Posted Rabbi Elaine Rose Glickman
This Shabbat, Jews all over the world are reading Vayigash - a Torah portion that continues the saga of Joseph and his brothers, and the story of sibling rivalry that spiraled way, way out of control. Just to recap: Joseph is the young and favored son of our patriarch Jacob, and no, Jacob did not even try to hide his preference for Joseph. Jacob crafts the famous coat of many colors for his beloved son, and lets Joseph remain by his side while the other sons tend the flocks in neighboring towns. Nor is Joseph blameless in the rivalry among the siblings; he brings bad reports about his brothers to Jacob (today we call it being a tattletale) and regales his brothers with accounts of dreams in which Joseph emerges triumphant and glorified. It's not a great setup; and during the past weeks, the story has unfolded further: Joseph's jealous brothers throw him in a pit and sell him into Egyptian slavery, then dip his coat of many colors in animal blood and present it to their father as evidence that Joseph has been killed by a beast. But of course Joseph is not so easily disposed of; after his own trials in Egypt, he becomes second-in-command to Pharaoh - and comes to hold the power of life and death over his brothers when famine brings them to Egypt in desperate search of food.
The story reaches its climax in this week's Torah portion, as Joseph reveals himself to and forgives his brothers, and the Book of Genesis will end on a seemingly high note next week with our ancestors settled safely in Egypt. The Joseph saga might, in fact, lead us to believe sibling rivalry is really no big deal - Joseph and his brothers did reconcile, and all's well that ends well. Except, of course, that it doesn't end so well. We know what will soon happen to the Israelites who thought they were settled safely in Egypt - slavery and suffering and the slaughter of male children. And our ancient sages were quick to point out that the seeds of these horrors began with Jacob's favoritism of Joseph, and the rivalry that bloomed among the brothers.
While our own kids are (hopefully) not throwing each other into pits or selling one another into slavery, and while (hopefully) the effects of their rivalry won't end in the enslavement of an entire people, we parents still have a front-row seat to witness the damage that sibling rivalry can bring. Sometimes our kids hurt each other physically; sometimes they wreak emotional harm by exploiting their closeness to one another (only a brother or sister knows exactly what your weakest points are, and how to use them against you most effectively). And while a bit of fighting and arguing is all part of having a sibling, sometimes the rivalry becomes toxic, and threatens the essential and enduring bond between brothers and sisters.
Is there anything we as parents can do to ease the rivalry between siblings, and to ensure it doesn't spiral out of control? I think so:
Begin early. We've all been taught how to ease our firstborn's anger/sadness/disappointment when his/her baby sibling arrives - by making the older brother/sister feel special, right? We should offer a gift to our firstborn, ostensibly from the baby, and take special time to connect with our older child away from the new arrival. These are important and worthwhile steps; however, we also need to be sure we don't go overboard. While it's okay for our older children to express anger or sadness about the new baby, we should not nod unquestioningly or simply validate their emotions when they say really mean or cruel things about their new sibling. We can honor their feelings but still demonstrate our expectations for how they will treat one another: "I understand you feel really angry about baby Ava right now. A lot of kids feel that way when a new brother or sister comes, and it's okay. But I love you both very much, and it's not okay for you to say that you hate Ava or to tell me to give her away." You can also verbalize when you're balancing the needs of both your kids by telling the baby in a sweet, soothing voice: "Oh, Ava, I hear you crying because you want me to pick you up. I'll pick you up soon, but right now you have to wait because I'm getting Alex a snack. Taking care of Alex is just as important to me as taking care of you." All your baby will understand is your calming voice - but your older child will understand the words, and the sentiments behind them.
Intervene when necessary. The dictum about "letting them work it out" is fine as long as the kids are evenly matched. But when a stronger kid is beating up a weaker one, or one is not merely teasing but saying truly hurtful things to another, you need to act. If you're not 100 percent positive who started it, don't worry about assigning blame; just defuse the situation and calmly state your family rules: "Kicking your brother is not allowed. Please go play outside for awhile and work off some of your energy." "Making comments about your sister's face is not allowed. Please take some private time in your room."
Make time. With our crazy schedules and busy lives, it's an unfortunate truth that our kids may spend time together only when they're exhausted and cranky from a long day. Make family time a priority, and carve out hours to spend together when everyone's at their best. If unstructured time tends to devolve into fights, organize a project in which everyone can participate - making sandwiches to be donated to a homeless shelter, for example, or wrapping gifts for needy families - or plan an outing that allows for bonding and togetherness without keeping your kids on top of each other - a trip to a children's museum or the movies, for example, or dinner at a fondue or hibachi restaurant.
Foster support. Encourage your kids to see each other's victories and happy occasions as positive developments in their lives as well. Avoid comparing them to one another, and celebrate with equal enthusiasm the achievements that are significant to each of them. You may be more impressed with a science fair ribbon than a winning goal - but never let your kids know. If your kids feel valued for who they are, they'll come to value siblings for their unique qualities as well - and if your kids know you love them equally, they won't feel threatened by your love for the other.
Brilliant birthday idea. This is the single best idea for defusing sibling rivalry I have ever seen, and it came from my mom. I can personally attest to how much it meant to me, and how much it helped my brother and me forge a close relationship when we were small. You know how jealous one sibling gets when it's the other's birthday, and how hard it is for little kids to remember back to four months ago when they were the birthday child and the center of attention? On my brother's birthday, my mom and dad would take us both shopping - he picked out two gifts, and I picked out one. On my birthday, he would pick out one, and I would get two. My parents would also take us out to lunch or dinner, and really make a day of it. I cannot tell you how much fun this was, and how it helped us look forward to and be excited about each other's birthdays. It sounds so simple, but just try it - you will be amazed.
Wishing you and ALL your children a Shabbat of joy and peace!
12.6.13 at 8:10 am | This Shabbat, Jews all over the world will read. . .
12.3.13 at 10:40 am | We all could use some help around the house, plus. . .
11.29.13 at 11:51 am | The much-anticipated, much-discussed. . .
11.22.13 at 7:27 am | This year marks the only convergence of. . .
11.15.13 at 9:04 am | Shabbat Shalom! With Thanksgiving on the horizon,. . .
11.11.13 at 4:55 pm | Tens of thousands dead. Communities destroyed.. . .
12.3.13 at 10:40 am | We all could use some help around the house, plus. . . (89)
12.6.13 at 8:10 am | This Shabbat, Jews all over the world will read. . . (39)
11.11.13 at 4:55 pm | Tens of thousands dead. Communities destroyed.. . . (18)
December 3, 2013 | 10:40 am
Posted Rabbi Elaine Rose Glickman
In the cafeteria a few weeks ago, my fourth-grade daughter's friends were complaining about their lunches. The dessert was missing. The fruit was bruised. The drink was no good.
Why didn't you pack yourself a better lunch? she asked.
Incredulous eyes swung to her. They don't pack their lunches! Their parents do.
My daughter's parents (yes, that would be my husband and me) do not. Part of our kids' morning ritual is packing their own lunches - a well-balanced lunch, occasionally subject to adult inspection. And, I must tell you, it is awesome.
I could tell you that we started having our kids pack their own lunches because we want to encourage healthy food choices, autonomy in eating, and responsibility for self-care. And that is all true. But it is also because as much as I love my children (tons) and love caring for them (lots), I really don't love packing lunches. And trying to do it every morning, frequently while they enjoyed a leisurely breakfast or sneaked over to play Minecraft on the computer, or the night before, when I was either tired out or stoked to watch Vampire Diaries, was just not doing it for me.
We all want help around the house, right? But too often we ignore the helpers who are sitting just over there, sipping the glass of water we've brought them while we cook dinner, or asking us to be quieter as we unload the dishwasher because they're trying to listen to One Direction. Consider this post, therefore, my call for child labor - not the pre-1998 Nike version of child labor, of course, but the version that encourages our kids to contribute to the family while giving us a much-deserved break.
Whether it's a very young child bringing in bags from the grocery store, organizing his own snack shelf, or sorting dirty laundry by colors; an older child not only setting and clearing the table but also running the dishwasher and hand-washing the fragile items; or a tween checking the tire pressure (this is my husband's innovation for our sixth grader) or cooking meals, our kids will surprise us with their abilities and - once they realize this is their new reality - actually enjoy and feel good about displaying their new skills. They will also realize just how much we do for them, and grow more appreciative of the efforts we make to keep the household running usually-at-least-somewhat-smoothly. And we will feel less exhausted and less taken for granted - and create a dynamic in which everyone does his/her part to support and uphold the family.
I know there's always some guilt rearing its ugly head when we refuse to do something for our kids. We've somehow convinced ourselves that our role is to make life as easy and pleasant as possible for our children, and to care for them even when they're old enough to begin caring for themselves. It's hard to imagine taking a few minutes to sit down and relax after work, while our children throw a load in the dryer (and on the way back from the laundry room, could they please grab us a Diet Coke, thanks) or drain the pasta or run outside with the tire gauge. But it's actually a pretty beautiful thing.
In fact, I would venture to say that this version of child labor is one of the best things we can do for our kids. Even the sages of the Talmud would agree. In the Talmud, parents are charged with teaching their children a trade; if a parent does not fulfill this obligation, we are warned, the child will become a thief. Our sages were not speaking of after-school classes in wordworking or textiles; they were speaking of a person's ability to support him/herself and to make his/her way in the world. When we do everything for our kids - when they reach adulthood without knowing how to clean a toilet or prepare a meal - we have effectively failed to teach them a trade. We have failed to give them the skills they need to make their way in the world. And we have failed our children.
So brainstorm a few age-appropriate chores, and brainstorm a few more. And know that what might look like a sulky tween throwing a cheese stick into her lunch bag, or a frustrated preschooler slowly figuring out how to roll socks, is actually a very lucky child - a child whose parents (you) care enough to fulfill this obligation of the Talmud. A child whose parents want him/her to grow up confident, competent, and infused with a sense of community. And - in my home, anyway - a child whose parents now have time to watch the last ten minutes of Vampire Diaries before collapsing exhausted in bed.
November 29, 2013 | 11:51 am
Posted Rabbi Elaine Rose Glickman
The much-anticipated, much-discussed holiday of Thanksgivukkah has ended - and as you've probably heard, it won't be back for 70,000 years. I'm emptying the fall-colored dreidels from my Thanksgiving cornucopia, going back to sour cream on my latkes (cranberry sauce is fun for a change, but I don't think it's here to stay), and abandoning my effort to find the cardboard Pilgrim hat I delusionly imagined finding a place for among our Hanukkah decorations. Leftover turkey and mashed potatoes will be a mainstay of dinner (and lunch, and maybe even breakfast) for the next few days - but other than that, I'm ready to say goodbye to Thanksgivukkah and focus exclusively on Hanukkah.
But after all the hype of Thanksgivukkah - and amid the excitement of Black Friday and the remaining days of Thanksgiving vacation - it might be tough to give Hanukkah its due. Here are a few suggestions for making the last six nights of Hanukkah special - and for keeping the joy of receiving presents separate from the joy of lighting candles and celebrating miracles:
Gifts are for daytime. Not to sound braggy, but I think this may be the best Hanukkah innovation since chocolate gelt (though I will admit it is a distant second to that!) It has made all the difference for our family, and for those families who have adopted the practice. When kids receive their Hanukkah presents in the evening, it's almost impossible for the real rituals of Hanukkah - the candles, the blessings, the songs, the dancing (more on those in a minute) - to get their due. The focus of each night becomes getting a new gift - and the candlelighting becomes something-to-get-through rather than the centerpiece of your family's Hanukkah celebration. No amount of reprimanding, lecturing, or nagging will change the dynamic - especially with very young kids, it's just to be expected.
So don't try to change your kids' desire for gifts - just change the time those gifts are received. By letting your kids open presents in the morning - or in the afternoon after school, whatever works for your family - and saving the menorah for the evening, your kids will get the best of both worlds. They'll enjoy their presents, sure, but they won't be rushing through the candlelighting and the blessings in order to rip them open. It sounds so simple, I know, but it makes all the difference in the world. Try it; you'll see.
Make lighting the menorah a big deal. If lighting the menorah is important to you, it will become important to your kids. Set aside a good twenty minutes each night to celebrate Hanukkah with a full heart. Consider getting a menorah for each member of the family, and let your kids be responsible for putting in the candles and (with your help as needed) kindling the lights in their own menorah. After reciting the blessings, have a special Hanukkah activity you can enjoy as a family; let the kids spin around like tops to "I Have a Little Dreidel" (even big kids like getting dizzy doing this, you'll be amazed), join hands and dance around in a circle singing Hanukkah songs (or listening to the Hanukkah songs you've downloaded from iTunes if that works better for your family), read a Hanukkah story (Just Enough is Plenty; Latkes, Latkes, Good to Eat; and The Runaway Latkes are some especially fantastic books that your kids might not have already encountered); or of course nosh on latkes or sufganiyot. And if your schedule or interests don't allow for cooking those items up from scratch? Frozen latkes are surprisingly decent (the trick is to use the oven rather than the microwave), and a box of assorted doughnuts or munchkins from Dunkin' will stand in quite nicely for homemade treats (especially if you get the maple-frosted, yum)
Do something Hanukkah-related every day. In addition to gifts and candlelighting, try to sprinkle the Hanukkah theme throughout the day. Have your child make a handprint menorah (the fingers are the eight candles; press the thumbs together to make the shamash) - or hang up the Hanukkah artwork s/he created in years past; substitute a Hanukkah story for his/her regular picture book before naptime; play a game of dreidel after school; or use Hanukkah plates or napkins at mealtime. These are fun, easy ways to enjoy the Hanukkah spirit all day long.
Think of others. One of my friends came up with this brilliant idea: One of her kids' Hanukkah gifts is a check for $18 - with the recipient's name left blank. The kids then brainstorm, learn about, and discuss various charitable agencies or tzedakah projects which they want to support with their gift. It's an amazing way to encourage children to think of others - and to share the light and the joy of the Hanukkah season.
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom and a Hanukkah filled with light, joy, and miracles!
p.s. And just in case you're not completely Thanksgivukkah-ed out, here's a link to my recent appearance on the syndicated television talk show Daytime, where I discussed guess-what? (Hint: It won't happen again for over 70,000 years!)
November 22, 2013 | 7:27 am
Posted Rabbi Elaine Rose Glickman
Thanksgivukkah is almost here!
Yes, it's the only convergence of Thanksgiving and Hanukkah for 70,000 years - and I've been clicking on the links, considering new recipes, stuffing cornucopias with chocolate gelt, and even buying Pilgrim hats for the kids to wear while they spin their fall-colored dreidels. (We'll see how that one goes!) I've successfully pitched an article about Thanksgivukkah to the local newspaper, talked about Thanksgivukkah on a syndicated television talk show, and - like thousands of other American Jews - really enjoyed infusing my Hanukkah preparations with patriotism and the Thanksgiving spirit.
But with Thanksgivukkah arriving in just a few days, I'm having second thoughts. I'm wondering if by devoting so much to Thanksgivukkah, I'm letting Hanukkah down.
Even though Shabbat, the High Holy Days, Sukkot, Passover, even poor, often-overlooked Shavuot are all more significant religious holidays than Hanukkah, the winter season is a time of year that we see a surge of Jewish activity and Jewish pride. And - with its eight days, built-in kid appeal (even if dreidel's not your little ones' thing, they'll definitely say yes to doughnuts, chocolate gelt, and the opportunity to help you light colorful candles, right?), fun and accessible songs, limited obligations (no fasting or spending the day at synagogue here!), and inspiring messages - Hanukkah is the perfect focus for that activity and pride. So why am I messing with it?
Yes, I'm having a great time with the latkes and cranberry sauce. But I think that I'll shelve the Thanksgivukkah theme once it's actually time to light that first candle on Wednesday evening. When my family gathers around the menorah to welcome the first night of Hanukkah, I want my kids to be fully present, and fully invested, in the beauty and meaning of our traditions. I want them to light not a painted menurkey but the menorah my grandparents bought fifty years ago in Jerusalem. I want the songs we sing to exalt God's saving power and a festival we have celebrated for over two thousand years. I want the foods we eat to remind them of the miracle of the oil that burned eight days. I want them to be thinking not of Thanksgivukkah, but of Hanukkah. And while I am immeasurably grateful for the blessings of living in America - and while we will give passionate voice to that gratitude during our Thanksgiving lunch the following day - I want the first night of Hanukkah to be all about the blessings of living as Jews.
So I wish each of you a happy Thanksgiving, and a happy Thanksgivukkah. But I wish you also a joyful Hanukkah filled with light, with meaning, and with abundant blessing.
November 15, 2013 | 9:04 am
Posted Rabbi Elaine Rose Glickman
Shabbat Shalom! Our next couple of Fridays may find us thinking not only of Shabbat - but also of the rapidly-approaching Thanksgiving holiday. (How has the time passed so quickly?) In addition to figuring out the best way to carve a turkey and if it's worth it to make our mashed potatoes from scratch (totally), many of us are also considering the meaning of the holiday - which, with its themes of gratitude and friendship, so beautifully reflects some of our highest Jewish values. How can we deepen these values within our family - and, as the secular world plans Black Friday sales and assails our kids with endless advertisements for toys and gadgets, how can we instill a sense of gratitude in our children and inspire them to give thanks?
One of my favorite chapters from my book Sacred Parenting dealt with this very topic, and it was the most popular excerpt published in the parenting magazine I write for in my home city. I also spoke about the issue in one of my appearances on the syndicated television talk show Daytime. I'll post those links below - but here are a few tips, culled from Judaism and from everyday experience, on raising a grateful child:
1. It's okay to want things. Everybody wants, right? And just wanting something more than they have doesn't intrinsically make our kids ungrateful, any more than wishing we had a bigger house or a nicer car makes us automatically thankless for the blessings we enjoy. When our kids admire something they see in a store, or say they'd like something that's been advertised on TV, we don't need to get defensive or remind them they already have plenty of stuff; we can mirror their enthusiasm and agree that the item looks really cool.
2. But... But of course it may not stop there. When our children's desire for more than they have, or more than we feel is possible or appropriate, is too strong, it hurts everyone. It hurts our kids because they aren’t taking pleasure in what they have already. And it hurts us because we feel unappreciated and inadequate. And that means it's time to change this dynamic.
3. Give them less. It may seem counterintuitive, but the best way to enable our kids to find happiness in what they have – is to give them less. If you’ve spent the day at the zoo, skip the gift shop. If you’re going out for ice cream, skip the topping. If you've bought your child some great new shoes, let them wait for another day to look at jeans. Our job is not to give our children everything they want, but to teach them to enjoy what they have.
4. Teach the language of gratitude. This process can begin as soon as our children begin to speak. Teach young children to say “more, please” rather than simply “more,” for example. When you ask your child if she wants something, prompt her to answer politely: “Which yogurt would you like – strawberry please or blueberry please?” or “Do you want help climbing into your carseat, yes please or no thank you?” Before long these responses will become automatic. If your child is older, gently but firmly remind him to say "please" and "thank you" when making a request - and be sure to use those same words when you speak to him as well.
5. Know what your child really needs. It’s easy to fall into the pattern of turning what should be occasional indulgences into regular expectations: buying a toy whenever you take your young child to the supermarket, for example, or offering on older child payment for good grades or completed chores. Replace these material acquisitions with something much more precious: Time spent together. Instead of rewarding good behavior at the store with a toy, treat your child to an extra story or a session of painting when you get home. Instead of handing your kid five dollars, take her to the movies or out for a (decaf) latte. You’ll both enjoy the togetherness – and you’ll be teaching your child what should be valued most.
6. Help others. No child is too young to help someone else. Whether it’s brightening the day of nursing home residents with a visit, decorating cookies for local firefighters, making cards for hospitalized patients or our nation’s soldiers, organizing a food drive in the neighborhood, holding a bake sale or selling Rainbow Loom bracelets to raise money for worthy causes, or regularly taking out the trash for an elderly neighbor, our kids learn to appreciate what they have by feeling empowered to help those who have less.
7. Thank God. Did you know Jews are commanded to recite 100 blessings a day? It may sound overwhelming - until we remember that Jewish tradition provides blessings for us to recite not only upon awakening and going to bed, not only before and after meals - but also for spotting a rainbow, hearing a clap of thunder, seeing an especially smart or beautiful person, being reunited with a friend after 30 days, beholding the ocean, even going to the bathroom! Renewing our appreciation for the everyday blessings we enjoy - and teaching our children to give thanks for food, nature, and the people around them - will fill our hearts, and our families, with abundant gratitude.
And here are the promised links:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NqZmidOZAHE for my TV appearance
November 11, 2013 | 4:55 pm
Posted Rabbi Elaine Rose Glickman
Tens of thousands dead. Communities destroyed. Food and medical supplies running out. Survivors desperate and suffering: The devastating news continues to pour forth from the Philippines, and horrific accounts and images from Typhoon Haiyan leave us overwhelmed and shattered. How can we possibly address such a terrible topic with our innocent children?
Our first instinct might be to shield our children - to turn off the news, hide the papers, close the websites, and spare them the knowledge of Typhoon Haiyan. But once our children reach a certain age, we cease to be their only sources of information. Whether it's a lesson at school, a comment by a friend, a Google alert on the Internet, even a television at a pizzeria, our kids are likely to encounter the aftermath of Haiyan - and to look to us for comfort, explanation, and reassurance.
And Judaism reminds us that this is the way it should be. Think of the Four Sons at the Passover Seder - rather than glossing over the brutality and enslavement experienced by our ancestors in Egypt, we take pains to ensure that every generation, every child, hears and learns and understands. We do not deny that terrible things happen, that people suffer, that life can bring grief and pain. Nor do we silence our children's queries or dismiss their curiosity - instead, we encourage them to ask and to question.
But that means we need to be prepared for some very difficult discussions. To help guide these conversations, I offer what I call "The Five As."
ASK. Let your child lead the way. Open the discussion by asking questions: “What have you seen or heard about what is happening in the Philippines?” “What questions do you have?” “How does the news make you feel?” If your child is too young to understand or process the news, offer brief statements followed by age-appropriate queries: “There was a terrible storm in a place called the Philippines. What have you learned in school about bad storms?” “A lot of families have been hurt and lost things that are very important to them. Can you think of ways that other people can help?”
ACKNOWLEDGE. Often we try to protect our children from experiencing difficult emotions like fear, sadness, anger, or confusion, even when these emotions are appropriate to their age and the situations they are confronting. Resist the temptation to minimize or distract your child from his or her strong feelings; rather, acknowledge and validate your child’s response. Phrases like, “I hear that you are feeling very sad,” or “It is hard for you to think about such scary things, isn’t it?” demonstrate respect for your child and show a willingness to understand and engage with him or her.
ANSWER. Listen to what your child is truly asking. Does he or she want a summary of the damage wrought by the typhoon? Is he or she wondering how safe your city is? Is he or she concerned about the well-being of friends or family living in other parts of the world? Restate your child’s questions – “You want to be sure that Rufina’s grandpa is safe, is that right?” – and offer answers that are age-appropriate and as simple and clear as possible. You might also use maps to show your child where the damage took place, or (pre-screened) Web resources to show your child age-appropriate images of the typhoon’s aftermath.
ASSURE. Confronting difficult issues can leave children feeling unsettled and insecure. Always end such conversations by assuring them that they can come to you with their fears, questions, and concerns, and that you will do everything you can to protect them from danger and harm. Don’t lie to your child – if, for example, you live in an area where hurricanes are possible, you should not promise they will never experience a hurricane – but reassure them with words (and hugs) that you are there to keep them safe.
ACT. Images of the typhoon’s horrific toll can leave adults feeling frightened and helpless – how much more so do our children feel in the wake of devastating news. Help your child channel his or her emotions into action. Whether it’s saying a prayer for victims of the disaster, setting up a lemonade stand or organizing a car wash or bake sale to raise money for relief efforts, or making a card for a friend whose extended family has been affected by the typhoon, your child will feel less vulnerable and more powerful by working to make a difference.
November 8, 2013 | 8:27 am
Posted Rabbi Elaine Rose Glickman
This Shabbat, Jews all over the world will read the Torah portion Vayetze. It's a great portion - they all are, of course, but this one really is especially rich. We meet Leah and Rachel, and watch as their father's trickery ensures Jacob will marry both. We celebrate the births of the children for whom the Twelve Tribes of Israel will be named. We even learn the origin of the custom of tithing.
But the most dramatic and compelling moment? It's got to be this one, recorded in Genesis 28:12:
Jacob "had a dream; a ladder was set on the ground, and its top reached to the heavens; and angels of God were going up and down on it."
Isn't that beautiful? And - for a people that values rationality and intellectualism, a people who just won nearly half of the Nobel Prizes (!), a people that's often uncomfortable embracing the mythical and the supernatural - it's also pretty challenging. Do Jews really believe in angels?
Judaism is actually full of angels; not only do angels appear in the Torah and later books of the Bible, but our ancient rabbis shared countless stories of God's retinue of angels, their functions, their deeds. According to Jewish tradition, God even sends special angels to accompany each of us throughout Shabbat; our holy day is made all the more sacred by their presence. The Shabbat song "Shalom Alecheim" serves to welcome these angels; its opening words mean "Peace unto you...angels of the Most High."
No matter how committed we may be to rationalism, to science, to reason and to proof, I think everyone can find meaning in the idea of angels. The Hebrew word for angel is "malach," which can also be translated as "messenger." Angels are envisioned as messengers of God, partners with God, those who do God's work and carry out God's will.
And Jacob's dream suggests that these angels may not necessarily be otherworldly. After all, Jacob saw angels ascending as well as descending; according to Jewish tradition, this means that some of God's angels come not from the exalted heavens but from our very ordinary earth. Even here, even among human beings, we can find angels - people who do God's work and carry out God's will.
Don't we all know some angels? The preschool teacher who carries our toddler around all morning when he's having trouble separating from us. The pediatrician who stays late when our child is sick, or who calls after hours to see how she's doing. The coach who sees our tween not just as a player, but as a unique and special individual. And when we're exhausted after a long day, but take the time to eat dinner with our children, to look them in the eye and ask about their day, to snuggle with their favorite book and a blanket instead of retreating to Facebook and Instagram...well, just maybe we are angels as well.
Shabbat Shalom to all you angels - and wishing peace unto you, messengers of the Most High.
November 5, 2013 | 9:22 am
Posted Rabbi Elaine Rose Glickman
I facilitated a parenting discussion this past weekend, which is one of my favorite things to do (besides hanging out with my family and - shamefully - watching Vampire Diaries after the kids have gone to bed). We talked about why our children should be helping around the house, how to ease them off of their ubiquitous tablets, the importance of "please" and "thank you," and much more - it was a great morning. But the most interesting moment was one mom's revelation that invoking Judaism has helped her establish authority with her young kids.
We adults certainly respond to the concept of outside experts - if you're committed to organic food, for example, wouldn't you prefer to purchase something that's been certified organic rather than something that some random person assures you is "probably" organic? - so why shouldn't our kids? And fortunately for us, Jewish tradition is full of laws and values, maxims and stories, that we can use to bolster our authority as parents. Clearly, the fifth commandment ("Honor your father and your mother") comes to mind - but here's an example I shared that may not be so immediately obvious.
About halfway through the parenting discussion, this question came up: How do we respond when our kids argue with us? The old days of "because I said so" and cowed acquiescence may be over - but surely the current model of letting our kids endlessly harass us because we don't want to hinder their self-expression and autonomy is not exactly ideal either. So why not look to Jewish tradition for an answer? And right there - in the first book of the Torah, in the portion from just a few weeks ago - we find it. We can teach our kids to argue like Abraham.
Remember the story of Sodom and Gemorrah? God reveals to Abraham the divine plan to destroy the sinful cities - but Abraham refuses to accept it. What if, he inquires, fifty righteous people are to be found in the cities? Wouldn't God spare the cities for their sake? Yes, God agrees, I will spare the cities for the sake of the fifty.
But Abraham isn't done. He keeps going: What about forty-five, forty, thirty, twenty righteous people? he persists. Wouldn't that be OK? God continues to acquiesce, and finally Abraham gets to ten. What if there are only ten righteous? he asks. Will God save the cities for the sake of the ten?
And once more God agrees. But check out what happens next: "The Lord had finished speaking to Abraham, and departed; but Abraham remained in his place" (Genesis 18:33).
It might seem a throwaway conclusion - but of course nothing in the Torah is throwaway. This verse is actually a great model: God has listened to Abraham's argument, God has considered it, and now God has heard enough. So God - so to speak - walks away. And what does Abraham do? He doesn't run after God demanding that God hear more, doesn't complain that God "never listens" or "doesn't understand" or "it's not fair," doesn't continue to press his case. Abraham recognizes that the discussion is over - and Abraham returns to his place, to his familiar role as an obedient and respectful servant of God.
And look at the subject of Abraham's argument. Abraham is concerned with matters of life and death, justice and righteousness, fairness and compassion. Abraham's not arguing for the sake of arguing, or taking his bad mood out on God, or lobbying for something inconsequential or inappropriate - and God recognizes that. God isn't giving in because Abraham's nagging, or because it's just so hard to say "no" - God responds to Abraham's concerns, and to the merits of what he says.
Finally, check out the way Abraham addresses God: "Here I venture to speak to my Lord," "I am but dust and ashes," "Let my Lord not be angry if I go on," "I speak but this last time." Abraham is questioning God, no doubt - but he's doing so respectfully. Even as he argues with God, he demonstrates reverence; he never loses sight of the fact that God is in charge and is worthy of the highest veneration.
So what do we make of this narrative? Is it a meditation on the line between justice and mercy? A mythical tale that explains the salty, lifeless plains along the Dead Sea? A warning that evildoing leads to destruction?
Yes - it is all of that, and more. But it is also a model. A way to teach our kids that if they need to argue with us - they should always argue like Abraham.