This Is How You Fix It

Dear Parents,

One of the hardest things to do is to accept criticism graciously.  Recognizing that fact, we face an even bigger challenge when attempting to criticize our children. We are obliged to find the balance between possibly deflating our children’s spirit due to our critique, while constantly trying to help build up their sense of self-esteem.

…the balance between deflating … (and) building up their sense of self-esteem.… A surprising and helpful reaction of Klal Yisrael to implied criticism by Hashem can be found in the MIdrash in this week’s parsha. The pasuk tells us (Bamidbar 1:53-54) … the Leviim (and not the rest of Klal Yisrael) surrounded the Mishkan to avoid harm to the Jewish People…  And the Bnei Yisrael did all that Hashem commanded Moshe.

The Midrash explains that the Klal Yisrael’s `doing what Hashem commanded’ was to distance themselves from the immediate environs of the Mishkan to make room for the Leviim.  The Midrash points out that, in fact, the Jewish People were not worthy of being so close to the Mishkan. The Eitz Yosef (commentary on the Midrash) states that the Jews moved away wholeheartedly.

According to our Rosh HaYeshiva, HaGaon Harav Alter Chanoch Henach Leibowitz, zt’l, as brought in Sefer Chidushei HaLev, the Midrash is telling us that the Jews had originally positioned themselves close to the Mishkan, presumably to grow closer to Hashem.  Hashem, however, let them know they were not worthy of such closeness and ordered them moved to the outer locations of the encampment.  They did this enthusiastically and wholeheartedly and earned praise for it.

…the Jews moved away wholeheartedly. The Rosh HaYeshiva questions this reaction and why their enthusiasm was praiseworthy.  The command to move away was effectively a message of rejection.  It would seemingly have been more appropriate for them to have trudged away in shame and depression on account of their sins and misdeeds having cost them a missed opportunity to be close to Hashem.

It must be, concludes the Rosh HaYeshiva, that the Klal Yisrael were indeed pained by their own shortcomings that blocked their closeness to Hashem.   At the same time, they felt Simcha that they were fulfilling Hashem’s command and will by moving away from the Mishkan.  They were focused on the present which came with a Mitzvah opportunity (of following Hashem’s command to move away) which obscured the pain from the past (the aveiros they committed that brought this negative consequence).

The Rosh HaYeshiva concludes that we can take out a lesson from here that applies to all circumstances in which we are forced to confront our shortcomings, mistakes and aveiros. Although we feel remorse and regret and pray for forgiveness, we need to focus on the present opportunity that we do have, which is to return to Hashem in complete teshuva.

…Hashem has granted us the most wondrous opportunity – to fix what we have broken and move on. This is also the key in guiding our children to accept criticism and discipline. When they mess up, they do need (sometimes, but not always) to be called out for what they did. It first goes without saying, that the parent’s rebuke cannot be out of frustration, anger or disappointment.  Then, it behooves the parent to explain that Hashem has granted us the most wondrous opportunity – to fix what we have broken and move on.  We should assure our child that what is problematic is not the child but the behavior, and that is already in the past.  The child remains whole and special and can and should feel pride and joy in his or her teshuva that is here in the present.

Our goal in correcting our children’s mistakes is never to break their spirit or to even hint that the child is essentially faulty.  Their (mis) behavior of the past (five minutes ago) needs to change and the opportunity to make that correction now is a cause for celebration, not denigration.  Such a wholesome approach will nurture a wholesome child, who will undoubtedly possess the self-esteem and inner strength to lead a successful, productive and joyous life.

Wholehearted wishes for a wonderful Shabbos and a joyous and purposeful Shavuos,

Rabbi Kalman Baumann

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