Tuesday, October 25, 2011
Before the recently come and gone Yom HaQodosh I spent some time scanning the Meforshim in the Otzar HaTefilos Siddur on Vidui. There, I came across a succinct comment on על חטא שחטאנו לפניך בזלזול הורים ומורים to the effect that this particular sin is the root of ALL sin. (Sorry, no link @ HebrewBooks.org and can't remember which Pirush said it without the sefer handy).
It's pretty easy to understand that if one does not properly esteem temporal authorities and guides who have bestowed much manifest good, guides who are flesh-and-blood-sensory-perceivable, who reprove and offer direct instructions (or at least easily decipherable passive-aggressive instructions) again and again and who are only too happy to connect the dots connecting crime and punishment, then one hardly stands a chance of properly esteeming an unseen and mostly inscrutable G-d whose goodness and kindness are not always readily apparent and who oftentimes leaves no good deed unpunished. In the absence of G-d esteem evil will run rampant. So...I get it.
Still, if improperly relating to ones parents is the sin with the deepest roots it seems to me that improperly relating to ones children is the sin with the broadest branches and the farthest flung ripple effects. Think of it. If I am a bad child to my parents I have hurt two people but probably not dramatically altered their own behavior, lifestyle or Avodas HaShem. OTOH if If I am a bad parent to my children I may have hurt many more than two people immediately and/ or altered their own behavior, lifestyle or Avodas HaShem in the short run. In the long run one has probably damaged their future interpersonal relationships, especially with their own spouses and children, and thus impacted negatively on ALL of ones descendants עד סוף כל הדורות !
I'm not even talking about egregious parenting crimes such as alcoholism or physical, sexual or consistent verbal abuse. In the old days when folks were made of sterner stuff those may have been the entire gamut of parenting crimes. But in our shavkha doros when some overripe bananas have stiffer spines than many human beings, it doesn't take much to have a ruinous effect on ones offsprings psycho-spiritual well-being.
Being a "Do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do" role model or, perhaps worse yet, being a do-as-I-do role model for bad middos and behaviors, is the most ubiquitous of parenting sins. But it is hardly the only one. The catalog of thought, speech and behaviors that one can engage in and negatively impact on the kids form a veritable aleph to taf spectrum. Here are just a few (in no particular order, certainly not alphabetical):
Indulging the kids to the point that they become spoiled, incapable of gratification-deferment and precious.
Over disciplining the kids to the point that they feel deprived and persecuted.
Inconsistent treatment of various siblings or overt favoritism.
Lack of confidence and being high-strung and testy leading to insecurity, nervousness and low self esteem in the children.
Being a lousy provider that can impact everything from the kids feeling impoverished below community norms to the inability to provide them with the education or extra-curricular enrichment that would/ could maximize their human potential.
"Not-getting-it" in terms of communication, peer group and khopping the unique challenges and opportunities of your childrens generation.
Siding too much or too little with the Yeshiva/ Bais Yaakov Rebbeim Teachers and Moros when things are not going smoothly at school.
Mismanaging the shiddukh process due to, among other baggage, trying to live vicariously through the kids.
ועל כולם IMHuO making, in an, ahem, "moment of candor" the one cutting remark that destroys self-esteem and/ or trust forever. This could happen e.g. during such ostensibly "innocent" and routine activities as homework with a seven year old or a pre or post-date debriefing with a 22 year old.
A crusty world-weary gentleman I know once related a deliciously scatological Yiddish aphorism that went : פון איין פארץ ווערט מען נישט דערשטיקט = "One does not get asphyxiated by one episode of flatulence" in other words people are resilient and have the capacity to bounce back from a variety of traumas. Perhaps that was true for "The Greatest Generation" of which said gentleman was a card-carrying member. But for todays generations of parents and children??? I'm not so sure. Especially when the skunk/s doing the spraying is/ are the same one/s who changed our own diapers and with whom with live cheek by jowl for the first two to three formative decades of our lives.
Raising children is the ultimate high-risk high return investment and reciprocating loss of principal is a distinct possibility. It is not for the inflexible, dimwitted nor the faint of heart. Yet the ranks of parents are peopled by many who are inflexible, dimwitted and faint of heart.
This past Yom HaQodosh I shed more tears over the unlisted sin of על חטא שחטאנו לפניך בזלזול בנים ובנות= "for the sin that we sinned before you by degrading our sons and our daughters" than for any of the many listed in the Makhzor, Khayei Odom, Tefilas Zaqa et al. I think that our former First Lady had it right when she said: "If you bungle raising your children, I don't think whatever else you do well matters very much. "