For the week ending 23 May 2015 / 5 Sivan 5775

Raising Children in an Insane World

by Rabbi Dovid Kaplan
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The Ohr Somayach Yeshiva recently did a seven city lecture tour which I took part in, and the general subject was "surviving in an insane world". My specific topic was titled "Raising Children in an Insane World" and I would like to present a part of that talk here. I will not elaborate as I did in the talks about why we see that world as insane — it's fairly obvious that it is so and we've all probably said so at one time or another. Let it suffice to mention the example of an unmarried non-Jewish young lady who was overheard saying to a friend, "When I go out with a guy I ask myself if this is the man I want my children to spend every other weekend with". Can the world become more insane than this?

There is an interesting phenomenon in the Torah which we have seen numerous times but may never have taken notice of. The difference between “seeing” and “taking notice” is best demonstrated by the following: You have all been up the stairs of your shul, office building or home numerous times, yet if I'd ask you how many stairs there are you'd be hard pressed to answer. That's because you’ve seen them but haven't really taken notice of them. Of course, there is always that one individual who does know, but then again he's probably the clear exception. What we may not have noticed in the Torah is that while Avraham Avinu spoke with many people — Sarah, Lot, Pharaoh, Avimelech — the Torah rarely records a conversation between Avraham and Yitzchak his son. The idea that there is no conversation recorded between Avraham and his long-awaited son who he certainly spared no effort in educating properly is so conspicuous in its absence that the Torah must be teaching us something extraordinary. The explanation I once heard is as follows: There is no question that Avraham spoke to Yitzchak plenty, and we find in a Midrash that they learned together in a Yeshiva. But the Torah in its silence wants to emphasize that “chinuch” — a proper Jewish education — is not primarily achieved by speaking. It is achieved through demonstration. Parents must demonstrate with concrete actions their dedication to Torah and Torah ideals. They must show clearly that they have a goal and lifefocus of growth and serving G-d. That's the message that will leave the strongest impression on their children.

It is well known that Harav Yaakov Kaminetsky, zatzal, was asked how he taught his children to make berachot. Rav Yaakov replied, "We never taught them to make berachot. I made berachot, my wife made berachot, and our children saw what we did, so they too made berachot." That's it in a nutshell. A father who tells his son to look in his siddur and daven, but at the same time shmoozes with the person next to him in shul about business or sports, will have taught his son an “important lesson”. The son will have learned that when he's a daddy he'll be able to shmooze while telling his son to daven, just as his father did. A mother who tells her children, "If you don't have something nice to say don’t say it", but is then overheard talking on the phone and turning the air blue with lashon hara (gossip), will fail miserably in instilling proper speech as a value in her children.

Harav Moshe Feinstein, zatzal, was once asked if parents should tend towards leniency in the home or towards strictness. Rav Moshe said that the first rule in parenting is that there is no one rule, but experience shows that leniency usually brings about better results. The easiest word for parents to say is "no”. They must communicate to their children that they really would like to say "yes", and in fact they should usually say "yes". A home where "no" is heard more often than “yes” is one in which parenting policies need some reviewing.

Of course, all efforts must be accompanied by tefilla that one succeeds. Constant prayer from the heart will certainly pierce its way to G-d and be answered, with all parents enjoying the true “Jewish happiness” they hope for.

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