Crowning the Queen
MyLife Essay Contest 2017
We are taught in Mishlei (3,6) :“You should know G-d in all of your ways”. In knowing G-d in all of our ways, what is the essential way of the woman? According to the Hallel liturgy, her way is to be the foundation of the home and moreover, happy, as the verse states: “He transforms the Foundation of the Home into a Joyful Mother of children”.
This task of being a happy mother is not always simple but since we are taught that “everything G-d has created is for our good” (Brachot 20,2), it must then be achievable. What essential tools are therefore available for a woman to succeed as a happy mother?
Chassidut teaches that the Jewish soul is clothed in 3 “garments” that define a person’s operation in the world, namely thought, speech and behavior (Tanya ch.4). Just as our body is clothed in garments, each functional for that respective part, so too our soul becomes clothed in spiritual garments in order to give it expression in the world and to use as the situation requires. The garments are spiritual in the sense that they mediate between the soul and the body and they can be exchanged if found to be unsuitable (Tehillim 102,27).
We know well that these garments can be used positively or negatively. In the challenge of raising our children, what principles could assist us in aligning these garments so that not only are we happy as mothers, but our children are happy too?!
To define a methodology, we need to examine 2 principles underlying the G-dly precepts (mitzvot) of the Torah : “ desist from evil and do good” (Psalms 37,27). All 365 negative precepts are based on the principle of desisting from evil, the underlying soul function of which is awe for G-d or fear of doing wrong. When we desist from violating these negative precepts, we do so from the attribute of natural fear that resides in our heart and soul that expresses itself as self-restraint (Tanya ch.4). Conversely, when we perform the 248 positive precepts and do good, we do so from the natural love for G-d that resides in our heart and soul that expresses itself in acts of kindness (ibid). These soul attributes define all of our interaction in the world including our mothering. When we express appropriate love and restraint to our children, we emulate G-d Who is described in the liturgy as Hagadol (capable of Great Kindness), Hagibor (capable of Great Restraint) and Hanorah (‘Awesome’, since He combines the two perfectly), (Maamar Parshas Shmos, 1965). How exactly should these two attributes be applied and how are they related to our garments of thought, speech and behavior?
The formula prescribed in Song of Songs (2,6) for the appropriate combination of loving-kindness and self-restraint is found in the verse: “His (G-d’s) left hand is placed under my head while His right hand embraces me”. We see from this that restraint, which is kabbalistically associated with the left side, is the initial experience of G-d’s parenting of us yet it exists in a limited form as the left hand in the anthropomorphic metaphor is contracted. Loving-kindness, on the other hand, expressed through the right hand, is more pervasive even though it is described second in the metaphor.
How do we see this in Creation? Kabbala teaches that when G-d created the world, He contracted His Divine light in successive levels of ethereality until He produced a material world which seemingly operates independently of G-d’s intervention. The reason for this is that the physical world cannot tolerate such pure light and therefore it needed to be graded in order to be utilized purposefully. Winter, night, a baby’s helplessness at birth, are all examples of G-d’s restraint in order for there, subsequently, to be integration and greater self- expression. Nature (plants and animals) restores itself during the winter months through slowed growth and hibernation. For people, night and winter are times for restoring strength and for inner reflection since one is less physically active. This results in a renewal of energy and self-expression by day and a burst of creativity and innovation in the spring. In fact, Jewish tradition practices the recital of a chapter in Ethics of Our Fathers on the Sabbaths of the spring through the summer in order to address our human character traits that are seeking expression after the winter. Similarly, when a baby is born, one initially meets all of its needs with love but as it starts growing, the love is given expression through restraining oneself in order for the baby to learn vital skills that encourage self-mastery, for example: teaching him to delay gratification by learning to fall asleep on his own; allowing him to spend time on his stomach as a preparation for crawling.
We thus have a recipe from G-d for our own growth as well as for our children’s based on the principles of desist from evil (restraint) and do good (loving-kindness), combined in a way where appropriate restraint or discipline allows for an integrated experience of love and kindness, and experiencing appropriate loving-kindness builds the capacity for self-restraint. In fact, psychological theory proposes that among the higher needs that motivate humans are the need to be loved and to be self-mastering (Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, Motivation and Personality, 1954).
Ethics of Our Fathers (ch.4) adds a spiritual dimension to this psychological theory of emotional well-being by stating that a truly content person is one who is “happy with his lot” (loving-kindness) and that a truly valiant person is “one who conquers his negative inclination” (restraint).
Based on these soul qualities of love and fear and their behavioral manifestations of kindness and restraint, in order to give children a healthy self-image and a sense of themselves as bearing a G-dly soul, one would want to help them internalize feeling lovable and successful.
The following is a practical methodology to help them acquire a sense of their G-dly capacity for receiving and giving love as well as achieving self-mastery. In this methodology, my use of the formula for desisting from negativity and pursuing positivity will become clear in terms of how they apply to our garments of thought, speech and behavior and, in so doing, we model behavior for our children to emulate.
- Developing a sense of being lovable by learning to note acts of Divine Intervention in one’s life:
A useful method to train oneself to look for the good in one’s life and to help one’s children spot the good and thereby become “happy with one’s lot” is to make note of events of Divine Intervention, no matter how small, and to jot them down in a notebook (EMETT, Adahan, 1987). Since thought is relevant only to oneself but speech and behavior are relevant to others, the notebook becomes a meaningful form of sharing one’s own and one’s children’s experiences of G-d’s love for us and not only leaving it to memory which becomes unreliable with time. The effect of journaling which is a form of behavior is a reference source for speech, which in turn, affects one’s thought pattern as one becomes accustomed to looking for the good and internalizing love. The reciprocal relationship between thought, speech and behavior is thus apparent. A happiness notebook entry page might look like this:
15.02.17 19 Shvat 5777 – My 2 older sons who learn in yeshivas in different parts of the country both had appointments in Tel Aviv on the same day which allowed them to meet up & to see their dad who works there!
17.02.17 21 Shvat 5777 – My daughters were going out for Shabbat but left late for the bus. Just then a family friend drove by & gave them a ride as he lives in that area!
However, using our garments to pursue goodness is not enough. We need to simultaneously divert ourselves from negative thought, speech and behavior in relation to our children and others and then replace them with positive ones. In order to be truly self-mastering, we need to actively apply self-restraint to our garments and then reframe them.
- Restraining negative thought, speech and behavior and reframing them positively:
STOP NEGATIVE THOUGHTS AND ADD POSITIVE THOUGHTS
A. Remove the “dafka” thought: Don’t regard the behavior of your child as personally against you even though it is directed at you
Give the benefit of the doubt: Allow for mitigating circumstances: hunger, tiredness, boredom, needing attention
B. Don’t condemn or compare: Ex: If a child refuses to help with chores, do not condemn him as lazy or compare him to a sibling
Separate the deed from the doer: While the behavior is not okay, the child as a whole is deserving of respect
C. Ultimate right & wrong are defined by Halacha: A neighbor’s child damaged our fence but they are not obligated to pay since he is a minor
Look for the good in the situation: Our children have learnt that other people’s property, like our own, deserves respect!
STOP NEGATIVE SPEECH AND REPLACE WITH POSITIVE SPEECH
A. Avoid labeling bad behavior: Words like “lazy, selfish, uncooperative, messy…” create a negative identity
Judge favorably: Distinguish between the behavior & the intrinsic worth of the child. “I am surprised by your behavior”
B. Avoid insulting & hostility: Ex: “Your room is a filthy mess!”
Describe the situation factually: “Your room needs to be tidied!”
C. Keep silent if you can’t be civil
Express love & appreciation as often as possible
D. Don’t ridicule as it creates shame
Look for humor in the situation without putting the other down
The notebook serves again as a method for recording our self-restraint and our children’s in order to consolidate a feeling of success. Your child’s entry-page might look like this:
INCIDENT 15 Shvat: My school bag got dirty. I was upset but Mom washed it
THOUGHT Tomorrow is school bag inspection. I will have a clean bag!
SPEECH I thanked Mommy
BEHAVIOR I didn’t get angry at my sister for spilling cocoa on it
INCIDENT 8 Shvat: I woke up late for school
THOUGHT It’s a pity I didn’t go to sleep on time
SPEECH I asked Mom to make sure I go to sleep on time
BEHAVIOR I’m going to sleep on time tonight
Since the sphere of behavioral interaction is so vast, the guideline of desisting from negative behavior would involve steering clear of being abusive and manipulative. Instead, one would want to create an atmosphere of positivity and love by:
- Seeking quality time with each child
- Developing your child’s talents to allow for success
- Use of family meetings for problem solving
- Having structure and routine which builds security
- Investing in bed-time with music and stories
- Instilling a sense of G-d’s love by “looking for the good”
- Reflecting their self-restraint in order to foster self-mastery
- Making Shabbat special through good food, games and stories
In summary, as Jewish mothers, we emulate G-d when we parent our children with kindness and restraint. These are expressions of the natural love and fear that permeates our heart and soul and that forms the foundation of our mitzva observance as well as all our tasks in the world. Our tools are the garments of thought, speech and behavior according to the principle: desist from evil (fear/restraint) and do good (love/kindness). The relationship between restraint and love is reciprocal but not proportional since the restraint is in order for love to predominate. When we teach them to note the good, we engender love and kindness; when we teach them self-restraint, we allow them to acquire self-mastery. We do this by example and by instruction. A notebook is a useful means to achieve this end.
May all Jewish mothers, who form the foundation of their home, merit to raise emotionally-integrated children in a way that brings true joy!