There is a rule in life and spiritual matters that the harder something is, the more it promotes growth. People grow from facing hardships and confronting challenges, not from relaxing and taking it easy. There is a striking example of this lesson from the weekly Parsha.
The Bracha that Yaakov Avinu gives to Yehuda (Bereishis 49:8-12) begins; “Yehuda – you, your brothers acknowledge.” The Medrash Rabba (98:6) explains the brothers’ “acknowledgement.” They won’t refer to themselves as a ‘Reuveni’ or a ‘Shimoni’ , but rather as a `Yehudi’. Rav Yitzchok Zilberstein, Shlita (Aleinu L’Shabeiach pps. 588-9) expands on this idea to point out that the Jewish People were originally called in Yaakov’s name – Yisrael; Klal Yisrael, Am Yisrael, but astonishingly, that changed. The term Jew is from Yehuda. We became Yehudim, not Yisraelim.
What is it about Yehuda that represents the essence of the Jewish people and what can we learn from it? The Klei Yakar on the Pasuk explains that the brothers’ `acknowledge’ Yehuda, as a measure-for-measure reward for Yehuda’s `acknowledging’ his part in the incident with Tamar. Yehuda’s defining quality, that made him worthy of being king and of every Jew being called a Yehudi – is his ability to admit a mistake. Yehuda demonstrated the strength necessary to take responsibility for a misdeed. To overcome the shame of being viewed publicly in a negative light, in order to stand by the truth.
This is a lofty level, but it should be everyone’s goal. How much more satisfying, safe and productive a world this would be if everyone could face up to the facts, and take responsibility when they messed up, when they `lost it’ and did something they would never do in a calm moment.
We see this in a most pronounced way with many children. For whatever reason, they have a constant fear of being in error, of having to admit to a misdeed and of the need to face a consequence. Anxiety runs high, and admitting the truth is so challenging, even when such a child is confronted with the hard facts. This is tragic for that child! Firstly, they live in anxiety and fear of doing the wrong thing. Secondly, they never learn the lessons to be gleaned from mistakes – if they can’t admit they made a mistake, they are not learning anything for the future.
Parents and teachers! Realize how critical it is to a child’s healthy development to feel safe to experiment, to fail and to be wrong. Children should be in an environment where trying and failing is absolutely natural. Imagine a laboratory scientist who is afraid to test out a hypothesis because it might be `wrong.’ Imagine a baseball player who never tries to swing a bat with all his might, because he’ll be more likely to strike out. An untold greater amount of learning takes place in a classroom where the children feel `safe’ to fail.
Parental expectations have to be carefully managed – encouraging and motivating, but not limiting and crippling. If this is true in academics, sports and arts and crafts, how much more so is it in the delicate arena of interpersonal and parent-child relations. When a child hurts a younger sibling, breaks something of yours, or doesn’t follow a rule – what happens next? Proper upbringing and discipline requires a parental response; but what kind of response?
Let’s take a lesson from Yehuda. When we mess up, we have two choices: We can cover up, gain a short-term reprieve but make things worse, or we can face the truth, bear the uncomfortable feeling for the moment, and then grow from the experience. We can become a better person, closer to Hashem. What can we do for our children? Create a supportive environment where it is possible for them to admit, to acknowledge a mistake and realize the world is not going to come to an end. Many children are desperate for this realization, they are crippled and stunted without it.
We adults, in school and at home can do our part to make acknowledging mistakes part and parcel of the learning, growing –up experience of our children. The benefits for us and our children will last for generations.
Have a wonderful Shabbos,