A Parent’s Consistent Love
Wed, 04/28/2010
Special To The Jewish Week
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Candlelighting, Readings:

Shabbat candles: 7:32 p.m.

Torah reading: Leviticus 21:1-24:23

Haftarah: Ezekiel 44:15-31

  Should a couple ever let their children see them fight? Therapists have long debated this significant question. On the one hand, by taking the fight to a private room, the couple can spare their children feelings of fear, guilt, tension, etc. On the other hand, by allowing their children to witness the conflict, the husband and wife expose their kids to a realistic and, at times, healthy part of life.

At the end of the day, this debate is almost moot as the spontaneous nature of disagreement between husband and wife (and small Manhattan apartments) pretty much guarantees that many of their disagreements will be watched live in the home theater. The issue then shifts to a more critical question — does witnessing a parental spat foster aggressiveness in our children? If yes, how can a strong parental team offset that troublesome learned behavior?

In Parshat Emor we take note of the special “show-bread,” Lechem HaPanim that was featured in the Temple. The Talmud [Chagiga 26b] teaches us that the Table holding the bread would be raised up to visitors after which the Priests would declare the great miracle that was involved in maintaining the perfect freshness of these weeklong show-breads. According to the Ethics of Our Fathers [5:5] there were ten miracles in the Temple. If that is the case, why was the miracle of the show-bread most prominently featured? The 19th century chasidic mystic, HaRav Tzadok HaKohen of Lublin, explains [Pri Tzadik, Emor:11] that the 12 warm show-bread loaves remind of us of the warm love that God has for His 12 tribes. This, then, is the miracle that must be most publicized; the miracle emphasizing God’s undying love for the Jewish People. The miracle of the moving cherubs above the Ark, for example, let us know when God was upset with us. That, too, was an important message. But the message that must be stressed is the miracle of eternal love. 

With the warm loaves of bread in mind we can return to our parenting challenge. According to parenting gurus Ashley Merryman and Po Bronson, in their recent bestseller “NurtureShock,” spouses display anger to each other almost three times as often as they display moments of affection. Children witness over 45 percent of all husband and wife spats. Are parents negatively affecting their children? It depends. Perhaps it is OK if children see their parents quarrel. More significant than that is making sure that the children see the resolution. Make sure they see that their parents can work it out because they love each other. Disagreements don’t need to be hidden if we can emphasize warmth in the home.

Statistics have shown that aggressive reactions are severely limited when the kids get to see not just the argument but the resolution. Parents who move the disagreement “up stairs” midway through the conflict deprives their children of the one piece they actually need to see: the warmth and the “bread” that will always stay fresh. 

The show-bread can actually teach us one more lesson in parenting (who knew that bread was such a maven?). Another important feature of the show-bread, beyond its ability to stay fresh, was the implicit requirement of  “tamid,” that it be constant. According to the Torah, the show-bread had to constantly remain on the Table of the Mikdash. The Talmud [Menachos 89b] goes into the rabbinic debate as to how this requirement could be met even upon replacing the old show-bread. The debate basically hovers over whether we are to understand tamid as a system that is consistent (every day, if not every moment), or something that is continuing literally every second.

The answer for parents is tamid means being consistent, as psychologists have been sharing, of late. Children crave stability and consistency. Spending time with our children does not need to be every hour of the day in order to ensure well balanced and stable adults. Rather, more indicative of a healthy self-perception is the consistent, reliable, and meaningful time we give to our children. For example, being consistently home to have dinner with the children, if possible, is extremely beneficial to a child’s overall well-being.

George Herbert, the English poet, once said, “of all smells, bread; of all tastes, salt.” Might we add “of all importance, healthy parenting.” n

Rabbi Shlomo Einhorn is the spiritual leader of Manhattan’s West Side Institutional Synagogue, and director of WINGS, a subdivision of the Orthodox Union’s synagogue services.

 

 

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