President Harry Truman (1945 – 53) was known for a sign on his desk that read: “The buck stops here.” Everyone else in the country could kick their problems onto someone else, but as the final authority, the president had no such luxury. There was no one else to push his problems off to.
This thought should resonate these days as Yom Kippur is upon us. All year long we may tell ourselves – mañana – tomorrow I’ll learn, tomorrow I’ll get up early for Minyan, tomorrow I’ll visit my neighbor in the hospital. We delay doing the things we know we should be doing. Our heart is in the right place, but we struggle with actualizing our good intentions. Along comes Yom Kippur and we realize – the jig is up. There is no more time for excuses, no delays in doing what must be done. Judgment Day is here and I must measure up – now or never. The buck stops now!
Where does this ability to realize that one has reached the limit come from? As believing Jews, nothing is more fundamental than the understanding that Hashem runs the world. He may be patient, He may be merciful, but ultimately, we will get what we deserve. That is the basic reality of how the world functions. Every Jew is required to internalize this message.
How do children gain such an understanding? More specifically, what can we do and say as parents and teachers to our children to foster such a belief system? What can we include in our children’s upbringing that will enhance their ability to accept such a concept? Is there something in the way we relate to our children that can help or hinder their understanding of this idea? These questions are especially relevant in our present day world where there seem to be no limits to human behavior. What have been deemed as immoralities and abominations for thousands of years have been embraced by modern society as normal and proper.
Effective parents and teachers know that being positive and supportive is the best means to train and teach children to willingly comply with adult directives and instruction. Encouragement is an infinitely more powerful motivator than punishments and negativity. Being able to state one’s needs calmly, clearly, firmly but lovingly is the means to producing happy, self-confident children.
However, within the context of loving positivity and supportive nurturing, our children’s survival depends on our knowledge of and ability to use the word “no” firmly, loudly and confidently. When a toddler nears an exposed electrical outlet, a loud and firm “no” is the proper response (followed immediately by removing the child from the area and then covering up the potential danger). When a four year old ventures off the curb and into the street, a swift and immediate reaction is called for. A raised voice, expressed with a measure of anger and perhaps a light slap on the wrist must be utilized in reaction to root out the dangerous behavior.
In addition to dealing with the immediate concerns of the situation, the child is learning valuable lessons. There are limits to what a person may do. There are circumstances in which certain actions are not allowed. I can crawl and touch things, but not everything. I can run and explore, but not where there is a danger of cars and trucks. Physical survival depends on this realization – food provides nutrition, but some foods may make you sick. It’s fun to play with animals – but not if they’re hostile or untrained. People are generally friendly – but I have to learn to stay away from certain types.
This is how we train our children to accept spiritual boundaries. When their upbringing includes learning that certain things, places and actions are inviolate, they learn that we live in a world of limits. Children yearn to achieve independence, and fight mightily against restrictions – but can understand the limitations on their behavior imposed by the Torah, if the boundaries of their own little world, have been set clearly and absolutely.
As we confront our Maker this Yom Kippur, we need to keep in mind how are we handling our responsibilities towards developing our own children’s worldview and acceptance of the limits imposed by Hashem. Our focus must be on the need to provide an abundance of love, a positive and encouraging approach to supporting their efforts, together with clear red lines that may never be crossed.
G’mar Chasima Tova,