October 4, 2007
Four simple words
Parshat Bereshit (Genesis 1:1-6:8)
Considered a major no-no in child psychology, experts in the field call it "emotionally abusive talk," which embeds shame, fear and victimization in youngsters. According to Chick Moorman, author of "Parent Talk: Words That Empower, Words That Wound," such responses send a "silent message [that] 'I'm big and you're little. I'm smart and you're dumb. I have power and you don't.'"
Juvenile development literature suggests replacing these words with patient listening and reasonable responses that respectfully communicate feelings to the little whiner until they understand. One parenting guru suggests saying something like: "It's frustrating for me, Mike, when you continue to ask, 'Why?' As the grown-up here, I make some of the decisions. This is why I have to say no, because (insert reasons).... I won't be changing my mind on this one."
I'm no child development specialist, but as an educator and rabbi, my professional response is: Ummm, are you kidding?!
Here on earth, anyone who has been around children knows that sometimes -- when your 11-year-old is protesting your refusal to let her have three friends over for the weekend while your 2-year-old asks for the 73rd time why he has to stay buckled in the car seat, all while in bumper-to-bumper traffic -- the only thing left to communicate is: "Because, I said so!"
And if the result is kids believe they are at the humble mercy of a greater power who needs no reason whatsoever to tell it like it is: good.
I've got the Torah backing me up on this one -- those four words are the greatest gift a child can be given. Within them lie the secrets of God, creation, personal empowerment and the alchemy of miracles.
In Bereshit we read of creation: beginning with the genesis of light and culminating in the formation of humans -- made in their Creator's image.
Genesis 1:3 explains that from out of chaotic darkness "God said, let there be light, and there was light." With the declaration of these four words, the Source began to manifest the perfect order of reality: in which what is "is" -- because, He said so.
And had Adam been shmendrik enough to nudge for a reason why, that's what God would have answered. Why does the earth bring forth grass and herb yielding seed? Because God said it did, end of story (well, beginning of story, actually).
There are no reasons offered in the text; no explanations or justifications or rational interpretations exist in the account of Divine creation. God was not reasonable. He didn't provide logic or meaning for his manifest designs; doing so would turn Him into their effect rather than their cause, which is impossible in the Chief's case.
And this is how it ought to be for us, when we are truly realized in His image. In Bereshit, humanity is charged with the responsibility of mimicking God's acts of Genesis: through the power of our words, we are blessed with the capacity to declare from out of the chaos what is -- because we say so.
The only thing hindering our creating those direct experiences is the introduction of reasons for why we are generating them. Because with every reason, we further distance ourselves from the truth of what is and what we will allow to become of it.
Reasoning dismantles our power of creation, our ability to be source and master of reality; it locks us into the illusions of mind, where descriptions about something inhibit the emotive experience of it. Every word we waste detailing some interpretation for why something is interferes with a direct experience of its being; we become liars with each story told of some external source that has caused our present circumstance.
Patient explanations for why our assertions make sense are, according to this parsha, the very way we abuse our children. Our being reasonable delivers silent messages that destroy their capacity for greatness, and their reverence of ours. Rationale and justification for our actions convert them instantly into reactions -- rendering us at the effect of something out there that is capable of causing in us limitation and powerlessness.
We end up perverting the obvious and necessary inequality between adult and minor. Grown-ups are supposed to be smarter. How is that shameful? How else will children learn to revere the word of their creator if not for their own maker's effective mastery over reality? If we portray ourselves as victims to rational, out-of-our-control elucidation, how will we inspire creativity or self-empowerment -- let alone deference before God -- in children?
Bereshit calls for our re-creation; we are reminded to be at the cause of the reality we experience -- made manifest by our unreasonable words. We are invited to remember our truth: in the Divine image, we must demonstrate for our young ones the accountability and illogical declarations that are the stuff of miracles manifesting.
While I agree with child psychologists who espouse the value of listening, it's more important that the child listen rather than the adult. If we teach children to listen well, they will hear in our terse and tired responses the one instruction that can forever set them free to be, do and have the most glorious of life experiences. We're telling them how they can be liberated from their feeling like powerless victims: "Because, I said so."
Rabbi Karen Deitsch works as a freelance officiant and lecturer in Los Angeles. She can be reached at email@example.com.