In conjunction with the reading of the Parshiyos in the Torah that detail the Jewish People’s tortured sojourn and construction work in Mitzrayim, we are witnessing, LeHavdil, a great level of activity in the building of a new building on our campus. We can easily observe the bricklayer, slowly but surely placing brick upon brick, until he has accomplished something noticeable. An entire wall of a building has gone up in a short amount of time.
The mindset of the bricklayer, between that first brick and the completed edifice is worthy of our attention and analysis. We can assume the bricklayer’s goal in all his efforts is to build a complete wall or building. The question that we need to ask is how does the bricklayer keep from giving up? He can work a very long time and put brick after brick after brick into the building. However, after placing each brick he may be left wondering – each brick is so small and the building so large – what motivates him to continue after much effort and little to show for it?
Apply that question to your children – they and you have a goal of becoming educated, upstanding members of society. But what happens after a few years, a lot of work and their goal hasn’t been achieved? Will they maintain the necessary effort or become burned-out at the age of 10? They struggle in math and chumash, their things are very disorganized, they don’t have as many friends as they would like, the goal is becoming more and more elusive and they become angrier, more frustrated and less motivated.
The answer to our children’s struggles can be found in the lesson of the bricklayer. Despite his goal of constructing the lofty edifice, the bricklayer perseveres because he can savor the accomplishment and importance of each individual brick. It is akin to the famous encounter of Rabbi Akiva and the drips of water on the rock (Avos D’Rabi Nosson 6:2). An ignoramus at the age of 40, he nearly aborted his superhuman efforts to achieve even a basic level of learning because he couldn’t discern any measurable movement towards his goal. It was only once he could appreciate the effect and value of even one drip of water on a rock that he was able to persevere and ultimately achieve greatness.
Imagine a non-speaking toddler who utters the sound “wa.” Any normal parent will get very excited and happy and respond to the “wa” with cheers and the requested water. Would a parent not respond to the child until he can clearly articulate “I want water”? Is that any different than a child who struggles in any area of academics, behavior, socialization or athletics? Do we stifle our cheers until there’s a 100 on a test, until a non-interested reader completes an entire book, until a socially awkward child brings home half a dozen buddies?
How often do we (unwittingly) set goals that are way too high for our children? If a child who usually can’t sit down to homework spends five minutes at her own initiative on homework one night, it’s time to celebrate! Just as the toddler won’t get to “water” without experiencing the joy of his parents for his “wa” so too do we jeopardize our children’s chances of being independent workers if we don’t show appreciation for the minimal attempt at five minutes of study.
Our children have just completed five months of sometimes intense efforts at mastering work we have decided is important for them. If they’ve improved in any area, and they all decidedly have to some degree, ask yourself which path will sustain and increase that effort. Remember what worked at the age of 14 months – that’s your key throughout life. Savor small gains, appreciate reaching bite-sized goals and you have the greatest guarantee for achieving monumental goals and sustained success throughout your child’s life.
Enjoy your week reveling in the joy that you have children with unlimited potential to change themselves and the world.
Best wishes for a wonderful Shabbos,
Rabbi Kalman Baumann