Posts Tagged 'Parenting'



From the Heart

The other day Yishama our 5-year-old was laying in bed with my wife and Emunah out 2-year-old. Emunah reached over and caressed his cheek. Yishama remarked to Adina :

I love it when she does that. It makes my heart hurt. You know Mami, when you heart hurts because you love someone so much.

When Adina told me this story my heart just melted. As a parent I aspire to have empathetic children.

I was thinking about it this week in the context of the story of Exodus. There we read how Pharaoh’s heart was hardened. As much as I marvel at my own children learning empathy at such a young age, I am stupefied to think of a grown adult not having empathy.

There are so many issues in this world that need to be fixed. I often feel if everyone only cared a little more we could solve some of these problems. But I also realize with the sheer volume of challenges, it is easy to feel overwhelmed. To get anything done at some level we need to have focus and harden our own hearts or else we would get engulfed in the huge number of issues. As parent I hope to cultivate this empathy in my children. For myself, I think I could use a little more toughening, but not too much. Out of the mouths of babes, Yishama reminded me a precious Torah. We all need to let go and be vulnerable. Life without that hurt in the heart would be slavery.

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Winning with Our Parents

In this week’s Torah portion, Toldot, we read

When Esau was forty years old, he took as a wife Judith, daughter of Beeri the Hittite, and Besmat, daughter of Elon the Hitttie; and they were a source of spiritual rebellion to Isaac and to Rebecca(Genesis 26:34-35).

With the primacy of monogamy in our culture, we would read into the text that Esau’s parents were upset with his choice to marry two women. But, it seems that it was par for the course in their culture (see his grandfather Abraham and his brother Jacob). Were Isaac and Rebecca upset that he got married too late in life? What can we learn about Esau’s motivations to marry these women from the Torah’s reference to his being forty at his weddings?

At the start of this week’s Torah portion, we read that Isaac was also forty years old when he married Rebecca (Genesis 25: 20). To that cannot be the source of their spiritual angst.  In my mind, it seems that Esau desperately wanted to please his father. So much so, that Esau made sure to follow Isaac’s example and get married at the exact same age. I doubt that Isaac and Rebecca cared how old he was when Esau got married. The plain meaning of the text is that Isaac and Rebecca were sad that he did not marry “Jewish”.

As many of us will spend this weekend visiting our parents, I have no doubt that you can relate to the desire to make your parents proud of you. We can learn from this week’s portion how many assumptions we make about what will make our parents happy with us. I hope that we got a chance while we were with them to ask what their aspirations are for our lives. And if you did not, I encourage you to do so before you turn forty, but after forty is also fine. That is not to say that you will agree with your parents, but at least you won’t be misled by illusory goals. Who knows, once we actually end the game of broken telephone with our parents, we might be able to communicate with them. And while this might mean we have to grow up, once we know the rules of the game we might just win.

The Subtle Sound of Purpose

With Rosh Hashanah behind us and Yom Kippur right around the corner I am sure that I am not alone in trying to start this year in a meaningful way. It is hard to escape the haunting language of the un’taneh tokef. There is one line from that prayer that I just could not get out of my head. We read time and again, “uvashofar gadol yitaka, v’kol d’mama daka yishama – The great shofar will be sounded, and the still small voice will be heard.” To quote P.D. Eastman “Big dogs need big beds and little dogs need little beds.” I would have assumed that a big shofar would be used to make a big noise. What are we to make of this little sound that is coming out of this big shofar?

According to Jewish Law, every fifty years we celebrate the Jubilee in which we release all slaves, land, and debts. The sound of the shofar on Rosh Hashanah last week announced the jubilee year, and the sound of the shofar on Yom Kippur will proclaim the actual release of financial encumbrances. It would not be so bold to claim that this great Shofar sound itself was the freedom we experience on this Jubilee year spiritually and physically.

And this “still small voice: is an allusion to the revelation Elijah experienced at Sinai. After traveling for forty days and forty nights, Elijah is the first person after Moses to return to Sinai. When he got there he took shelter in a cave and God asked him what he is doing there. Elijah evaded the question. God asked Elijah to go outside the cave and “stand before the Lord.” A terrible wind passed, but God was not in the wind. A great earthquake shook the mountain, but God was not in the earthquake. Then a fire passed the mountain, but God was not in the fire. Then a “still small voice” comes to Elijah and asks again, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (I Kings 19:13)

In many ways the essence of these High Holy Days is our being able to answer Elijah’s question. Why are we here? Whether that is in synagogue, at a family gathering, or on this planet, all of us need to think about why we are here. Even if you do not have an answer to this question, can we imagine what it might feel like to have one? How liberating would that be? Living a life with purpose might not be flashy or make a huge noise, but it will surely free us from a meaningless existence.

Seeing that this is the time of year that we are all doing our personal accounting, I have to ask myself why I work for the Foundation for Jewish Camp. This past summer I asked a camp director how we might measure success for his campers after spending the summer at his camp. He responded, “Well I am not sure this is what you are looking for, but many parents have reported that they are getting more hugs from their children.” As we get ready for Yom Kipper we are all thinking about being accountable. I think we should hear the sound of the great Shofar and listen up for the small stuff. For many campers, camp is the first time in their lives that they have the feeling of belonging. Camp is where they will discover their purpose. While it might seem subtle, as a parent I can tell you that knowing my children live with purpose is profound and resonating sound of freedom.

Gmar Chatima Tova – Have a good and significant ending.

-See Foundation for Jewish Camp Blog

One Leg at a Time

Our five-year-old Yishama started Kindergarten this week. We were very excited for him to go to the Carmel Academy. His brother Yadid loves the school. While Yishama’s experience has been amazing so far, I did not prepare myself for Yishama’s issues around this transition. Yesterday Yishama got into a bit of fight on the bus.

At the end of Ki Tetzei, this week’s Torah portion, we read:

Remember what Amalek did to you, on the way when you were leaving Egypt, that he happened upon you on the way, and he stuck those of you who were in the rear, all the weaklings at your rear, when you were faint and exhausted, and he did not fear God. ” ( Deuteronomy 25:17-18).

We are commanded to remember what someone did to us while we were in transition from slavery in Egypt to freedom in the land of Israel. It is obvious that transitions are always hard. It is in this time that we are the most vulnerable, but it also during this period that we can grow the most.

As we are making our way into the next phase of our lives, we should not take these transitions for granted. This is a time to remember. We are all pushed to next stage of our unfolding success. As an adult I pause to realize that I have spent the better part of my life putting my best face forward to succeed. When have I taken the time to deeply explore  my failures?

As a parent I want my children to have success.  I cannot just focus on what drives them forward. I need to also empower myself and my children to connect to the weaker parts, those parts of ourselves that might push to the rear. If we do not deal with them in a time of safety, someone else might exploit them later. As much as Yishama might have been a bully on the bus, it was out of weakness. While we might have punished him for his behavior, he needed to be supported to deal with it. This morning Yishama took responsibility for his actions and  made up with the other child.  And yes they hugged. I am confident that this was a huge growing experience for him. Now we just need to deal with Yishama’s difficulty in getting dressed in the morning. I think Yishama might still turn out alright, I just need to give him more time to pick out his pants. We do not want to get left behind and miss the bus.

 

Phranz Kaphka

I am a  fan of Franz Kafka. For me he optimizes the ideals of what it means to be Jewish beyond the limitations of Halacha. From his writing we see that he was totally in tune with the human condition, extremely alienated from society, and hugely creative. Once asked about his being Jewish Kafka responded, “What have I in common with Jews? I have hardly anything in common with myself”

Avraham declared, “I am a stranger and a dweller with you; give me a burial place with you so I may bury my dead before me” (Genesis 23:4). Rashi explained this verse, “I am a stranger and a dweller with you – a stranger from a different land that has settled with you.” Kafka was a voice for the modern Avraham. It is as if he took the next logical step in intrepting what it meant to be Ger V’Toshav. Pushing us to realized in the modern world we need to deal with the depths of alienation.

Recently my son Yadid used a perminant marker on a piece of furnature. I was upset to see it, but it was hard to punish him when when I saw what he wrote. Who was I going to blame?

I am Not my selph

Preparing for Revelation

It has been too long since I have had a chance to write. It seems that there is no time to get everything done. I especially feel this way today. As I am quickly preparing for Shavuot I am also lamenting that I was not able to be at my son’s Siddur ceremony today at school. I realize that for me this year these two events are connected. My son’s  receiving his first prayer-book is parallel to our collective receiving the Torah.

As we prepare for revelation I look at my children and I look at myself. As a parent, I am often torn between cherishing the few moments with my children at their current stage of life, while simultaneously being consumed by my curiosity to know the people they will become. I see parts of my wife and myself in each of them which teaches me about myself. I also marvel  at the parts that are truly unique to the people they are becoming.

Traditionally we stay up Erev Shavuot for the Tikkun to fix having fallen a sleep at Sinai. For me this year I feel like I need to go to sleep early.  I realize that to be the parent that I aspire to be I need more sleep. I am sure that I will not be present and I will not help reveal the best in my children if I stay up all night. I realize that there is a Torah from Sinai and another Torah that is to be revealed through parenting. I can only hope to  present and not sleep through the revelations manifest in their growing up.

New Vocabulary Word

Our three children sleep in the same room.  Adina and I were putting the kids down a few weeks ago. Emunah was already asleep. Adina was lying with Yishama and I was climbing into bed with Yadid when I stubbed my toe. I wanted to scream in pain, but out of fear of waking Emunah I let out a muffled whimper. Adina laughed. Without missed a beat, Yishama, our 4-year-old, said ,”Mami is Schadenfreuding Abba”. There was no way to respond.

We have used the word Schadenfreude around him, but we surely never as a verb. So much is going on in that little brain of his. Parenting is a gift. We learn new things all the time. Well, in the Orlow- Frydman household we have a new word.


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