Having concluded my presentation of The Seven Steps to Mentschhood, I would like to offer the following suggestions that may help parents achieve success in their efforts at conveying the concept of mentschlichkeit to their children:
- Consistency: It is not possible for parents to always be on point regarding their child-rearing practices and the advice they impart to their children. The key for parents is to strive to be as consistent as they can be in teaching their children their family’s enduring principles. Children whose parents are consistent in their teaching will, over time, reflect their parents’ values. Children are willing to give their parents much latitude for errors and slip-ups if, over the long haul, their parents demonstrate consistency in their teachings and their modeled behavior.
- Honesty: Each day we say in our prayers: לעולם יהא אדם ירא שמים בסתר ובגלוי, ומודה על האמת ודובר אמת בלבבו…—“A person should always be God-fearing, both privately and publicly, acknowledge the truth and speak the truth within his heart…”
Of all the behaviors with which we must be consistent with our children, one of the most important is that of honesty. And, as the tefillah dictates, honesty must begin with the parents. The quality of honesty is not just for public display; it must be cultivated from within our conscience as a reflection of what Hashem wants from us. Parents who understand this faithfully model honesty for their children whether it is convenient or not.
- Integrity: When our behavior matches our most cherished principles, we demonstrate integrity. If we do not, we run the risk of appearing disingenuous or hypocritical. Children can easily see through such behavior. We must identify our most important principles and values, teach them to our children and always strive to model them ourselves. Integrity is the best way to teach our children right from wrong.
- Elevating the child: It is always helpful for parents to keep the following three points in mind:
1) I have always believed that there is almost nothing that one might have to say to a child that could not be said in the same way that one would say it to an adult.
2) Everything we say to a child should be said in a way that builds his self-esteem, and not in one that tears it down.
3) The most important message to convey to children when they do the wrong thing is: “That’s beneath you,” or “You are better than that.”
- Empathy is the ability to share in someone else’s emotions, thoughts or feelings. In a presentation titled “How to Raise a Moral Child,” Dr. Robert P. Granacher referred to empathy as the “bedrock of morality.”
In Parshat Shemot 2:10, the Torah says regarding Moshe: ויגדל הילד—“And the boy grew up.”
Just one pasuk later we read, ויגדל משה—“Moshe grew up…” Why would the Torah need to repeat this seemingly inconsequential fact?
The answer lies in the rest of the second pasuk: …ויצא אל אחיו וירא בסבלתם—“…and he went out to his brethren and observed their burdens…”
Chazal teach us that the first reference was to the fact that Moshe grew up physically. In the next pasuk, we learn that as he grew, Moshe went out and he saw the burdens of the people. We are taught that he saw their suffering and grieved with them. In short, Moshe grew in his ability to empathize with his brethren.
Oftentimes, when we point out the misfortunes of others, both adults and children are likely to feel sympathy or pity for them. Empathy implies the ability to put oneself in the other person’s shoes. The ability to see the world through empathetic eyes is a valuable skill and one that will lead more easily to mentschlich behavior.
- Modeling: The most important element of effective parenting.
“Parenting is difficult. But few things are more rewarding. Even if we are not great parents, our children are great children. My late father, z”l, who had little to leave his four sons, in fact left us the most precious thing that anyone can be given. He taught us, whether by words or just by being the person that he was, the values he cared for. He taught us the ideals he lived by. What he gave us was beautifully expressed by the poet Wordsworth in his Prelude in a sentence that sums up the challenges of parenthood. He wrote: ‘What we love, others will love, and we will show them how.’ To teach our children what we love is not a small thing. Perhaps it is the greatest thing of all.” —Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks
Stanley Fischman has served as the supervisor of general studies instruction at the Jewish Educational Center in Elizabeth, NJ. He was a yeshiva elementary principal for 35 years and was also director of general studies at Ben Porat Yosef in Paramus. He recently celebrated his 50th anniversary of educating Jewish children. He is the author of “Seven Steps to Mentschhood: How to Help Your Child Become a Mentsch.”