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We were talking about the key ingredients in raising successful children. We left off with:
Of course, children need to learn to clean up their rooms, and it is legitimate to express disappointment when they don’t, but the trick is to build up their self-image when you do, make them realize their potential, and, most importantly, implement a system that regularly reinforces in them the image you want them to have of themselves, irrespective of behavior. Here’s how:
Why we bless our children on Friday nights:
The key challenge in raising children is to instill in them the values that will make them good people. In order to do this, children must be taught their own self-worth, their potential to do good, and how to relate to others.
Jewish tradition takes a three-pronged approach towards communicating these values:
1—Humans are created in the Image of G-d.
2—There is a spark of G-d in each human being.
3—The preservation of life is the highest value.
The biblical concept that humans are created in the image of G-d is understood on a metaphorical level, since G-d does not have form or image. Specifically, the image of G-d in us is not manifest by looks, but by our actions. When we act in a G-dlike manner, we are showing how we are created in the image of G-d.
For instance, when we care for others in lovingkindness, we are acting in the image of G-d. The examples are numerous. Starting from G-d clothing Adam and Eve, to G-d visiting Abraham as he recovers from his circumcision, feeding the Israelites in the desert, and burying Moses at the end of his life, we learn what is meant by acting in a G-dlike manner. Physiology mandates that we care for each other—although we are perhaps the most advanced of any species in terms of mental prowess, we are among the weakest in self-sustenance. The human infant takes longer than any other animal to become self-sufficient, and needs more caring and protection than any other species. Caring for each other is not an option—it is a condition of survival.
The concept that there is a spark of the Divine in each human being mandates a level of respect for one another that is a struggle to constantly attain. Because the spark of the Divine is not only within us, but within every other human being, it mandates the way we treat each other. Each encounter we have with another human being is an encounter with G-d. It should be awesome, and fear-inspiring.
In teaching this concept to our children, we are instilling in them a foundation for self-respect and self-esteem. When a child believes that he or she is created in the Image of G-d, he or she realizes that he or she matters to others, and matters to himself or herself. This is extraordinarily crucial in today’s world, when children and adults are constantly being bombarded with messages of their self worth. Some are general—you only matter if you wear a certain brand, drink a certain beverage, drive a certain car. Others are more specific—school grades on-line means that you have instant access to someone else’s perception of your performance (which often gets internalized as self-worth), and you are always being compared to all the other students. (You are in the top 10%, or in second place, etc.) And others are both specific and intensely personal—a parent’s comment about a child’s behavior can be extraordinarily uplifting or devastating. To our children, we are gods, and they strive for our acceptance. (It does not abate when we become adults, either—we still want acceptance by our parents when we are adults.) Comments about a child’s behavior can be internalized by them as value judgments about them, even if we do not intend them that way. (“I’m disappointed that you hit your sister” is taken to mean not that you are disappointed in his behavior, but in the child as a person; “You can do better than a B” is taken to mean “Mom thinks I’m lazy/stupid/a failure;” “Clean up your room—it’s disgusting” becomes “I’m a pig—literally.” And “Cousin Joey did better in math, and won MVP” becomes “I’m not worth as much as Cousin Joey—they’d rather that he be their child, instead of me.”)
While encouragement and prodding are necessary for self-improvement, and while there have to be standards to which children are held, it has to be balanced with:
Unconditional Parental Acceptance and Love—you are okay for who you are, even when you screw up or underachieve. You still have worth.
We do this by blessing our children on Friday nights. Irrespective of their behavior during the week, they get our blessing, for merely existing. It is their entitlement, and their empowerment. It is an inalienable right. Children who are blessed are enabled to make the world better.
Introduction to the Priestly Blessings:
One or both parents, or those acting in place of a parent, places his or her hands on the head of each child, and introduces the blessing with a comparison to Biblical figures. Some people recite the first comparison over the heads of boys, and the second over girls, and some use both for every child.
“May G-d make you like Ephraim and Menashe.” Joseph’s first two sons, who were born to him in Egypt, yet became co-inheritors and patriarchs of tribes, along with Jacob’s (their grandfather) other ten sons. The intent may be to single out these two men for having remained faithful to their ancestry, remaining obedient to G-d despite having grown up among Egyptian nobility. The hope here is that the child being blessed will remain faithful to the partnership G-d wants with every human being in making the world better.
“May G-d make you like Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah.” These are the four matriarchs, who are exemplars of virtuous behavior.
The Priestly Blessing:
In Numbers 6:23, G-d instructs Moses to speak to Aaron and his sons, to instruct them in the words they are used to bless the Israelites: “May the G-d bless you and keep you. May G-d light up his countenance for you and be gracious unto you. May G-d lift up his countenance to you, and grant you peace.” Since the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 A.D., the priests have not been able to offer this blessing in the Temple, and it is now recited as part of the daily prayers, on holidays by the descendents of the priestly tribe in synagogues, and on Friday night, by parents to their children.
The three parts of this blessing are as follows:
“Mat G-d bless you and keep you.” May G-d provide for your physical well-being, and then offer you protection that that you may benefit from this bounty, and use your material benefits to help others who have less.
“May G-d light up his countenance for you” Since G-d does not have a physical face, the implication is that just as you can learn someone’s attitudes and intentions from their face, so to should you learn G-d’s purpose for you. “Lighting up” also refers to understanding—understanding that G-d has provided for you, that you have purpose in life, and that material benefits come from G-d, and not chance or natural causes.
“and be gracious unto you.” May G-d grant you the wisdom and understanding to use the blessing bestowed on you properly; may G-d grant you the ability to share your blessings with others.
“May G-d lift up His countenance to you.” When one is angry with someone, he refuses to look at him directly. The concept of G-d lifting His face to you is a plea that G-d not be angry with us for our sins, but extended forgiveness when we make an effort to repent.
“And grant you peace.” Not just an absence of war, but a harmony of all the conflicting forces of life, a balance between doing for ourselves and caring for others, between the holy and the mundane aspects of life, an inner contentment that lets you enjoy life, and the ability to repent when we transgress, and return to harmony.
ישימך אלהים כאפרים וכמנשה
ישימך אלהים כשרה רבקה רחל ולאה
יברכך יי וישמרך
יאר יי פניו אליך ויחנך
ישא יי פניו אליך וישם לך שלום
Y’simcha Elohim k’Ephraim u’Menashe
Y’simaich Elohim k’Sara Rivka Ruchel v’Leah
Yivarechecha Adonai v’yishmarecha
Ya’er Adonai panav eilecha v’chunecha
Yisa Adonai panav eilechcha v’yaseim l’cha shalom
May God make you like Ephraim and Menashe
May God make you like Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah.
May the God bless you and keep you. May God light up his countenance for you and be gracious unto you. May God lift up his countenance to you, and grant you peace.