In bringing up our children we expend great efforts in molding their behavior and actions to be in accordance with Torah principles, our personal values and in consonance with societal norms of propriety. What we sometimes fail to realize is that equally, if not even more importantly than behavior, we have the ability and responsibility to shape our children’s attitudes about life and their role in this world.
This week’s Parsha has a striking example of how attitude is the focal point of human behavior. When warning Pharoah about the impending plague of the Killing of the First-Born, Moshe Rabbeinu states that the first-born will be killed, even including the first-born of slaves. (Shemos 11:5) Rashi struggles to understand the rationale for these first-borns being punished, as they themselves were slaves. Rashi states, it was on account that “they rejoiced in their (the Jews) suffering.”
The Gur Aryeh (commentary on Rashi) explains that when a person is forced to do something, he is not liable for his actions. However, if the person in truth is happy with what he is being forced to do, then it is not considered as if he’s being forced. It comes out that two people can be doing the exact same (in this case, inappropriate) action, and one will be held responsible for doing something wrong while the other will not, and the only difference between the two is their inner thoughts and feelings.
Rav Yitzchak Isaac Sher, zt’l, Rosh Yeshiva of Slabodka, took this concept one step further and applied it to a situation where someone is inwardly happy when misfortune strikes another person, such as a competitor. Rav Sher states it is considered as if he inflicted the misfortune with his own hands. (as brought in Sefer Aleinu L’Shabeiach p. 186)
These statements should open our eyes to the world beyond action. What will truly shape our children’s lives are the attitudes they develop. A child’s belief system and ability to interpret meaning behind the events that swirl through their daily lives are first and foremost formed by their parents’ attitudes and the parents’ interpretation of people and events. Do we show and/or express respect, disdain or indifference to rabbinic leaders, political leaders, professional leaders? How do we react when we hear of a natural disaster across the globe? Is it with remorse and sympathy for those suffering, or indifference or worse towards the victims? What is our reaction when we become aware that a Chilul Hashem or Kiddush Hashem occurred?
What is our attitude towards money? Towards people wealthier, smarter, more talented, more athletic, and more well-connected than ourselves? How do we relate to those lower on the totem pole? All of these are reflections of our own ingrained attitudes. It is extremely important to be sensitive to how this impacts on our children.
It is incredibly difficult to change an attitude, just as it is so hard to change a character trait. By elevating our awareness of how our attitudes impact on our children, we are perhaps in a better position to re-examine those attitudes and to work toward aligning them with the eternal truths of Torah – for our children’s sake and for our own.
Best wishes for a wonderful Shabbos and a week of bonding and healthy attitudes with and for your children.