May 30, 2024
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Taking Initiative in Parenting

It’s amazing how Chazal can learn crucial life lessons from one letter in the Torah, or one small change in the Torah text.

In this week’s parsha, the Torah describes the various donations that Am Yisrael gave toward the construction of the Mishkan. Many different materials were needed to create the beautiful edifice that was the Mishkan, and the many artisans, artists and professionals all donated materials from their areas of expertise. Among those descriptions, the Torah notes that the nesi’im, the heads of the tribes, donated the avnei shoham and avnei miluim, the beautiful colored stones that adorned the Choshen and the Eifod.

The Midrash Rabbah notes in that pasuk that the word “nesi’im,” “נשאם,” is missing the letter yud twice: the only place in the Torah that the word is written this way. The Midrash explains that this was because the nesi’im committed a mistake regarding the contribution toward the Mishkan. They decided to first allow the rest of the nation to dedicate toward the Mishkan first, and they would then fill in whatever was missing afterward. As it turned out, the nation dedicated more than was necessary for the Mishkan, and all that was left for the nesi’im to bring were the avnei shoham and avnei miluim. Their title is, therefore, spelled without a yud, in order to hint toward their miscalculation. The Midrash ends by noting that later, at the occasion of the dedication of the Mizbei’ach, the nesi’im are the first to donate. They seemed to learn their lesson from this episode and were therefore the first to offer toward the Mizbei’ach.

The Midrash’s explanation raises a question. The logic of the nesi’im seems to make sense: Why should they donate materials that others could have donated, if they could instead wait to see what is missing and fill in the gaps? Why are they criticized by Chazal for what they did?

It would seem that while the logic of the nesi’im was understandable and logical, it also represented a flaw in their attitude toward the Mishkan and its significance. While the rest of the nation showed their excitement for the Mishkan, and took initiative by actively contributing toward its construction in any way that they could, the nesi’im sat on the sidelines and simply watched. They failed to take initiative and instead let the circumstances dictate their actions. In doing so they showed a lack of passion for what the Mishkan was and what it was meant to represent. Had they truly appreciated the centrality of the Mishkan they would’ve been more active in contributing toward its construction, rather than being so passive in the process. The Torah therefore criticizes them for their inaction and passivity.

I believe that this message of being proactive is important for us as parents as well. We’ve noted in the past that as our children get older and enter their adolescent years, we begin to have less control over many aspects of their lives: who they befriend, what they do in their spare time, the things that excite them, etc. As difficult as this reality may be, it’s a natural part of life, as our children are asserting their independence and maturing. However, what sometimes results from this reality is that parents feel they can no longer play a significant role in the chinuch of their child; they feel helpless in the face of the many other factors that play a role in their child’s life, and resign themselves to taking a back seat. Rather than being proactive and taking initiative in raising their child, they become reactive—and then are sometimes unhappy with what results, often becoming critical of all those who they believed failed in educating or inspiring their child.

I believe that this type of attitude is unfortunate. While it’s certainly important to give our kids more space during these years, this does not mean that we should take a back seat and let everyone and everything around us raise our children for us. The chinuch of our children, and our responsibility toward them as parents, is too important for us to simply step back and let circumstances dictate how our children grow up. We must be proactive in finding areas where we can still have an impact upon them, even during these years. Our children need to feel, even during adolescence, that we care about how they act and who they become. While there is place for disagreement—and there may even be situations where parents consciously decide not to assert their opinion or authority—that reality should not become the default way that we parent. We need to show initiative and ownership over our children’s chinuch.

In this week’s parsha, Chazal are critical of the nesi’im for being slow in contributing to the Mishkan. By being reactive, rather than proactive, in rising to donate, they showed a lack of appreciation of the Mishkan and its importance. When something is important to you, you show it by enthusiastically taking the initiative to be involved in its development—and in this area the nesi’im failed. As parents as well we must realize that the chinuch and growth of our children is too important for us to be inactive and passive in educating them to be the people we want them to be.

Wishing everyone a Shabbat Shalom!


Rav Yossi Goldin is the menahel tichon at Yeshivas Pe’er HaTorah, rebbe at Midreshet Tehilla, and placement adviser/internship coordinator for the YU/RIETS kollel. He lives with his family in Shaalvim and can be reached at [email protected].

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