May 19, 2024
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May 19, 2024
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Maximizing Our Children’s Summer Growth

As parents, we spend so much time and energy worrying about our children, worrying what kind of people they will be when they grow up, what they will do for a living, who they will marry, and the list goes on and on. One of the terrifying truths we learn as parents when we begin sending our children to school, especially high school, is that we as parents are not the only (or even primary) influence on our children and who they will become. As we watch our children grow and develop, we daven that they will make good choices, surround themselves with good people and become proud, independent Jews. One of the times when we particularly worry is during the summer when our children are often not living under our roof and are outside of the normal yeshiva structure. What can we do over the summer to not only protect our children from negative influences, but to help them maximize their summer so that they grow and flourish?

The pasuk in Parshat Behaalotecha writes:

דַּבֵּר֙ אֶֽל־אַהֲרֹ֔ן וְאָמַרְתָּ֖ אֵלָ֑יו בְּהַעֲלֹֽתְךָ֙ אֶת־הַנֵּרֹ֔ת אֶל־מוּל֙ פְּנֵ֣י הַמְּנוֹרָ֔ה יָאִ֖ירוּ שִׁבְעַ֥ת הַנֵּרֽוֹת׃

Speak to Aaron and say to him, “When you mount the lamps, let the seven lamps give light at the front of the lampstand.”

Rashi writes:

בהעלתך…. שֶׁצָּרִיךְ לְהַדְלִיק עַד שֶׁתְּהֵא שַׁלְהֶבֶת עוֹלָה מֵאֵלֶיה (שבת כ”א)

Because the flame rises upwards (עולה), an expression denoting “ascending” is used of kindling the light, implying that one must kindle them until the light ascends of itself (Shabbat 21a).

The chasidic masters write that one of the primary goals of the chinuch of our children is to enable their lights to ascend by themselves, to be independent. One of the challenges to the lights ascending by themselves is the wind and that which prevents the lights from flourishing; so too our children have to overcome their negative influences to rise up.

Yet as you are reading this, no doubt some of you are asking, but isn’t that why we send our children to yeshiva, to be strong, to fight the winds of influence and to be able to make the correct choices?

The navi Ovadiah in the very beginning of his sefer begins with a nevuah that “this is what he should say to Edom…” The Gemara in Sanhedrin (39b) asks, what does Ovadiah have to do with Edom? The Gemara answers that Ovadiah, who lived among two evil people (Achav and Izevel), did not learn from them, while Eisav lived among two tzadikim (Yitzchak and Rivka) and he did not learn from their ways. How did Ovadiah stay so strong while surrounded by negative influences, especially when it seems to go against human nature, as expressed famously by the Rambam in the sixth perek of Hilchot Deot:

דֶרֶךְ בְּרִיָּתוֹ שֶׁל אָדָם לִהְיוֹת נִמְשָׁךְ בְּדֵעוֹתָיו וּבְמַעֲשָׂיו אַחַר רֵעָיו וַחֲבֵרָיו וְנוֹהֵג כְּמִנְהַג אַנְשֵׁי מְדִינָתוֹ. לְפִיכָךְ צָרִיךְ אָדָם לְהִתְחַבֵּר לַצַּדִּיקִים וִלֵישֵׁב אֵצֵל הַחֲכָמִים תָּמִיד כִּדֵי שֵׁיִּלִמֹד מִמַּעֲשֵׂיהֵם. וִיִתִרַחֵק מִן הָרִשָׁעִים הַהוֹלְכִים בַּחשֶׁךְ כְּדֵי שֶׁלֹּא יִלְמֹד מִמַּעֲשֵׂיהֶ….וְאִם הָיוּ רָעִים וְחַטָּאִים שֶׁאֵין מְנִיחִים אוֹתוֹ לֵישֵׁב בַּמְּדִינָה אֶלָּא אִם כֵּן נִתְעָרֵב עִמָּהֶן וְנוֹהֵג בְּמִנְהָגָם הָרַע יֵצֵא לַמְּעָרוֹת וְלַחֲוָחִים וְלַמִּדְבָּרוֹת. וְאַל יַנְהִיג עַצְמוֹ בְּדֶרֶךְ חַטָּאִים …

It is a natural tendency of man to be influenced in his ideas and conduct by his fellows and associates, and to follow the usage of the people of his state….. Likewise, if a man is in a state where evil customs prevail and where the people are not following the righteous ways, he should go to a place where the inhabitants are righteous and follow the way of the good. (Translation from Sefaria.org)

Furthermore, asks Rav Matisyahu Solomon, the mashgiach of Beis Medrash Govoha, why didn’t Ovadiah follow the advice of the Rambam and move away to a city where there were tzadikim? Rav Solomon answers that there are two types of influences on humans. There are influences around us both positive and negative in the street (and online) that have a constant influence on our children even if they are not connected to them, by virtue of exposure. Then there are the people our children have direct personal connections with and influence our children even if they are not with them in the same city. Those close connections act as a shield to our children even when they are not together, or they can create negativity in our children even when far away. Ovadiah had already achieved greatness due to his upbringing and sphere of influence, so even though he was surrounded by negative influences, he didn’t connect with them and was able to maintain his standards. However, most people need to be concerned about our natural tendency to follow after our surroundings.

We want our children to connect with those around them; therefore we need to create two strong environments for our children: One in their immediate social network, so they are easily able to make the right choices hopefully even when they are not under our roof, and second, we need to be particular about the environment that we place our children in over the summer. It is normal to feel that things are looser since we are out of structure. If we are particular about the environment and structure they are in over the summer, it will help them keep the standards that their parents, morahs and rebbeim would like for them even when far away. If they have both supports, children can sometimes flourish more over the summer than during the year.

Placing our children in environments that allow them to flourish is just the first step; the second step is having aspirations and thinking about the summer as not just vacation but as an opportunity to grow outside of the school setting. We need to think big about what our children can accomplish. In Tehillim 127:4 it is written, “K’chitzim b’yad gibor, kein b’nei hane’urim, like arrows in the hand of a warrior, so too are our youth.” Rav Hirsch explains that when an archer aims his arrow, he sets it on a trajectory higher than his intended goal. In the same way, when educating our children we must aim higher than we perhaps realistically expect them to attain in order for them to reach the actual target that we are hoping they will achieve. Over the summer, set realistic goals for your children and create structure for them to accomplish their goals. Wherever a child is, there are goals he or she can shoot for; whether they are social-emotional, learning, tefillah or individual mitzvah goals, so much can be accomplished over the summer. Have a conversation with your child about their goals; you might be surprised about their response.

These lofty aspirations of creating positive friendships and environments for the summer do not begin in the summer—they are a culmination of the entire year—but if we focus on them now, b’ezrat Hashem our children can have an amazing, productive and growth-filled summer.


Rabbi Shimon Schenker is the associate principal at YUHSB.

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