Tag: parents

Parenting without a Manual OR 5 Pieces of Jewish Guidance (so you don’t kill ’em)

Joseph, the once-favored child of Jacob, rises up from slave and prisoner to become Pharaoh’s right hand. He assumes responsibility for a far-reaching 14-year business plan to ensure that after seven years of plenty, Egypt would be prepared to endure the seven years of famine. Once an egocentric young man who drew the enmity of his brothers, so much so that they almost killed him — literally — Joseph develops expertise necessary to successfully navigate complex managerial responsibilities. Ultimately, Egypt will thrive because of Joseph’s proficiency as a politically connected businessperson. Joseph was truly blessed.

Then more blessing comes Joseph’s way. Joseph and his Egyptian wife, Asenath, bring two sons into the world.

We imagine Joseph being overjoyed as children enter his life. We dream about the nachas (pride) he feels. And, like so many parents back then and now, he also probably felt overwhelmed. Although Joseph was very successful as a businessman, he had little helpful guidance on how to be a good parent.

His father, Jacob, was a poor role model; Torah speaks frankly about Jacob’s lackluster parenting skills. When Joseph brags to his brothers and parents that they will all bow down to him, Jacob is silent in the face of Joseph’s egotism. Does this lead to the subsequent plan to sell Joseph into slavery? Following the rape of Dinah, Jacob’s inability to respond — again he was silent — might have allowed for the brothers’ overkill against the people of Shechem.

Yes, Joseph is extremely underprepared for his new role as a parent. Yet, Proverbs expresses the long-term significance of our actions as parents: “Train up a child in the way she should go and even when she is old she will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6). Thankfully, later generations find guidance in later Jewish texts.

Talmudic Wisdom on Raising Children

In the Talmud, our Rabbis delineate five (or six) central obligations incumbent upon all parents:

A parent has the following obligations towards a child — brit, to circumcise him [others add: or enter her into the brit/covenant], pidyon ha-ben, to redeem him if he is a firstborn, to teach the child Torah, to find the child a spouse [others add: a partner], and to teach the child a craft or a trade. And there are some who say that a parent must also teach the child how to swim.  (Talmud, Kiddushin 29a)

Contemporary Jewish Wisdom on Parenting

Recently, parents gathered under the auspices of the Or Ami Center for Jewish Parenting to consider the role and responsibilities of parenthood. With children in nursery school through high school, these parents engaged the Kiddushin text to understand the wisdom of our ancient rabbis’ teachings.

Then, assuming the role of parenting coaches, they listed five essential responsibilities for parents today:

  1. Guiding, not befriending: Parents are guides, not friends or buddies. Eventually, our children will do what they choose, so parents are responsible to help guide our kids toward their own good decision-making. We do this by being loving, intentional, values-based and expansive as we guide our children.
  2. Remembering kids are kids: Children — teens especially — are hormonally driven, peer-pressured, biologically unfinished and emotionally evolving. Our children will face almost every challenge we can imagine and will be constantly seduced to try to follow their urges. We help set limits, because when parents treat their children as fully formed adults who can make their own decisions, we set them up for failure.
  3. Providing strength: Parents set expectations clearly and follow through on consequences because children need and most often (secretly) desire clarity and limits. Consequences should be clear, firm and situationally appropriate. Only then do parents provide the strength and excuse to keep kids from making decisions that are not in their best interests and/or are not what their higher selves really want to do.
  4. Truth-telling: Parents should always tell the truth to their children, because it ensures that they will know they can always trust us. Nonetheless, complete openness is not necessary as it is usually not age- and situationally appropriate. Sharing partial truth without lying, or not answering certain questions because they are private, is preferred to lying. (Think: Mom, did you ever smoke weed?)
  5. Upholding Jewish values: Judaism teaches age-appropriate moderation in most situations. Specific values guide parenting: b’tzelem Elohim (being created in the image of God) expresses the intrinsic value and worthiness of every person, emet (truth-telling), shmirat ha’guf (care of our body, mind and spirit), chesed (kindness), tzedek (do what is just or right), chaim (affirming life) and shalom (seeking wholeness).

So, like Joseph, manager extraordinaire, many of us become new dads and moms. Amid the joy and wonder, may we remember our parental responsibilities so that our children can grow into ethical, resilient, compassionate adults. Then we will truly be blessed.

Be Careful, Don’t Curse Your Parents, or else…

Nothing is more energizing in the midst of Torah study than gaining new insight about the text. I love working with Bar/Bat Mitzvah students because they approach the Torah text with new perspectives that so often illuminate a chiddush (new insight). I relish the moments when the student leads me to discover something entirely new in the Torah. 
This Shabbat’s Bar Mitzvah, Ethan Shanfeld, inspired me when he pointed out a verse I do not remember focusing on previously. Then he went ahead and taught us about it. 
Did you realize that in Torah, there is a verse that states: if one curses one’s father or mother, he or she shall be put to death? It goes without saying that this law is not, and should not, be actualized in any community – Jewish or otherwise – anywhere. 
Then what is it’s import? I’ll let Ethan’s own words explain it:

My Torah portion, Mishpatim, is in the Book of Exodus or Shemot. You just heard me chant Chapter 21, Verses 12 through 29, which deal with the laws of the Torah. Some of these laws, when read literally, may seem pretty extreme. But, I don’t believe we are supposed to interpret the Torah literally. The stories and laws of the Torah, when taken metaphorically, provide us with valuable lessons on how to act and how to be a good person.

Verse 17 of my Torah portion illustrates my point. It says, “Um’kaleil aveev v’eemo, mote u’mat” – whoever curses his father or mother shall be put to death. I don’t think any of the kids here prefer a literal interpretation of that. But, we can certainly learn from this law of the Torah. 

I’m guessing that a lot of the kids sitting in this congregation have said something to their parents that they regret. In the heat of our frustration, we don’t always choose the most respectful words. Just the other day I told my parents they were annoying, and I may have mumbled a couple words that I shouldn’t have.

Thankfully, we don’t adhere strictly to the law of the Torah. If we did, I wouldn’t be standing here today. But, I did get in trouble for my disrespectful words. No iPhone the next day. The law, on a metaphorical level, has great meaning. 

We should always respect our parents. They love us. They care for us. They make sure we have all the necessities, and the comforts, of life. The Ten Commandments tell us to “honor our father and mother”. I certainly love and respect my parents. And, as a Bar Mitzvah, I will make an effort to think before I speak. I definitely will not curse my parents.

I asked my parents what they thought of the Torah law that imposes a death sentence on any child who curses his parents. They noted that the law is ridiculous on its face, but they understood the message behind it. They explained that being a parent is difficult and tricky at times. You want to be your child’s best friend, but at the same time, a parent’s main responsibility is to make sure their child grows up to be a responsible, respectful and good person. And that means that parents must discipline their children when they act out and are disrespectful. Certainly, cursing your parents is one of the most disrespectful acts a child can do.

While death is obviously not the solution, there are valuable lessons behind the law of the Torah. We must appreciate our parents. We must show respect. And, we must learn from our actions.