Friday, February 29, 2008

Rav Chaim Morgenstern on Parenting - Hypocricy - Tragic Ma'aseh w/Happy Ending

(Rabbi Chaim Morgenstern is on a speaking tour in LA from March 11th to the 17th. Here is his speaking schedule.)

Part Three

Practice What You Preach

Although it is quite obvious how poor role modeling is definitely harmful for a child’s Chinuch, there is another type of negative behavior that has a more detrimental effect on children: hypocrisy where parents don't practice what they preach. Hypocritical behavior teaches children that they can choose to do whatever pleases and suits them as the expression goes, “Ish kol hayashar b’einav ya’aseh” – each person can do whatever is right in his eyes. This is because contradictory behavior sends a clear message to children that their parents are insincere about their own teachings and ideals. Once the children see their parents’ insincerity, they will not only cease to take seriously any of their parents' teachings, but may even subconsciously associate their parents’ instructions to telling them to “jump off the roof.” Moreover, hypocritical parents may even rationalize to transgress an issur (prohibition). For example, parents will teach a child the severity of getting angry or speaking lashon hara, but will be quick to anger when being disturbed at the wrong time or speak lashon hara when angered by a neighbor. The following anecdote explains this:

A child returned from school with a note from his Rebbi stating: “Your son was caught lying in class. Please speak to him about the severity of this aveira.”
The father sat down with his son and began to patiently explain to him the whole subject of lying. Suddenly the phone rang, and, as his son was going to answer it, the father told him, “If that's Yankel calling, tell him that I'm not home!”

Can you imagine the impact of this remark on his son? The father has done something worse than just undoing his whole lecture and causing his child not to take the transgression of lying seriously. He has caused his child to lose all confidence in himself and his Chinuch. If the father can rationalize to lie after explaining the severity of it, what should prevent his son from copying his father's attitude in other areas like stealing, cheating, hurting another's feelings and speaking lashon hara? In this incident the father is sending a clear message to his son: when a necessity arises, one can be lenient even with a Torah prohibition. What can be more detrimental to a child than feeding him this concept?

Thus, hypocritical behavior results in parents subtly impressing on their children's tender minds their insincerity towards Torah, yiras shamayim and fulfilling mitzvos; and, it is as if they would say to their children, “Don't take my words seriously because I don't follow them myself!”
“I’m Different”

Sometimes, parents have an attitude that what they tell their children doesn't apply to themselves. Therefore, when questioned by their children about an action or behavior that doesn't correspond to their teachings, they will reply, “I'm different because I am a parent.” This again shows insincerity because it teaches the child that he is free to do as he pleases once he becomes a parent. However, sometimes a child will not wait until he becomes a parent to “be different.” Instead he will want to be different during his adolescent years when he is less dependent on his parents and feels that he has a good chance to succeed in rebelling.

This is illustrated by the story of a young teenage boy who slowly started to go off the derech. Eventually, he left yeshiva, ceased to be Torah observant and started to become part of a group of other family dropouts and delinquents. He went further and further away from Torah observance (and normalcy) until he reached a point where he was about to enter the world of drugs. Then, he suddenly came to his senses and became aware of how he was on the path to self-destruction and reaching a point of no return. He then immediately abandoned his ruinous lifestyle, returned to the yeshiva and in the course of time was back to normal. Although the cause of his decline was not known for many years, he eventually disclosed it to his Rebbi before his wedding.

“I know that you, amongst others, are probably wondering why I suddenly stopped being observant a few years ago. The truth of the matter is that it began much earlier when I was a child at the age of six. One day, my father told me that it is not proper to have a chup (nice hairdo) and that I must keep my hair short. I turned to him and innocently asked, ‘But Tatty, you have a chup with a nice set of hair, why can't I do the same?’ My father replied, ‘It's different because I am a father.’ His answer totally confused me, and caused me to become angry with him. When he subsequently made additional demands on me that he didn't keep himself, it set off a burning rage within me to rebel. However I was too young to do anything drastic. This anger remained with me until I reached my teens, and at that point, I rebelled because I felt that I could succeed.”

Rav Yechiel Yaakovson's cholent story aptly depicts how even a simple remark from a parent can have a very negative effect on their children.

A cheder (elementary school) rebbi once asked his class, “What is the most important thing in your lives?” One student answered, “Saying brachos and benching slowly with kavana (focusing on the meaning of the words).” Another boy said, “Cleaning up and brushing your teeth after each meal.” A third boy said, “Wiping your shoes from rain and mud before entering the home, and being careful to remove soiled shoes before sitting on the couch.” (Note how each child repeated what his parents taught him – consciously or subconsciously – about what’s important and meaningful in life.)

Suddenly, Yossi, who was seated in the corner, shouted out, “Cholent!” causing the entire class to burst into laughter. The rebbi turned to Yossi and asked, “Did I hear you correctly? Did you say cholent?”

“Yes,” replied Yossi, with a straight face.
Once the rebbi realized that the boy was serious and not looking for attention, he decided to wait until the break before speaking to him so as not to disrupt the lesson.

When the rebbi approached Yossi, he asked him, “Tell me, Yossi, where did you pick up this wild idea that cholent is the most important thing in one’s life?”

The boy shrugged his shoulders and refused to answer. But the rebbi persisted, and finally, with a bitter look in his eyes, Yossi blurted out, “My father!”

The rebbi couldn’t believe what he heard. “What!” he exclaimed. “Do you mean that your father taught you that? I have known your father for years, and I can’t believe that he would ever say such a thing.”

Still, Yossi sat in silence, and again the rebbi persisted to get a proper explanation. Finally, Yossi opened up and started to talk. “Even though my father never openly said so, it’s the truth and I’ll prove it to you. Each Shabbos, we take turns saying what we learned about the parsha at the Shabbos meal. My turn is during the daytime cholent meal after the entrée is served. Sometimes when I have much to say and my father is anxious to eat the cholent, he screams to my mother, ‘Cholent, nu, where is the cholent?’ Even when he eats the cholent, he shows no interest in what I’m saying. He just nods his head and says, ‘Yes, yes,’ to all I say. He’s not even bothered by the fact that no one else is paying attention to what I’m saying. If my father can interrupt my Dvar Torah for the sake of his cholent, then it is quite obvious that cholent is more important than the Torah. Therefore, anything that is more important than the Torah must be the most important thing in the world.”

The rebbi was shocked by Yossi’s story, and after a moment’s thought he retorted, “Now, Yossi, you know that can’t be true. Do you mean to say that if your father had a choice between learning with his chavrusa or eating cholent, he would eat a bowl of cholent?”
Yossi thought a moment and replied, “I’m sorry rebbi, but you must be referring to his Torah. That is more important than cholent, not my Torah!”

Yossi’s father’s few words caused his child to have a major misconception that there is something more important than Torah, chas veshalom.

When Yossi’s father learned of what happened in school, he immediately changed the whole atmosphere at the Shabbos table. Whenever any of the children say a D’var Torah, he stops the meal and requires everyone to listen intently. He then briefly summarizes the D’var Torah to ensure that the entire family understood it and warmly thanks the child for teaching the family something new. Eventually, Yossi’s attitude changed toward his father, and he came to realize that Torah was indeed more important than cholent.

It’s Never to Late.

Parents commonly ask “What should we do if we cannot be a good example for our children in certain areas of Chinuch?” This is especially true when the parents are baalei teshuva or didn’t have the same yeshiva or beis yaakov education as their children.

The answer to this question is that with the proper approach, parents can definitely be mechanech their children in areas that they were not able to achieve.

Firstly, children realize that their parents (as well as anyone else) are not angels, and cannot be perfect. Additionally, parents usually want their children to attain or surpass what they were unable to have in life, such as a better livelihood or education. Therefore, parents should explain to their children that they did not have the opportunity to have the same education as them. Furthermore, they are living in their present manner for the past 20-30 years and it is difficult to change, although they wish they could. However, young children who are still flexible can change more easily. Nevertheless, the parents should try and be good and sincere role models in whatever areas they are capable. With this attitude, children will not only see that their parents are sincere, but more important – that they are not hypocrites. However, parents who display negative character traits and demand from their children ideals that they don't believe in or expect of themselves will encounter major problems with their children's Chinuch.

Thus, the first step towards successful Chinuch is to be mechunach. For parents to raise well-balanced children, they must project a good model of the Torah personality and of middos tovos so that their children will follow in their footsteps.

Main points to work and focus on for the next week:


1) Since children observe and imitate their parents, it is incumbent for parents to strive and make of themselves proper role models of middos tovos and the Torah personality that their children will want to emulate.
2) Hypocritical parents and poor role modeling create long lasting negative effects on their children.
3) Nevertheless, parents should not be discouraged if they are not perfect in certain areas that they would like their children to excel in. With the proper approach they can also be mechanech their children in these areas.

(Picture courtesy of Nosh Thoughts)

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