Posts in Your Mother’s Guidance

Keep it Simple

July 6th, 2020 Posted by Practical Parenting, Your Mother's Guidance 2 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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Much to Say and Not Saying It

February 18th, 2020 Posted by Practical Parenting, Your Mother's Guidance 4 comments

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

Mothers are supposed to talk. A lot. That is one of our strengths. When we walk with a young child, we point out leaves and caterpillars. When we read aloud with our children we share our opinions about the characters’ choices.  We show interest in our children’s lives by asking questions that lead to more than one-word answers. Sometimes, however, we also must stay silent.

Genesis 34:5 says, “And Jacob heard that he [Shechem] had defiled Dina while his sons were in the field, and Jacob was silent until they came.”  He didn’t rush to respond, but kept his counsel and waited.  Even after the whole story is over Jacob doesn’t rush to press his opinion on his children.  He tells Simon and Levi a short rebuke, but Simon and Levi answer him back and they actually have the final word in this section.  Jacob doesn’t respond back to them, he bides his time and holds his tongue until the very end of his life when he addresses their role in this story. (Genesis 49:5)

Similarly, when Reuben moved Jacob’s bed to his mother,  Leah’s, tent, the verse says, “and Israel heard.”  Jacob noticed what happened but he waited and didn’t respond immediately.  Here also, he waited until Genesis 49 in his final blessing to rebuke Reuben for this action.

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After the Crisis, Time to Fall Apart

February 10th, 2020 Posted by Practical Parenting, Your Mother's Guidance 4 comments

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

Genesis  46:29 has the most tear-jerking scene of all time, the reunion of Jacob and Joseph.  We all remember the story. Joseph harnessed his chariot and went up to meet his father, and when they met he threw himself upon his father’s neck. The verse says that Joseph wept very, very much, but it seems that Jacob remained dry-eyed. Why didn’t Jacob weep as well?

Rabbi S. R. Hirsch reminds us that Jacob had grieved and mourned for Joseph for many years while not doing anything else.  He was all cried out.  He had spent the last 22 years focused on the loss of Joseph – there weren’t other emotions that distracted him. All he had been doing was living with the loss of his son each and every day and he had processed that loss fully.  From the day that he was sold into slavery, Joseph, on the other hand, had been living a busy and vibrant life.  He had gone from being a servant to being second to the king—each day had been eventful and interesting and he really hadn’t had the time or space to feel the pain of separation from his father or to grieve it.  Now, when he saw and hugged his father again, all those hidden emotions of 22 years came to the surface and overwhelmed him in a flood of tears.  We see that in this verse, Jacob is called Israel. His personal pain had already been subsumed in his national role of Israel, but not Joseph’s.  Joseph cries and cries as, for the first time, he deeply feels the grief of 22 years.

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Families Make the Nation

January 28th, 2020 Posted by Practical Parenting, Your Mother's Guidance 2 comments

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

The book of Genesis focuses on the families of our Matriarchs and Patriarchs. In contrast, Exodus is the book of the formation of the Jewish nation.  Surprisingly, Exodus, the book of the nation, begins with— families! We are told (Exodus 1:2) that Jacob’s sons came down to Egypt, each man with his household. 

The book of the formation of the Jewish people is also the only book that ends with families. The final verse includes the words,  “Beis Yisrael” the families of Israel, whereas the remaining books of the Torah end with the words “Bnei Yisrael”, the children of Israel.  Exodus begins with families and ends with families.

This is a profound lesson and it is a theme that is repeated over and over as the Jewish nation is formed. The people exists only as an outgrowth of the family.  To build a nation, we must begin and end with the family.  More specifically, not just with a family, but with a wife and mother.  When the beginning of Exodus describes that Jacob’s children came with their households, ancient Jewish wisdom tells us, “That is his wife.”  The nation begins when the tribes come to Egypt with their wives.  The women, the builders of the families, play an outsized role in the beginning of Exodus as the Jewish nation begins to form.

The first women mentioned are the Jewish midwives,  Shifra and Puah.  Interestingly, this is the only time in the Torah these women are called by these names.  Elsewhere, their true names are given, Yocheved (Jochebed) and Miriam, but here, in our first introduction to them, they are Shifra and Puah.  What do those names mean?  Shifra comes from the word “l’sha-per” to beautify, and Puah is a term that means vocalizing or speaking.  We are told that these women were called these names because of the way they cared for the Jewish infants: Shifra would beautify the Jewish babies, washing them, rubbing oil into their skin, and Puah would coo or murmur soothing words to the babies. 

It’s good to remember that Yocheved was the wife of Amram, the leader of the Jewish nation. Surely she was an exemplary woman and leader in her own right. Miriam spent the rest of her life as a leader of the Jewish nation and as a prophetess.  These women had important roles and there are other talents of theirs by which they could have been known aside from their role as nurturers of Jewish babies.  Yet, we know them first as Shifra and Puah, women who wash and sing to babies.

I think that one lesson we can all take from these verses is very simple.  We live in a mixed-up world, where things of lesser importance seem vital, and truly vital and significant jobs seem trivial.  Exodus tells us that the foundation of the Jewish nation doesn’t rest on its synagogues, schools, charity organizations, fundraisers, or kosher grocers, but on each individual family.  And each family rests on the foundation of the woman of that home.

What does that woman do that is so valuable?  Maybe Shifra and Puah are here to remind us that it isn’t the big, glorious projects as much as the small, mundane acts of loving, caring, and nurturing.  Brushing our kids’ teeth and hair, singing songs, telling stories, and nursery rhymes to them. We sometimes get confused.  Why should I sit on the couch and read them a story when they can watch an adorable animated version on my phone?  Then I can be doing something really important at the same time.  No!  Exodus is here to remind us that it is each small moment, each seemingly trivial act that women and mothers do that is at the foundation of the entire nation.  We think it is small, but really, each small act of care and love in a family builds our entire people.

Happy Anniversary!

January 13th, 2020 Posted by Practical Parenting, Your Mother's Guidance No Comment yet

A year ago, our daughter Rebecca began a What’s App group to share her thoughts on Torah and Parenting. Over the year, I have shared many of her teachings with Practical Parenting readers after editing them to make them available to those without a strong Hebrew and ancient Jewish wisdom background. I hope you enjoy her reflections on this anniversary.

Before I started this group I was feeling stuck.  I love teaching Torah, and I love teaching parenting, but I was so busy in the throes of parenting, working, and running a home, that I didn’t have time to teach any classes.  When I thought about waiting until all my kids were out of the house to begin teaching again, I was disheartened.  Frankly, I didn’t want to wait another 15 years to do something that is so important to me, and I also thought that at the pace the world is changing, in 15 years my perspectives on parenting may well be out of date and irrelevant. So I felt stuck.

Ironically, I felt barred from teaching Torah and parenting because I was taking my parenting so seriously that it filled up my days and I knew I didn’t have time to give to others or teach Torah to others.  I didn’t like feeling stuck.

That is when I realized that I can do what’s important to me – I can teach Torah and parenting, if I do it in bite sized chunks of a few minutes at a time only on the days that my life allowed me. This group was born.  Honestly, I didn’t know if anyone would join, and mostly I didn’t even care – I was doing this because this is what I wanted to do with my life!  On January 1, 2019, I shared the link with my sisters and a few friends—I really didn’t think most people would be interested.  But I was wrong.  In addition to being blessed by doing what I truly love, there is now a group of well over 200 women learning together about Torah and parenting.

I’ve been blessed with reconnecting with old friends and meeting new ones.  I’ve been inspired and blessed by friends who don’t have children, who listen and comment. I’m greatly inspired by grandmothers who have such vast experience in their own parenting lives who listen and graciously reach out to me.   I’ve been incredibly blessed by friends of my mother who listen and tell me I occasionally remind them of my mother and grandmother teaching Torah.  I’ve been blessed by each one of you who reach out to let me know that something I’ve said has touched you or resonated with your life.

I think there are things we all feel stuck about.  Goals that we once had, or may still have that we give up on, because life is too full and busy, to live our secondary dreams as well as our primary dreams of our homes and families.  And I’m sharing my story to encourage you not to give up, but to think of ways to reframe your goals in ways you can incorporate into your life as it is today.  I can’t possibly commit to teaching a regular class now, but on the days I have time, I can prepare a short Torah thought and it’s more than enough for me right now!  Maybe you also have a dream, a goal that you thought was out of reach.  Maybe, today is the day to brainstorm what is really important to you and whether you can change the scope or size of your dream to fit your world today.

Last January 1st,  I suggested we take time to brainstorm and take notes about our children’s development, physically, emotionally, spiritually, intellectually, and socially.  Today, I’m suggesting that we take the time to do that for ourselves.  If there is any way you can squeeze half an hour out of the day today, let’s use it to really think deeply about these questions.  What do I value most of all?  What arouses my passion?  What brings me joy?  What small step can I take today to bring me more in alignment with my deepest values? 

From Hair to There

December 25th, 2019 Posted by Practical Parenting, Your Mother's Guidance No Comment yet

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

Genesis 37:2 introduces us to Joseph at 17 years old, described in Hebrew as a “na’ar,” a lad.  The transmitter of Biblical wisdom known as Rashi quotes an earlier source on the words, “and he was a lad,” and tells us that he acted like an adolescent fixing his hair and eyes to look attractive.  Doesn’t this sound out of place? The righteous Joseph was a typical teenager?  Does that sound right to us? Is that the message of the word “na’ar”?

Rav Shimon Schwab helps us understand the meaning of “na’ar” by looking at Genesis 34:19 where Shechem, the son of Chamor, is also described as a “na’ar.”  Rav Schwab notes that in that context, na’ar can’t mean young and adolescent, because Shechem was described as the “prince of the land,” certainly not a boy.  The word na’ar is teaching us here that Shechem acted impetuously and impatiently, like a young lad who jumps into action without thinking carefully.

This is the explanation of Joseph too being a na’ar – no he wasn’t acting like a teenager, he was jumping the gun, showing impatience.  How? Joseph knew that his dreams weren’t only dreams, but were prophetic visions. He was destined to be a king.  Jewish transmission teaches that a king must spend time grooming himself, to the point of cutting his hair daily, so he looks the part.  Joseph’s mistake here was youthful impatience.  Instead of waiting patiently for the day in the future when he would be crowned king, he started preparing prematurely.  The self-grooming Rashi describes is what he would, indeed, one day need to do when king, but it wasn’t right to impatiently begin preparing until the time was  right.  Being a “na’ar” is equated with a level of impatience.

We all recognize impatience and impulsivity as a youthful trait.  From the very first car ride when your preschooler asks,  “Are we there yet?” to a teen desperate to drive before getting his license, that is the way youth are!  I’d like to suggest that being an adult, specifically a parent, requires a person to put aside this youthful attitude and cultivate its exact opposite, patience and perseverance.

Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe wrote a masterpiece on education, called (in translation) Planting and Building.  Rav Wolbe tells us that there are two parts to child raising and the first relates to planting—plants grow in a natural organic way, on their own time-table.  You can’t force the plant to grow more quickly by tugging at the stems or leaves.  You can’t even force them to grow more by drowning them in extra water or giving them trellises and extra support. They will grow at their pace.  As we’ve talked about before, raising children is a long-term project; impatience really can’t play a role. 

We, mothers, are the ones who can put aside the youthful impatience we once had, and develop long-term patience as we help our children grow and develop at their own pace and in their own time.  We all know this is easier said than done, especially when our children’s timetables may seem to be too slow in one area or another, but this principle is very real and profound. The perspective of  patience, perseverance, and long-term thinking are gifts that mature parents give to their immature children.

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