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. 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’ 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 this 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 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.