Nechemia Schusterman

Stepping Back to Leap Forward

Parenting is one of those journeys, that clarifies and validates much of the wisdom that heretofore was ancient outdated nonsense of a generation gone by.

Our parents and educators espoused much wisdom, in the form of clichés and other witticisms, and while it at times seemed archaic and outdated, today I am singing a bit of a different tune (to use another cliché).

You are only as happy as your least happy child, remember that one? I always felt that that was a really compassionate approach, and that my elders who didn’t subscribe to that, were callous and cruel parents. Until I learned, as I raise my own brood of seven, that that kind of thinking would end up paralyzing me and I’d spend my life curled up in a ball doing nothing but thinking/hoping/praying. Pretty much doing everything but living.

Having said the above, there is still much that our parents generation can learn from us.

How preposterously arrogant of me to speak this way you say? Well, I feel that there is some precedent for this idea that parents learn from children, and vice versa, in our holy Torah.
Let me explain.

In today’s #metoo generation, it has become in vogue to step up and stand up to those have taken liberties with us. Finally confront them and let the healing catharsis begin, by confronting those who have hurt you.

The topic is a heavy and loaded one and there is not much I can add, however, it is noteworthy who gets the final word in a related conversation that happens in this week’s Torah portion. A story that deals with the first biblically recorded rape.

Dina, the sister of the 12 tribes, is hanging out in Nablus, looking to spread Yiddishkeit and Gd’s wisdom to the inhabitants of the city near where the family was encamped. Schem, the son of Chamor, the heir to the throne, kidnaps her, and has his way with her.

Yaakov finds out and, brimming with anger, he holds his tongue until his boys return from the field. Incensed by the offence, Shimon and Levi (“brothers of Dina”, the Torah calls them as they were the ones that stood up for her honor more than any of the other siblings) scheme to wipe out the city. The leaders for the crime, and the inhabitants for sitting by idly as the crime was being committed.

They convince the entire male population of the city to have a circumcision and then, when they were all in pain, they came and wiped the men out.

Yaakov, the patriarch of the Israelites, is upset. Why did you make me odious? Why did you make me “stick out” amongst the nations by your violent revenge? It appears he would have a preferred a more diplomatic approach and one that drew less attention to the fledgling family.

Their response “shall our sister be treated as a harlot?”

The conversation ends there. The boys, (Shimon and Levi) get the last word.

Perhaps, this is the Torah’s subtle way of letting us know, that it is OK to challenge the convention, without disrupting it altogether. There is much to learn from our predecessors, but one can debate them, and respectfully disagree with them, unless to topic it is halachikly sourced in the Torah. There are many areas of grey that one needs to asses with their own eyes and determine next steps based on their own circumstance. Indeed, later on his deathbed, Yaakov rails at his children for their action, but Gd does not punish them for this act.
Again, this idea that parents learn from children, and vice versa.

Returning to the discussion of raising our children. One of the ongoing lessons I am learning, is that to help our kids grow, we need to water and nurture them as seeds and then as saplings, however, at some point, we need to step back and just let them grow.

I find myself agreeing at time with the convention I grew up on – learning from my parents -, and at other times, vehemently disagreeing, attempting to forge my own path in this perilous journey called parenthood. I don’t always agree with the ways I was taught – them learning from me.
It is amazing to see, however, how much wiser my educators are becoming as I get older.

Raising children is the most selfless thing one can do, says Dennis Prager. He is right, as there is an incredible amount of pain and joy during this process. We need to be patient and let them err and succeed all by themselves. Sometimes the challenge of parenting is simply doing nothing, when you actually want to everything. The children want us to let them be the Shimon’s and Levi’s of the next generation.

They want the space and berth to succeed and fail on their own. To occasionally have the last word, and we need to step back and allow them to do that. (Sometimes nay, most times, they will be wrong, but sometimes they will be right. They may force us to a deeper truth we hadn’t gotten to on our own.

You are only as happy as you are invested in your children. They never tire of our cheerleading and encouragement, but they do tire from our interference. We are not them, we are us. We can’t lose our identity in them, or we cease to be useful to them.

Patience is [not] a virtue [I have a lot of], but it is one that I know I need to be working on! Sometimes you need to Step back to leap forward.

About the Author
Rabbi Nechemia Schusterman is a Chabad Rabbi in Peabody MA. Together with his wife Raizel and 7 beautiful children, the run Jewish activities in the area. He is passionate about Israel and Judaism. He has authored articles, that have been widely published, including