How are our children to learn and integrate the inspiration and beauty of Judaism into their lives?
How can we as parents make Judaism and our vision for our families something that they want to buy into and preserve? What happens when we choose complacency over pro-activity?
The answer lies within each and every one of us. Our children look to us for motivation and inspiration. They watch our every move and want to see if we are living in a way that is consistent with the mission we are trying to inculcate within them. They want to see us as a living model of a tradition that generates meaning, joy and purpose. Our children are in desperate need of people they can look up to as role models for how to live an authentic and committed Jewish life in a modern world and we, my friends, need to step up to the plate.
Throughout their childhood our children view us in different ways:
Birth to adolescence: During this phase children view their parents as perfect beings. They imitate our behaviours, and speech. They form a strong bond in those formative years. During this phase it is so important for us to lay solid foundations of love whereby the child knows and feels that you love them unconditionally. They must know that they can make mistakes and you will be there to support them as they rise again to learn from the experience.
Adolescence to young adulthood: This is the most challenging phase for parents but the most transformational for the child. During this phase of development the child is looking to form their identity and develop a sense of independence. The tension between parent and child that exist during this phase is an expression of the child’s desire to disassociate and disregard anything that they view as an obstacle to their independence and identity. Therefore adolescents will seek to push the limits, assert themselves and challenge their parent’s decisions and way of life in an attempt to define their own identity and make independent choices. When the child views the parent as a controller they resist.
Therefore the Piazcezna Rebbe Kalonymus Kalman Shapira zt”l advises:
“Thus, it is imperative upon the parent and educator to impress upon the child that it is the child’s responsibility to mature into a loyal member of the Jewish people; and that the parent and educator are only there to help the child help himself understand what the Almighty has instructed”
Ultimately that is the goal of chinuch, to inculcate within the child a sense of responsibly for their lives. Our children need to understand that each child has a unique mission to fulfil in this world and we as their parents are there to facilitate the process. In that way the Rebbe hopes the child will view the parent as a mentor and coach who has the best interest of the adolescent in mind.
Young adulthood: In young adulthood the child then reflects on the education they received and uses it as the platform for how they live their lives and educate their own children. It is common for a child and parent to “reconnect” at this stage of development as the child develops and matures they begin to understand and appreciate the dedication and love that went into their upbringing.
The Torah places a great emphasis on the role of a mentor in a person’s life. It is part of the reason why Torah is to be learned with a Rebbe/Teacher and not in isolation. The Torah is not an archaic theoretical code of life but rather an accessible and practical guide to a meaningful life. This does not come from reading a text; you need to see it alive. So do your children. Their teachers can instruct them how to accurately fulfil the mitzvos but as parents it is up to us to infuse Yiddishkeit with passion as we model a ‘Living Torah’.
We cannot afford to be complacent and take a back seat approach to the chinuch of our children. Our children need us to be proactive in providing them a framework for understanding the world they live in and and want us to create a safe environment to discover themselves. Rise to the challenge and be a positive role model for your children…so much depends on it.
This is a thought-provoking question and one that is not thought deeply enough about. While we are commanded in the Torah to be fruitful and multiply the question is why did Hashem want to give the act of creation and nurturing over to mankind. What is the reason we were commended to have children.
Before proceeding we must understand that we cannot fully comprehend the essential reason why Hashem did or does anything. However ifwe are to live fulfilled and meaningful lives Hashem offers us reasons for some of the commandments. What we do understand and where we are permitted to explore is where Hashem Himself has revealed Himself to us through the Torah and His interactions with creation.
So we now need to go all the way back to creation itself and attempt to understand the purpose of creation. Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan in his work Innerspace explains that Hashem created the world with purpose of bestowing His goodness on creation. He became the ultimate giver who created a world whereby if mankind were to follow the instructions and manual provided they would be in sync with the Divine and experience the ultimate pleasure of attachment with the source of goodness Himself. The issue that arose from this is that for there to be a giver there needs to also be a receiver. In order to people an attachment to something or someone there needs to be compatibility, a common ground whereby the individuals involved are on the same ‘wavelength.’ We emulate those people with whom we feel an affinity. Chassidim for example continue to wear the traditional garb of their ancestors even though it may not be practical in the sweltering heat of the countries in which they reside. However they do so as an external expression of an internal desire to remain connected. Therefore when Hashem created mankind to receive His goodness they became the opposite – a receiver. Hashem understood that this would be a problem and therefore created a space that mankind could fill by also becoming givers. Rav Ashlag coinced the term, “mekabel al menas lashpia” I will take as much as I need to become a Giver. In that way mankind was given the opportunity to reach attachment with Hashem by emulating His ways.
The greatest expression of giving is bearing and raising children. As parents we know that waking up at all hours of the morning is arduous. That giving up my hard earned money to by clothing, feed and educate my children will mean that I will no longer afford receiving certain pleasures but will sacrifice it and transform by receiving in order to give to my children. Herein lies the spiritual dimension of parenting. For parents who run there homes according to Torah principles become the ultimate givers and therefore reach the highest possible levels of spirituality accessible to mankind. And this is why we have children. It is the greatest gift that Hashem can give you…and that is the opportunity to become a giver yourself.
Parents today are facing the challenge of raising children to be committed Jews who are able to successfully function in the modern world. While the task appears difficult the reward is monumental. For those of us that grew up in a secular world and became Baalei Teshuva feel as if we are walking a tight rope. Our families, background and social pressures to conform to modern educational practices and parenting phenomena often (but not always) oppose traditional Torah practice. Our children are hypersensitive to our uncertainty and challenge our decisions. Parents who grew up in an orthodox Jewish home are not immune to the chinuch challenge and must work hard to keep their personal Yiddishkeit fresh and meaningful if they are to parent effectively. This is why there is such a thirst among parents to guidance in how to inspire and motivate our children to become responsible, passionate and empower Jews who have the fortitude, discipline and pride to live a meaningful Jewish life.
As I was drinking a tea before heading out to shule on Shabbos I looked out at the beautiful Maple tree that grows in my courtyard. I have looked at this tree many times over the years but never really studied it.
It doesn’t look so beautiful now because during the winter it is completely bare, having shed all its leaves. The first time this happened I called the gardener fearing the tree had died. He assured me that the tree was perfectly healthy but in order for it to achieve its next level of growth, it had to go through this process.
As I was sipping my tea I thought what a powerful lesson in our lifecycle. I thought about the many times during the past year when I might have appeared to the outsider (and actually to myself as well) as if I was almost dead, spiritually dead; as if there were no leaves, no signs that would have indicated life.
But as I reflected, I started to appreciate that usually those times preceded a time of intense spiritual growth. It seemed as though I needed to go through a somewhat dormant period before being able to grow to the next level, the same cycle as the tree. So I began to think a little deeper and began to see the obvious connections between the seasons, the life cycle of the tree and our own spiritual growth.
This time of the year we are laying the roots that will give birth to the awesome tree of 5775. We should never fear those cold spiritual moments but understand that they are an integral part in our process of spiritual development. Just as I look eagerly forward to the re-growth of the new leaves on my Japanese Maple so too do I eagerly await the spiritual growth that just as inevitably lies ahead in the months to come.
Let us pray, my dear friends that we are able to open our hearts to the lessons Hashem embedded in our natural world. Let us learn from the maple tree, to accept the wintery months of our spiritual journey as a fundamental part in the process of our development. Let us wait in earnest and joyful expectation for the warm radiant light that Hashem sends our way to inspire us to grow.
Leaves that fall in the winter do re-grow. All it takes is the warm rays of the early spring sun to bring the tree back to life, grander and more beautiful than ever before.
Perhaps in the same way, when we are apathetic and lack passion, numb and spiritually cold, all we need to do is open ourselves up to the beauty and warmth of a Shabbes, a posuk in the Torah, a page of Talmud, a Chassidic thought or a moving niggun. All we need is a moment in Hashem’s loving warm light knowing that He will inevitably reignite our on-going process of birth, re-birth and continuous growth.
Hashem, our dear and beloved Father, please grant us a year of incredible revival and self-discovery so that we may live blessed and meaningful lives.
Most people are keenly aware of the harmful effects of certain lifestyle choices. However, this knowledge often remains in the mind and is not fused into one’s emotions and actions.
A smoker may tell himself that this is the last cigarette as he coughs out his lungs; he knows and perhaps even feels the pain that his habit is causing him, but he will not cease until he can allow the knowledge in his mind to overpower his emotional attachment to the habit.
A Rabbi once went to visit a doctor. The doctor asked the great sage what his occupation was. The sage answered that he built bridges. Surprised, the doctor remarked, “you don't look like a construction worker.” The sage leaned in and said, “The distance from the mind to the heart is like the distance from heaven to earth. I am constantly working on constructing a bridge that will link my head to my heart.”
One of the goals of meditation is to become aware of the power of the mind and use it to control the impulses of the heart. Through intensive meditation training, the great masters were able to gain complete control over their actions, speech, and thoughts. They achieved this by placing the mind in control of the emotions, channeling their knowledge into their actions.
In the words of the legendary Viktor Frankl: "the real criterion for human existence derives from discerning whether a given phenomenon is spiritual or instinctual...being human is not being driven but deciding which one is going to be...I would say that being human is being responsible for one’s existence.”
Based on Frankl's insight, we can extrapolate that although meditation takes place in the mind, it must affect every sphere of the human experience. The decisions of the mind, whatever the effect, permeates every fibre of ones being.
Below are some strategies for harnessing the power of the mind:
1. Contemplating the greatness of Hashem: When we understand that everything in our world occurs for a purpose, our minds are able to perceive the challenges as well as the successes in a clearer perspective. We are less likely to react outwardly, and more likely to read the intended message, sparking introspection and realignment with our purpose.
2. Awareness: Inevitably, throughout our day, we experience situations that trigger our emotions. Initially, it is important to just become mindful of the emotions that are surfacing within us. We must identify that we are now feeling angry, frustrated, scared, or happy and question the bodily sensations that come with those emotions.
3. Mindful Actions: At one point throughout your day, try to consciously stop your emotions from expressing themselves through action. Although people may feel that they are simply suppressing their emotions in this way, thinking that they will eventually erupt elsewhere, this is only true when one does not live with step 1—an awareness of Hashem’s presence in our lives. However, once we become mindful of Hashem’s presence, our negative emotions are subdued as we learn rather then reject the Divine lesson.
4. Mindful Speech: Once you have mastered control over your actions, you can move to the next phase: controlling your speech. This is more challenging and requires greater discipline. However, with greater challenge comes greater reward. How many of us have lost control of our tongues in fits of anger, only to feel remorse as soon as the words have left our lips? The Torah warns us of the harmful effect that Lashon Hara (gossiping) can have on society, encouraging us to be vigilant and aware of the consequences of negative talk.
Through mindfulness, we are able to develop our inner will as we carefully select the words that will provide healing, love, and benefits for those around us.
5. Mindful thoughts: The highest level of using your mind is to control the expression of your emotions in your thoughts. Our emotions give rise to negative thoughts that can lead to anxiety, stress, and depression. Become aware of your emotions and conscious of how they are affecting your thoughts, and detach from them by viewing them as separate from you.
By viewing your thoughts as separate from your essential being, you are in a position to prevent your emotions from feeding negative thoughts into your being.
In summary: While meditation takes place in the mind, its aim is for the mind to gain control over our actions, speech, and thoughts.
* Based on the teachings of the Tanya Chapter 12.
There are two ways that life can be lived - Proactive or reactive.
You see friends, Hashem sends us various nisyonos (tests) each day.
Their purpose is to guide us towards our tikkun - what we’re supposed to be doing here. Our freedom lies in how we respond to Hashem’s stimulus.
But the problem starts when we don't have a clear vision of what we want to achieve with the life we have been granted. Because without a clear idea of who we are we are easily jolted off balance. This uncertainty about life and ourselves leaves us grasping at straws and our actions are reduced to mere reactions.
We get angry at a friend, jealous at a colleague or frustrated with a child.
Our external environment begins to control us rather then we controlling it.
Without a clear vision we walk through life oblivious to our inner calling and become pawns of fate.
This reminds of one of my favourite quotes from Alice in Wonderland:
“Alice came to a fork in the road. 'Which road do I take?' she asked.
'Where do you want to go?' responded the Cheshire Cat.
'I don't know,' Alice answered.
‘Then it doesn't really matter.’ said the Cat”
This is why it is so critical to develop a personal mission statement. When you have a clear vision of who you are and what you need to do in this world you view obstacles as challenges to overcome. Obstacles and challenges become just that, blips on the screen, admittedly some bigger than others but still just blips. Most importantly we don't lose sight of everything else in the picture, the screen, everything else happening on it, we see the blips in the proper scaled size.
When you know what you're about you cease to react to your environment and be controlled and limited by it. They no longer possess the power to throw you off balance because you are have a anchor keeping you on an even keel.
The Jewish People collectively chose their mission statement when they accepted the Torah. As a people we have faced more upheavals and trials then any other people and perhaps it is for this very reason - our clear collective mission - that we are still here while other civilisations have faded into the stuff of dreams and legends.
The process of developing a personal mission statement requires commitment and raw honesty. A deep desire to take control of how YOU will live your life and how You will go through life living. It demands that you sign up for the long haul - to see it through although it may be painful and take you beyond your comfort zone. Be honest with yourself- for the only then will you discover your unique self under the facade and live a truly meaningful existence.
ACTION PLAN: In preparation for formulating your personal mission statement try one of the following exercises:
1. Think of someone who has inspired you. What character traits does that person have that you would like to develop?
2. Imagine it is your 100th birthday. You are surrounded by your family and dearest friends. Your great grand child makes a speech. What would they say about you?
Meditation is not a goal. Neither is the peace of mind and tranquility comes with it. For the Jew meditation is a gateway to the soul. It helps generate a state of mind and sense of being that is conducive for conversation and connection with G-d.
I recently came across an article from Rabbi Ozer Bergman: Jewish Meditation in 7 Steps.
The steps are simple and help focus and guide your meditation. I have been following it recently during my daily meditation sessions and wanted to share a "demo" meditation with the intention of inspiring you to also have a go.
The first thing I had to was stop everything that I was doing…take a deep breath, focus inwards and just be.
Then I had to thank Hashem for two things in my life, one current, the other past. I chose to thank Hashem for my ability to love. To love my wife, to love my children, my parents, my brothers and their families, to love learning, to love my students and the work I am privileged to do with them every day. To love Jews and Shabbos and everything Jewish. To love Hashem.
I chose to thank Hashem for the memories of my Saba who I loved dearly and miss deeply 18 years after his passing. For the lessons he taught me and the gifts he bestowed upon me.
Next was to ask Hashem for two material things—one related to today, one related to the future.
I asked Hashem that my brother should be completely healed. I begged Him that in the future he should have the strength, courage and faith to see the good in everything as he lives his dream and brings happiness and laughter to those he touches.
The next phase of the meditation became more personal and therefore I will only share one of the two spiritual things that I spoke and asked for Hashem’s assistance with. And that is to be more compassionate. To be more compassionate to my body that is insisting that I do more to take care of it so that it can fulfil its purpose in being a sanctuary for my soul.
The meditation continued with asking Hashem to help the Jewish People in a particular way. I asked Hashem to help the Jewish People see the beauty in each other rather then focus on the negativity. That He should unite us through joy rather than tragedy.
Finally I thanked Hashem for the opportunity to converse and connect.
It was a powerful, beautiful and uplifting experience. I encourage you to read the article and follow its guidance.
Many of us have forgotten what its like to have someone to listen to us and actually want to hear want we have to say. To know they are listening and focused on hearing you. Is it not strange that although we are so connected to our so-called Facebook friends and online connections we have become such a lonely people. We desperately crave and need human connection, yet we have become so focus on the “I”, that we are not interested in listening or hearing about the “you”…
We are so distracted by our emails, meetings and appointments that the only way we can get someone to really listen to us is if we pay for it. How unfortunate is that that we need to pay to be heard.
Chassidim have always placed an emphasis on the power of the fabregen/tisch. It is an opportunity to connect. To share ideas, inspire and be inspired. It is also the reason why a Jew cannot live isolated on a hilltop. A Jews needs a community, a place to daven and a place to learn, a place to connect and interact.
And yet there are so many people out their still wanting to be heard…searching to acquire a real friend. Searching for someone with whom to share their story.
Open your heart and listen. Shut off your phone and give someone you love your full attention. Listen to their story without judgment or ridicule. Just listen…
Your life will be enriched.
I once received a letter from a person who I admire and respect, begging for my forgiveness. In a heart-wrenching expression of remorse the individual explained that while he did not actively do anything to harm me he wishes that he would have dedicated more time to nurture our friendship. I was struck by the authors raw emotion and began reflecting on the people in my life and what am I doing to cultivate deeper and more meaningful relationships with them.
Each person that enters our lives is put there by Hashem to either help us discover, develop and/or refine an aspect of our personality or to support the other in realising and revealing their potential. Often the two are interwoven.
Action Plan: Think of someone in your life that you have neglected and make a point of contacting them and reminding them that you care and how special they are to you.
I am thinking that maybe some of us grew up just a little too quickly. Perhaps if we were given the opportunity to be kids instead of being trained to be little adults we would not act like little kids now.
How many of us were granted the freedom to explore, build, fall, wonder, imagine, create, fail, love without some well meaning individual hovering over our shoulder scorning the actions that failed to live up to their dream of what they hoped we would become. How many of us learned to love from the experience of being hurt? How many of us felt safe to fail so that we learn to walk? How many of us had the freedom to be so that we could discover who we truly wanted to become?
Having recently spent 10 weeks with 7 years olds and living in their world I really wonder when do kids just have time to be kids. As we jam pack their days with activities in order to make them ready to enter into the workforce we rob them of the beauty of childhood.
However what I am discovering is that so little of their day is dedicated to character development, to free and social play. And then when we finally give them that free play inevitably they end up in front of a screen absorbed in an illusionary world.
I wonder how many of secretly crave a return to childhood. To the simple pleasures of reading a book, the wonder of new discoveries, the freedom to just be without all the social, economical and other forces that bind us to acting in an artificial and imposed way.
For of us who were privileged and blessed with parents who fostered and encouraged us to just be and live in the moment. Who believed in us and scaffolded our developed in way that promoted learning from mistakes and growing from them, who loved us no matter what score we brought home on a test or a report card, who disciplined us out of genuine concern, compassion and wisdom let us pay tribute and thank them for laying the foundations upon which we constructed our lives.
These are thoughts that are percolating in my mind generated my beautiful little boys and girls who are beginning their journey. As I look into their eyes I hope that I am able as both a parent and teacher to create an environment for them to realize their potential in the present so that they can actualize it and become who they are destined to be when that time arrives.