If we have learned nothing else from the past few months, it’s that we want to raise kids who are versatile, who are flexible, who can roll with the punches. Especially since there has been no shortage of punches lately.
My daughter recently recommended David Epstein’s fascinating book Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World. Epstein advocates for letting our kids explore, experiment, and try out different hobbies and interests. Jumping off from the contrasting examples of the childhoods of tennis great Roger Federer and golf legend Tiger Woods, Epstein shows that those who ultimately achieve great success often began as children who were not only allowed but are encouraged by their parents to try on various interests for size, rather than as those who were pushed to excel in one particular area.
In this week’s parasha of Pinchas, Moshe turned to God and asked for help appointing a successor, someone who would have the unenviable task of leading the people into the Land of Israel. This was a key role, Moshe noted, as the people would otherwise be ka-tzon asher eyn lahem ro’eh, “like sheep without a shepherd.” In his request, Moshe addressed Hashem as elokei ha-ruchot, “source of all spirit,” which is more poetic in Hebrew, but still somewhat odd. Rashi cites the Midrash which points out that Moshe realized the people needed a leader who was versatile, someone who could tolerate each of them individually. God heeded this request; He told Moshe that Yehoshua was someone asher ruach bo, “who had spirit,” which Rashi again explains means someone who could deal with the character of each person with whom he dealt.
The idea of “having spirit,” asher ruach bo, is further explained by Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Yehuda Berlin as someone who is confident in their own opinions, one who is not pulled by the desire to benefit himself or others. Rabbi Ovadiah Seforno says it means someone ready to face God, someone with wisdom and insight. As parents, I daresay we would be extremely happy to raise a child who emerged with these qualities of character and one who achieved what Yehoshua did. But what interests me is the training that Yehoshua received to get to this point. He had served in various positions: he had been a military leader, an ambassador, and a spy. At the start of his own sefer, he would become a prophet as well. Yehoshua became the Alexander Hamilton to Moshe’s George Washington, his right-hand man. This was the type of leader needed for settling into the “real life” of the Land of Israel.
I can imagine how proud Nun and Mrs. Nun must have been of Yehoshua, their son Perhaps one of the ways we can raise kids with such versatility is to allow them to experiment, to meander down different paths. It drives a friend of mine nuts how one of his kids has spent hours playing all the parts in videos re-creating classic TV sitcom bits during quarantine. If his daughter would only focus on her piano, or art, my friend thinks, this kid could really achieve something. But then he recalls that this is the same kid who taught herself how to play guitar from YouTube, who is plowing through The Hunger Games trilogy, and who now works as a STEM counselor in a day camp. Who knows where she will end up? It may well be that her experimentation will result in a Roger Federer — or maybe even a Yehoshua.
What experiments are you willing to allow your own children?