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04/06/2015 07:15:00 AM


Deuteronomy 3:23 - 7:11
by Rabbi Edward Feinstein

One night this past year, as I put my now teenage son to bed, I realized that I won't be doing this for very long. This came as a shock. When the kids were still small, so many older relatives and friends warned me, "Enjoy them now, they grow up so fast". But I was too deep into diapers, strollers, carpools and sleep-overs. Suddenly I recognize that they were right.

Child rearing, it turns out, is a relatively short-term project. The truth is that we don't have them for very long. Eighteen years, that's all. Eighteen years from birth until they move away to Stanford. If your child is five, you've got thirteen years left. If your child is eight, you've got ten years. If your child is eleven, you've got only seven years. Just a few years to put them to bed with a story and a song, to make them breakfast, to tack artwork up on the fridge. It's also a very few years to teach values, to shape character, to instill a way of life.

If it takes a lifetime to create a masterpiece of art or music, how do we shape the character of our children in just a few years? We used to hope that they'd learn by example; watch us and model our behavior. That's difficult these days. You can't assume that by living a certain set of values, your kids will model those values. The outside culture produces too much static interference. The media culture is powerful, intrusive and pernicious. For every parental warning to think carefully and act reflectively, there's a Nike ad admonishing "Just Do It!"

It takes more than modeling to teach values because the values that you think you are modeling, the values you think you are living, aren't always visible to your kids. When you write a check to a charity you deem important, how do your kids know? When you go to a meeting of the community, leaving them at home with the sitter, how are they to know?

To raise kids with strong values, we must be much more affirmative in our efforts. We must know our own values. And we must work -- consciously and creatively -- to make our values visible to our kids.

Begin with this assignment: What do you want your child to take to college? Not the Toyota or the computer -- what values, what commitments, what ethics? Make a list of the 10 values you want your child to have. Post the list on your refrigerator door. Ask yourself each day how these values have found their way into your child's life.

Qualities of character are communicated by immersing children in an environment rich with symbols, rituals, and stories. Because they need to see and to hear and to touch your values. That's why the Torah teaches: U'k'tavtem al mezuzot beitecha. "Write them on the doorposts of your house." (Deuteronomy 6:9) Read your home. Read the values that are visible in your home. Do you have a tzedaka box? Do you have Shabbat candles? Does your home -- the visible and the tangible environment in which you bring up your children -- does your home bespeak your deepest passions and purposes? Are there rituals in your life, rituals that communicate your ethics? Do you share stories, at bedtime, at holiday times, at special moments? Stories that help kids find their place in a greater story. Stories that give kids courage to face life?

We have them for so little time. Make the time count. The greatest gift we give our kids is a sense of life's purpose and meaning, the values we uphold, the commitments we fight for, the passions that make life worthwhile. The Rabbis warned us: Hazman katzar, vi'hamalacha miruba'at. The time is short, and the task substantial. Start today.

* This document, or any portion thereof, may not be reproduced without the written permission of the author.


Tue, August 11 2020 21 Av 5780