Though written about a child reaching Bar/t Mitzvah age, this applies to any child, any time:
At this all-important juncture not only in the life of your child, but also that of your family and the entire community, you may wish to ask yourselves certain questions that may have been put aside because of the day-to-day often-difficult and always-time-consuming labors of raising a child.
Simchas (smachot), joyous family celebrations, are an ideal opportunity to consider and re-think certain momentous real-life topics that may last have been thought about at your child’s birth.
The following are just a few of the possible things that may be in the back of your mind and which you might wish to actively think about as your Glorious Child reaches Bar/Bat Mitzvah, or at anytime – as your child moves into a stage of life when she or he will become a Mitzvah Person in the full Jewish sense of the term.
The questions are listed in no particular order of importance.
1. What do I want my child to be when he or she grows up? This question is not about the usual categories of “occupation”, “field of endeavor”, or “ways to make a living”, but rather, what kind of human being and Jew would I want my daughter or son to be? While there may be – and there often is – some overlap between “making a living” and “kind of person someone is”, the question is asked to get to the very heart of the matter: is being a Mitzvah Person and a Mensch, the highest priority or secondary?
2. Have I ever asked myself, “Is my child gifted in Tikkun Olam-type Mitzvahs?” It is hoped that not only parents will look for this potential in their child, but also your child’s teachers. If, besides noticing promise for music, math, and the like, parents, grandparents, teachers, friends — everyone — would look at children for this kind of talent, the sum-total of Mitzvahs and Tikkun Olam in the world would increase exponentially.
3. What do I mean when I say — concerning the future development of my child, “There are no guarantees”? In the larger sense, this cliché (as with all clichés) is only a partial truth. “No guarantees” is obviously an aspect of the nature and flow of life. However, even though there are no guarantees, it is possible to ask yourself how you would change the odds, offering your child a better chance to become a goodhearted-Mitzvah-doing-Jewish-person-and-human-being.
4. What do I mean when I say to myself, “I want the best for my child?” What does “the best” mean? In what contexts and in relation to what other things, people, and events in life do you want your child to be “the best”? What are the ultimate reasons for being “the best”? In which ways is being “the best” an authentic Jewish value, and in which other ways is it not?
5. What do I mean when I say, “I want my child to be happy”?
6. What do I mean when I say, “I want my child to be successful”?
7. Exactly what aspects of my child’s personality and activities my child is engaged in make me particularly proud?
8. What do I mean when I say, “I want my child to have what I never had?” Perhaps writing out a list of these opportunities and items will be helpful to answer this one completely. Your own list may include things such as “I want them not to be lonely” and “I want them to have a close, loving relationship with me” if these were missing in your own life. Asking this question and the previous one should help parents focus more on their child as a separate person, and helps the parents avoid the pitfall of “living through their children”.
9. When I say to myself or to my child, “Count your blessings” — what exactly do I mean? The Talmud teaches that every Jew should recite 100 blessings every day. (Menachot 43b) It might be worthwhile at this time to make a list of what you consider to be 100 of your personal blessings…and to ask yourself, “Does my child understand what these blessings are in my life and why I consider them to be blessings? Ask your child to make a list for her or his own life’s blessings.
10. Have I discussed my own Mitzvah work with my child and other family members?
11. Have I spoken to my child about where I give my Tzedakah money, and how I decide where and how much to give. Have I taught this child that there are really two different kinds of money in his or her life: (a) personal money and (b) Tzedakah money?
12. Have I told my child that I am donating to Tzedakah in honor of this Great Event?
13. What is the relationship between my child’s education and what kind of a person he or she is and will possibly become? Does it contribute to his or her Jewish and human character (in Yiddish – “Menschlichkeit”)?
14. What is the relationship between my child’s Jewish education and what kind of a person he or she is and will possibly become? Does it contribute to his or her essential character (in Yiddish – “Menschlichkeit”)?
15. Do you expect your child’s Bar/Bat Mitzvah and Bar/Bat Mitzvah Mitzvah Project to contribute towards her or his becoming a Mensch? Is there an automatic, potential, or a possible connection between doing Mitzvahs and becoming/being a Mensch?
16. If my child came home with a 97 or 98 on an exam or paper, did I ever ask him or her, “What did you get wrong?” (And did my parents do the same to me, too?) Is this the best approach to teaching my child The Ultimate Meaning of Education, Menschlichkeit, Torah, Mitzvahs, Tikkun Olam, Being Jewish? What would be a healthier approach to getting good grades?
17. If, as Jewish tradition teaches, The Mitzvot were given in order to refine human beings (Leviticus Rabba 13:3), as my child becomes a Bat/Bar Mitzvah, what qualities would I like to see “refined out” of her/his personality, (i.e., the superficial, the silly, the meaningless, i.e., The Crud)? What qualities would I like to see remain, appear, or having disappeared because of normal growth — which ones would I like to become more prominent, prevalent, or predominant in my child?
18. Who are my child’s heroes? Are Mitzvah heroes a significant part of his or her understanding of what a teacher is, and that learning from these Giants of Tikkun Olam plays a crucial part in his or her life? Does my child make the connection that, in some way, this is the kind of person he or she may want to be when he or she “grows up”?
19. Who are my child’s friends? What kind of chevra — the group he or she spends the most time with — is this group of friends? Are they “into” doing Mitzvahs?
20. (Not a question) Finish the sentence (when addressing my child, “You should use all of your [God-given] gifts for….” Parents and child should all finish that sentence and discuss their answers.
21. You are probably saying to yourself, “How did this happen so quickly? It seems like not so long ago my child was just born/crawling/speaking/walking/entering kindergarten?” The non-question is: Finish the sentence, “Life is short, therefore…” Have your child do the same and compare and discuss your answers. Friends and students have also suggested that it may be equally productive to finish the sentence, “Life is long, therefore…” Your answers may include, “Therefore there is time to change who I am and what I do with my time and Self” and “Losing friends because they drift away is terrible, but life is long, there is time to make new, frue friends.”
22. How seriously do I take my own commitment to Judaism and things Jewish? For example, in the area of Torah study, does my child see me engaged in personal study and Torah classes? Jewish tradition actually teaches (Kiddushin 29b; Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh De’ah 245:2) that adult education takes precedence over that of children. There are many reasons for this ruling, but one of the most important ones is that without Torah knowledge, how will a parent teach the child? The analogy from air travel comes to mind. The flight attendant says, “In the event of loss of oxygen, put on your oxygen mask first, then put one on your child.” At first hearing, this catches us off guard. On second thought, we understand that this makes perfect sense, and is really the ”normal” way to think of reacting to an emergency. So, too, “normal” thinking gives precedence to adult education. As we know, children are very perceptive. They learn very quickly if Mommy or Daddy just drops them off at Hebrew School and picks them up afterwards and it “feels” to them like it’s a burden to shlep them back and forth. They get the message very quickly when religious school classes take second place to other outside activities.
23. How seriously do I take my own dedication to Tikkun Olam, and if I am serious about it and actively commit to Mitzvah projects, do I do it alone, or with my family, or both?
24. Is my image of being a role model for my child identical or nearly identical to that of my child’s perception of myself? Do they see you as deep, thoughtful, superficial, silly, workaholic, generous with your time and money, loving, distant, (sadly) brutal at work and pleasant at home or pleasant and work and brutal at home?
A classic example of a child “getting” it is that of a fisherman named Tuck Donnelly. While working as a manager on a commercial fishing vessel, one of Tuck Donnelly’s crew members told him how distressed he was about how much fish they had to throw back — dead or alive — because of government regulations…good protein that could feed hungry Americans. They were allowed to keep only pollock and cod. After many meetings and long negotiations, Donnelly succeeded in having the government change the regulations and now his Mitzvah project, SeaShare, has become a supplier of millions of pounds of fish to food banks, soup kitchens, and shelters around the country. Commercial vessels and processors have come “on board,” and many thousands of Americans are eating more healthy food due to SeaShare’s efforts. It’s a wonderful Mitzvah story, to be sure.
But do Mr. Donnelly’s children “get it”? Do they know what Daddy is “all about”? The answer is a most definite Yes, and the proof is that one day, Mr. Donnelly’s wife, Jax, overheard a conversation between their daughter, Rachel and two friends. The first one said, “My Dad’s a lawyer, and he makes a lot of money.” The second one said, “My Dad’s a doctor, and he makes a lot of money.” Rachel’s words say it all — “My Dad feeds hungry people.”