’s Guidance keeps the focus on mothering.  I believe this next point is urgent.  While it is true that we, adults, broadcast our self-image from the inside out and need to take responsibility to adjust our self-perceptions accordingly, our children’s self image is very much shaped by how they perceive we see them

When a child thinks we see them one way, good or bad, they then begin to perceive themselves the same way.  This is the opposite of the spies.  Sometimes, of course, parents and teachers send explicit messages to children about who we think they are and what we think they are good at or not. Sometimes our messages are so subtle that we don’t even know we’re broadcasting them, but our kids are listening and absorbing an image of themselves that stems from us.

Those of us in the Northern Hemisphere are embarking on the beginning of summer vacation.  Many hours are ahead where we will be the central adult figure in our children’s lives and the lens through which they see themselves reflected and defined.  Let’s take some time to think through what messages we may be transmitting to our children about themselves.

Perhaps we recognize their good qualities, positive intentions, and purity, and convey that regularly.  And maybe we sometimes, very subtly or not so subtly, we give them negative messages or view them in ways that limit them or define them as less than they can be.  Our kids self-perceptions are heavily influenced by us.  We owe it to them to take time to think through each one, maybe taking a few minutes to write down what are the positive, infinite attributes we see in each child, to remind ourselves of what we want to convey.  Every attribute has its positive side; every incident has its positive angle. It’s up to us to see it in our kids and share with them the beauty and positivity that we see.  May God bless each of us with success in this giant endeavor.

Rippling Out

June 23rd, 2019 Posted by Practical Parenting, Your Mother's Guidance No Comment yet

Although the Temple is not standing right now and the priests, descendants of Aaron, are not able to fully fulfill their birthright mission, there is still much to learn from their obligations.  In Leviticus 16:17, Aaron is told to bring sacrifices to gain atonement for himself, his household, and the whole Jewish nation. First himself.  Then his household.  Then the nation.

Ancient Jewish wisdom teaches that before one can attempt to change the world, one must first change his smaller sphere of influence, his family. Before he can even change his family, he must change himself. 

It’s a powerful moment, as our children grow, when a parent realizes he can’t change or control his child.  My child chooses at each moment how he wants to live his lifeit’s his life, not mine.  I, as a parent, have to recognize that I only have the ability to change myself. By witnessing my development and my improvement my child may be influenced to change.

In a book describing the life of an exemplary Jewish woman who recently passed away, it describes that when her child struggled with something like getting up on time for prayer, this woman wouldn’t go wake him. Instead she would go pray for him. 

When we notice areas we’d like our children to improve in, let’s work on improving ourselves in those areas.  Our circle of influence ripples outwards from ourselves, the center.  When we change, those ripples move through everyone around us allowing them to change too.

The Kohen Gadol, the High Priest atoned for himself, his family, and then his nation.  If we begin to purify ourselves, we end up with a purified family and a purified nation, but it has to go in that order.

Saying Too Much?

June 17th, 2019 Posted by Practical Parenting, Your Mother's Guidance 2 comments

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

As mothers, we sometimes talk from morning till night, whether we are saying, “Look at that beautiful butterfly,” to a two-year-old or, “Be back by ten,” to our teenager. Leviticus 25:7 provides a word of advice no matter what age group we’re dealing with. The Hebrew, via ancient Jewish wisdom translates as, “You shall not cause pain to your fellow with hurtful speech, and you shall fear your God, for I am Hashem your God.”

Ancient Jewish wisdom explains that this means that we are not allowed to speak to someone in ways that will cause him or her pain because of the tremendous value of Shalom, peace, between people.  Here is my rough translation of one oral tradition transmitter’s comments:

And this mitzvah (commandment) also applies to children, and to one’s sons and daughters, that one should be careful to not cause them too much pain with our words, except for what they greatly need for their development, and one who is lenient with them so as not to cause them pain in this way, will find life, blessing, and honor.

Wow!  This sage is giving an immense blessing specifically to parents who are cautious not to speak hurtfully to their children!

Now of course he is not saying that this commandment negates the obligation of raising our children properly, or that we don’t have to sometimes speak to our children in ways that will be painful for them.  However, I think it is a fascinating reminder to us to be careful in what we say and how we say, it especially when correcting our children.

I don’t know how this will apply to each of you, but I’d like to share what I practically took out of this idea today.  Sometimes when I rebuke or speak harshly to my children I find that I say more than I need to.  Maybe this sounds familiar?  We might use three sentences where one would have been adequate.  Or bring an issue up again a few hours later after the situation is over and finished?  Sometimes, especially when we’re emotionally riled up by whatever is going on we say more than necessary or say it more frequently than needed.  For today, this is what I’d like to share with you:

“Don’t cause pain with hurtful speech.”

Within our families, with our children, let’s try today to focus on this mitzvah, to bite our tongues. Even when it is necessary to point out something that needs correction, we can make an effort to do so in a manner that is short and sweet.

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.

Sign up to receive our AAJC newsletter and our free weekly teachings!

Sign Up Now!

Follow AAJC on its new Facebook Page!
X