We all search for the secret formula to success in life’s endeavors. If we would know the guaranteed pathway to reach our goals, we would spare no effort to travel it. When we consider that perhaps our highest aspiration for our children is that they be attached to Hashem and His Torah and love learning, we would run to embrace an identified, winning approach to achieve it.
This week’s Parsha is replete with descriptions of the circumstances surrounding the Klal Yisrael’s receiving of the Torah and the messages they received at the time. Hashem instructs Moshe: “כה תאמר לבית יעקב ותגיד לבני ישראל” “So shall you say to the house of Yaakov and tell to the children of Israel” (Shemos 19:3). There is a well-known Mechilta that explains that “Bais Yaakov” cited in the Pasuk refers to the women and “Bnei Yisrael” refers to the men. Rabbeinu Bachye questions why Hashem instructed Moshe Rabbeinu to first speak to the women.
If we would know the guaranteed pathway to reach our goals, we would spare no effort to travel it. In his third explanation, Rabbeinu Bachye says the following: “The good, upstanding woman is the basis for (the perpetuation of) Torah. The reason being is because she is the one who is capable of drawing her sons to the Beis Medrash (to learn).” How does that work? “Because she is found constantly in the home and she has compassion with numerous expressions of yearning and connection to her children. This draws her child’s interest towards study of Torah at a young age, from which he will not depart as he gets older (adapted from Mishlei 22:6).”
We see here two parenting approaches that create a very strong impact on a child, to the extent that he can be motivated to do something (sit and learn) that is not at all simple or easy for him. The first lesson is about being present. A mother is deemed to have a greater influence than the father even though he is the one more likely to be involved in the actual learning process, because she is more consistently around the child. We can acknowledge that it is the natural and even healthy way of the world for the mother being more present and focused on the children but we need to realize how powerful a motivator is a parent’s “being there” for their child, in growing their desire to learn Torah.
Bottom line – it is critically important for a parent to be a meaningful, consistent presence in their child’s life. Everyone has different circumstances that dictate how much the parent can be present with their child and this a decision that is very individualized and may change periodically. Physical presence and proximity are not the only measures of “being there”. In fact, a distracted parent (read – distraction by device or other matters!) who does not lavish attention on his child, is in many ways less effective in raising his child than a parent who may be geographically separated much of the time, but is always `connected’ to the child. Bottom line – it is critically important for a parent to be a meaningful, consistent presence in their child’s life, to show interest in what’s important to the child, to listen and thereby show they care.
The other lesson to be drawn from Rabbeinu Bachye’s message is the power of a positive approach in a parent’s relationship with the child. Without negating the need to train a child, to discipline and help them to become self-disciplined, it is clear that the positive energy, the actual motivation to accomplish something meaningful in life comes from the strong, positive emotional relationship between parent and child. It is most commonly the mother who has that greater emotional attachment, but similar to the first lesson about being present, this lesson is critical for both parents. Molding a child and guiding him or her to follow in the footsteps of your deeply held beliefs and values certainly requires a strong, loving relationship.
Molding a child … to follow in the footsteps of your deeply held beliefs and values requires a strong, loving relationship. This is not a logical process. We might think that motivation comes from internalizing a set of beliefs, intellectually concluding that this is something meaningful to the person and then action follows. While that may be what takes place on one level, we see from Rabbeinu Bachye the backstory of how incredibly impactful is the power of a parent’s presence, love and compassion in determining the trajectory of their child’s life.
With the family-bonding opportunity that the mid-winter break brings, let us be cognizant and focus on how much power we parents actually possess in molding our children’s life choices. Through sincere connection, manifestations of love and placing our children at the center of our efforts and attention, we will merit incredible Nachas.
Best wishes for a wonderful Shabbos and well-connected week,
Rabbi Kalman Baumann