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A Guide To Parenting
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Tamar Katz: Hi everybody.
Rabbi Fohrman: Tamar works with us here at Aleph Beta, and I'm going to go through something with her and kind of have you guys listen in. We're sort of going to pick up in a way where we left off, Tamar, last year. Okay, so I'm going to start with a quick recap of what we talked about last year, but I also encourage everybody at home to kind of check out the original if you can, right over here.
So the truth is we look to the Torah for all sorts of guidance on things but it's not like you can thumb through the Torah and say, hmm, where's the parenting section? But wouldn't it be neat if there was like a three-verse section of the Torah that actually is a parenting guide? So it turns out that I think there is one, I think it can be seen in the Birkhat Kohanim of all things - the Priestly Blessing.
Last year we talked about three basic stages of parenting which is signified by each of these three verses. Just to quickly review, those are basically the following ideas. As a parent you're really trying to do three things. The first thing you're trying to do is you're trying to safeguard your child and you're trying to nurture them. In a way those are two different energies, because when I safeguard a child, I'm trying to keep them safe, so really that's a negative energy, I'm just putting up barriers so that they don't get hurt. But the second kind of energy is much more positive, which is nurturing energy, I'm just trying to give them everything they need to make them grow. I give them love, I give them education, I nurture them with food, all of that kind of energy. That's really; Yevarechecha Hashem v'yishmerecha - may G-d bless you - blessing is that nurturing kind of energy; V'yishmerecha - and safeguard you.
If you would take a paradigmatic moment in the life of a child, of when that would that be, that's really the womb. The womb safeguards and it also nurtures. So that is piece number 1, to nurture and safeguard a child.
Now the next piece is what we call Chen. Ya'er Hashem panav eilecha vichuneka - the prayer that G-d should just look at you and smile and see how good you are. The paradigmatic moment here is really birth. Imagine a mother, she has a new child, the first thing you do is you look at the child and you can't help but smile. That smile is not like so that you can nurture the child so that the child grows, you're just happy with the child, just because you love them. So whereas Rachamim - Rachamim is associated with Rechem, compassion is associated with the womb - that's kind of like a very calculated kind of love, I'm trying to love you so that in the future you can become. Here I'm not focused on the future, I'm just focused on the present, I like you just the way you are, you don't have to do anything, you're just totally perfect. That is stage 2.
Throughout life we do this with a child all the time. Whenever you look in on your child and she's three years old, four years old, and you just can't help but smile, that sort of grace that you give a child is the kind of love that is a very important part of parenting. Because even though you're not trying to fuel the child's growth, the fact is love just for the sake of who they are does fuel the child's growth, it's a great [effect 2:57]…
Tamar Katz: Because you give them [the] confidence in that it's not contingent on anything.
Rabbi Fohrman: Exactly, it really is unconditional love. In a certain strange way, Rachamim is actually conditional. I'm loving you because…
Tamar Katz: So that you'll be good [in the future 3:11]…
Rabbi Fohrman: So that - right, I'm giving you an education so that, right. Because the kind of love so that nothing, I just love you, you're great, and that is just the best thing for a kid, and that is sort of stage 2. It's something you also have got to do.
Stage 3. In stage 1 and 2 the kid hasn't done anything yet, the kid is in the womb, what did the kid do? Stage 2, the kid has doesn't anything yet, they've just gotten born. But there will come a time where kids do things and when they do things, one thing is absolutely sure, they will disappoint you. They do something you disapprove of, or they just differentiate themselves from you and they choose a different path, and at that point the parent tends to feel a little bit of a sense of loss. The challenge at that point is to really let the kid go, but let the kid go in peace. That's really the final stage. The final stage is that; Yisah Hashem panav eilecha - let G-d lift up His face towards you; V'yasem lecha shalom - and grant you peace.
What's interesting is that the stage 2 also involves a sort of meeting of eyes of parents and child; Ya'er Hashem panav eilecha vichuneka is let G-d shine His face down towards you. But if you would imagine a mother beaming down towards her cradled child, there's something vertical about that relationship, I'm looking down towards the child. But then the next stage is a horizontal kind of looking where I meet your eyes when you are an equal to me. You are a person who can choose just like I can, and I have to accept your choices. But if I wanted to be mean about it I could pull the guilt card, where I just continue looking downcast.
So imagine Tamar, if you're my child and you've done something that I don't like, you've chosen a path in school, you're differentiating yourself in this certain kind of way and I have this conversation and I say I don't like what you've done. But at the end of the conversation imagine that I never meet your gaze?
Tamar Katz: Right, so there's like no mutual respect, it's kind of like a disappointment and that's it.
Rabbi Fohrman: The word for that is guilt. I can pull this how-could-you-do-this-to-me business…
Tamar Katz: Right, so hoping that the kid will see your disappointment and then change course…
Rabbi Fohrman: Come back, that's right. And that's illegitimate. The final gift that you in the end give your child is that at the end of the conversation you look at them across now, not down, but you look at them across and that meeting of the eyes is giving them the gift of peace. That is so totally easier said than done.
Okay, so all of that, that was background, but the challenge I want to discuss this week is this. Let's say I'm a parent. So imagine you just got married. Let's say it's like, oh my gosh, Tamar keeps such a messy house, or something like that. Like, the parent tells themselves 100 times I'm going to be silent, I'm not going to say anything, I'm not going to say anything. Then it just doesn't work. One way or the other it slips, and how do you even do this? So great, the Torah gives you this parenting manual and says at the end of it all pull away and give them peace, but how do you do it? So many people fail. Does the Torah not just tell us what to do but explains to us how you can actually do it? That's the challenge.
I think there actually is a model for how to do this effectively. The model actually is G-d - G-d is the creator of the whole world; six days that's the womb, He is doing two things, the same two things of Yevarechecha and V'yishmerecha, He is nurturing and he is safeguarding. Nurturing is He's creating all this stuff and then the other verb that you get over and over again in the creation process is Vayavdel Elokim, Vayavdel Elokim - G-d separated between this and that. That's like safeguarding, that this goes over here and that goes over here and that can't interfere with this. So these are the two great energies of creation, the great energies of the womb, which is building and safeguarding, and that's totally what G-d is doing for the first six days of creation.
So let's go on. Does G-d do anything else after that? Is there the next stage of Birkhat Kohanim, which is just the love of the thing for what it is?
Tamar Katz: Well doesn't it say; And G-d saw that His creation was good?
Rabbi Fohrman: Excellent, that's exactly what it says. And at the very end of it all, six days; Va'yar Elokim - G-d looked at everything that He did; V'hinei tov me'od - that's Chen, that's it, I just love it because it's Mine, I did it, it's done. It hasn't done anything yet, it's just good because I'm the creator and I love it. I'm not even thinking about the future anymore. So it's exactly the same so far.
So now if we're right the next stage should be separation and peace, right?
Tamar Katz: Right so that should be Shabbos?
Rabbi Fohrman: Right, Shabbos is when G-d says, okay I'm done, I'm separating, peace. Right? Okay so those are the three stages, and fascinatingly we see it with G-d too. But something else happens after stage 3 which shows you how G-d succeeds at stage 3, and the crazy thing is, the secret to succeeding in stage 3 and letting go and granting peace, is stage 1.
Let me take you back into these verses. Here we are stage 2, G-d looks at everything and it's good and then it's all finished, G-d lets it go; Vayishbos bayom hashevi'i mikol melachto asher asah. Okay, look at the next thing, remember the stage 1; Yevarechecha … v'yishmerecha - to bless and to safeguard? Look at the next words; Vayevarech Elokim - there it is, that's the energy of blessing, of nurturing, G-d blesses the seventh day; Vayekadesh oto. What is Vayekadesh oto? Vayekadesh oto means He sets it aside, He safeguards its integrity and says, no, no, no, this is a day unto itself. So these two energies of blessing and safeguarding come back after stage 3. It's crazy, it's like we're going back to stage 1, what happened, we already did stage 1?
Now here is the cool thing. Look at the direct object of the stage. In stage 1 what's the direct object? Yevarechecha Hashem v'yishmerecha - let G-d bless you and keep you. What's the object of the verb?
Tamar Katz: You.
Rabbi Fohrman: You. Look what the object is this time. When you have the last stage G-d blesses something and keeps it, but it is not you, what is G-d blessing and keeping this time around?
Tamar Katz: The day itself.
Rabbi Fohrman: The day itself. So G-d has taken all the energies which in the beginning He poured into creating the world and now He's pouring those two distinct energies, one positive, one negative, into the day, the day of pulling back. Here's the key. You see what happens on this day of pulling back? I finally have a relationship with that which I've created. You see as long as I am engaged in making something, making creation, or fixing and building my child, in a deep way I don't really have a relationship with them yet, they're just an extension of me. When I'm done something magical happens, I separate myself from them and then creation is an independent thing. Yeah, they're imperfect but they'll take care of that, I'm done. When that happens, what I've created is finally at rest. And me? I'm finally at rest too, I can finally appreciate and relate to that which I've created. This is what G-d does on Shabbos.
But now here's the question. What are the prerequisites to make Shabbos work? A relationship doesn't just happen, there's a sacred space in which a relationship happens. There's a new thing that needs to be nurtured, a new thing that needs to be safeguarded, it's no longer about protecting and building up the integrity of the child, it's about protecting and building up the integrity of our relationship.
G-d is Mevarech the day - He blesses the day, He nurtures the day. What does that mean? So here's the funny thing. You know as a parent what's the impetus to never let go? You think you're losing your relationship with the child, you think it's over. If I can't keep on fixing them then we're not going to be relating to each other. In fact though, the opposite is the case. I am going to connect to the child, but my connection is not going coming through fixing, it's coming through relating. Relating to an independent being. That's what I nurture, I nurture our relationship, I sit back and I enjoy it, then my appreciation of it is full. That's what I pour my nurturing energy into. Having done so this relationship is special to me, I have to safeguard it also, I have to make sure not to overstep my boundaries, not to try fixing you when you shouldn't be fixed, it's up to me to appreciate, to appreciate us.
There's a positive aspect of Shabbos and there's a negative aspect too. The day needs to be guarded, G-d sets aside the day, He commits Himself not to tinker anymore; the inverse square law of gravity is the inverse square law of gravity, I'm not going to change it even if I can come up with a better formula now. In the case of a parent that's the committing yourself not to get involved illegitimately, to do so is to destroy now, you destroy the Sabbath through Melacha. If you work on the Sabbath there aint no Sabbath anymore. If you meddle with your independent child you destroy the independence. What gives you the strength to do that, to safeguard those boundaries of the relationship? Your appreciation of its richness, that's what gives you the strength.
G-d was Mevarech the day, G-d poured His parental energy of nurturing, not into child this time but into the day. Understanding that you've invested in that richness, that's what gives you the strength. So when you walk into your kid's home you don't comment on how messy it is, you don't even raise your eyebrows as the mess, you accept that they're different, you see the independence and you realize that it's only the fact that they have that independence with all their imperfections that allows for this relationship you can have. You enrich your enjoyment of that and that gives you the strength to maintain the boundaries that protect the sacred space of that relationship, to make sure that it's always there for both of you.
Coordinator: Hey thanks so much for watching. For more, check out last year's video on Parshat Naso - and as always don't forget to comment with your thoughts and questions. Shabbat Shalom.
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