Reaching New Heights
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(This article first appeared in the Jewish Press. It is also a chapter in Miriam's book Reaching New Heights Through Kindness in Marriage.) The quality of our closest relationships profoundly affects how we feel about ourselves. Our relationships have real and measurable consequences on our lives and those around us. The way we communicate both verbally and non-verbally affects the emotional, cognitive and physical development of our children, as well as our physical and mental health.
Child-rearing is complex. Any parent can attest to the many rewards and equally distressing moments. Volumes of theories and practical approaches will not suffice to adequately explain parenting. Don’t we wish there was a manual? Each child is a unique, dynamic individual who changes almost daily. For parents to properly guide their children it is important to consider the environment that the parents create at home (Shalom Bayis). We primarily focus on the communication style between the adults which is the template for the children’s present and future relationships.
Chanie Geisinsky, a respected Rebbetzin, describes successful child-rearing as 50 percent consistent Chinuch (Jewish education) and 50 percent Shalom Bayis. A healthy relationship between you and your spouse is critical to the success of every aspect of your child’s healthy development: physical and spiritual. Treating your spouse positively in front of your children is paramount.
Why are relationships one of the most challenging aspects of the human condition? The Torah teaches us that no element of life is devoid of meaning and purpose and we believe that every interaction is divinely designed. So too, relationships are an important process that leads to completion – Shleimus. We as human beings have a variety of emotions and personality styles that impact the way we think and feel about the people in our life.
In the midst of a contentious moment it is difficult to grasp the higher purpose of elevating one’s soul to a more peaceful and unified state. Realize that provocations with your spouse, child or other, are all meant to result in you being more patient, enduring, understanding and tolerant. No one gets it right all of the time or even half of the time. Dr. Wile, originator of the Collaborative Couples Therapy model, states “solve the moment rather than the problem.” Perfecting relationships is a lifetime journey, one interaction at a time.
When husband and wife get along and demonstrate respect for each other, it helps the children get along better, and also lays a foundation for children to respect their parents. It is acceptable to occasionally express disagreements amicably in front of children.
According to Tina B. Tessina, author and psychotherapist, couples should definitely discuss many issues in the presence of their children. It teaches the children how relationships work. However, never let your children hear the two of you argue in a state of rage or anger; this is toxic! Seeing parents in such a state makes children feel terrified, unsafe, and heartbroken. In addition, when one parent yells and shames the other parent, the children witnessing these events feel ashamed.
Our sages teach that the greatest suffering is shame, and this is especially true in the case of children. Shame may cause a child such distress that eventually his life becomes unbearable and he may have little energy to achieve his potential
Even when one spouse may think the other needs to improve their communication, they should refrain from criticizing the other. It is better for a child to receive some overly strict discipline than to see parents fighting over this issue. Instead, after such an episode, when the spouse is not present, tell the children, “Tatty/Mommy may speak very strongly to you but know that we both love you and mean well.”
When the situation has calmed down, the parents can work together on reducing the amount of stress in the home, making the other aware when they speak aggressively or act tense. Bringing up the topic in a calm atmosphere, which is particularly important if the spouse is sensitive to criticism, can help them reflect on their own behavior and be more open to change.
For instance, a parent may say, “I think that we can both work on decreasing the stress in this home. Let’s help each other act more calmly in front of the children, especially when we have to discipline them.” By preparing a strategy in advance, a person can prevent many conflicts. If you cannot come up with an amicable solution, ask the advice of a Rav or a spiritual advisor who knows your spouse.
New research has revealed that exposure to common family problems during childhood and early adolescence affects brain development, which could lead to mental health issues in later life.
The study led by Dr. Nicholas Walsh, lecturer in developmental psychology at the University of East Anglia, used brain imaging technology to scan teenagers aged 17-19. He found that those who experienced mild to moderate family difficulties between birth and 11 years of age had developed a smaller cerebellum, an area of the brain associated with skill learning, stress regulation and sensory-motor control. The researchers also suggest that a smaller cerebellum may be a risk indicator of psychiatric disease later in life, as it is consistently found to be smaller in virtually all psychiatric illnesses.
Dr. Walsh said: “These findings are important because exposure to adversities in childhood and adolescence is the biggest risk factor for later psychiatric disease. Also, psychiatric illnesses are a huge public health problem and the biggest cause of disability in the world.
Fighting is an indication that your communication isn't working. When one or both parents are tired or stressed, an occasional dispute is understandable. However, ongoing conflicts are cause for concern and needs to be addressed seriously.
Action Plan to Avoid Fighting in Front of the Childs
Turn around and walk away if you think you'll have a hard time dealing with your urge to fight. Recognize that when you don't walk away, you are putting your need to vent ahead of their well-being and peace of mind.
After you walk away, write down everything you're thinking and feeling, so you can discuss it later when the childs aren't around.
· If you're going to have a discussion, take it somewhere private. Deal with your spouse closely and personally to minimize distractions and interruptions. Express your needs to your partner; they may not know what those needs are. Be articulate, state what you need, plainly and specifically. Remain calm.
· Work out the problem. Cooperation, not competition, is needed to find a solution to the issue.
· Share a moment of peace, and verbalize your feeling of resolution like saying, “I’m glad we talked”, to reaffirm your bond once a decision has been reached.
A teacher moved to a town and began giving a Shiur, which quickly became popular. One of the established teachers thought that the teachings were cultish, so he slandered the new teacher and urged people not to attend his Shiur. One rainy day, as this teacher was walking down the street, he saw the new teacher slip and fall in the mud. The teacher hurried over to him. He bent down as if to help the fallen man, but instead picked up some mud and threw it at him, hissing disgustedly, “You deserve it!”, then he walked off.
The new teacher got up and ran after the other man. “Wait, teacher, please!” he called out. The teacher continued walking, but the mud-stained teacher called out again, “Please wait!” The teacher slowed down slightly. “Please, teacher,” the new teacher gasped, “please, accept my apologies. I do not know exactly how I have hurt you, but the pain I caused you must have been great for you to hate me.” Both men stopped walking. The new teacher asked humbly, “Please tell me, what I have done to you? I must know so that I can do teshuvah properly.” The other teacher was taken aback. For a moment, he doubted the new teacher’s sincerity, but searching the man’s mud-streaked face, he only saw true humility. Astonished and ashamed, he thought to himself, “this is a G-dly man before me!” He embraced the new teacher and said, “it is I who must do teshuvah.” After that, the relationship between the two men improved. They began studying together, and became close friends.
This sort of self-reflection is especially important in regard to your relationship with your children. When they behave disrespectfully to you, stop and think to yourself “What have I done to cause them to be in this mood?"
There is a second lesson to glean from this story. Every day children are under pressure from parents, teachers, bus drivers and siblings. They “fall in the mud” many times over the course of the day. When your children come home, consider that they may have had many “muddy moments” before coming through your door. Treat them with compassion. Do your best to help them feel better. At the very least, do not throw more mud at them. Following are some important points that can help dramatically improve the way you relate to your family.
Deactivate Your Ego When It Threatens to Upset Your Family
Take note when you allow your ego to get in the way of dealing with family issues.
One way to break that habit is to pay attention to body signals that can warn you when you are about to lose control. For instance, before you raise your voice to yell, does your stomach tie itself into knots, does your nose flare, or does your face get hot? These body signals are warning you to take a deep breath and, if need be, walk away until you calm down.
Repeat the following affirmations throughout the day, even before a challenging situation arises:
“I want to unite, not to win.”
“I want peace, not victory.”
“Making peace is the greatest victory.”
“My goal is to give peace of mind, not pieces of my mind.”
“Shalom Bayis is the surest path to raising emotionally healthy children.”
“My efforts to become a positive role model will maximize my success as a parent.”
Let’s keep in mind that beyond all the pragmatic benefits of improved relationships, Shalom Bayis is a Mitzvah for the purpose of perfecting the soul. The reason why the Jewish people gave the peace offering (Korbon Shlomim) soon after Matan Torah was because they had reached a spiritual state of elevation. Hashem was symbolically preparing his people in the desert as they were going to be involved in the mundane life, to get accustomed to sacrifice perfectionism and be at peace with the process of becoming complete. Shalom, making peace with inadequacies.
Visualize Yourself Not Criticizing Your Family Members
They are the most precious part of your life. Picture yourself refraining when feeling the impulse to act unkindly.
Points for Practical Reflection
1. Cultivating an attitude of gratitude helps give your partner a feeling of security, which in turn brings peace and harmony to a home.
2. Helping your spouse, selflessly benefits you spiritually and physically, because acting generously enhances your health and longevity.
3. In order to promote peace in your home, heal your relationship to money, whether you spend too much or too little.
4. Raising your voice in anger, speaking sarcastically, or otherwise belittling your spouse or children, indicates that your animal soul has taken over.
5. When one spouse expresses patience, perseverance, and a deep commitment to the marriage, amazing turnarounds can be achieved, even when the partner is the chief cause of the problems.
6. When a spouse helps their partner feel confident and self accepting, they will treat one another as equals and even as superior.
7. A parent must model the qualities of thoughtfulness, sensitivity, and generosity that will set the standards for the children.
8. Professional counseling that is sensitive to Torah ethics and values may be useful in helping you achieve healthier perspectives on your marriage.
9. A spouse should strive to be the partner’s cheerleader rather than being an adversary.
Many times people asked, "what inspired you to become a bal teshuva?" they continue, What gave you the strength at such a young age to decide such a commitment.
I never really knew. I myself was unsure I would answer "hmm I just don't know
But recently after so long
Only till very recently the dots all connected. I do remember when I was at a young tender age of about 7, going to the Israeli March to fund raise for the land of Israel. I was especially connected to Israel because I was born there living in America and I remember making the effort to be part of the fundraising March. Boy was I ever happy when after walking for so long finally to arrive at rancho park to see all the people together reaching our destination as if we really were landing in the holy land. Although feeling a bit tired I was ever so exhilarated and thrilled that I had raised money for Israel. Then there were the smells of Israeli food, falafel shawarma - but the excitement didn't stop there -what was more enticing were the many different booths to inspire people to get closer to Judaism. I remember the first booth I stopped at- gazing at those shiny Golden miniature candlesticks wanting to own one
I dared getting closer to the man dressed in a black suit with a black hat cause I didn't want to see what could not be mine. I didn't want to be disappointment ( because I didn't have money to by such a high commodity) as I got closer the man reached out his hand and said this is for u. I thought to me for free? I was shocked and I thought for sure must be a mistake, but then I saw him giving out more to other girls. I kept thinking wow what a nice man.
I totally remember feeling so privileged to have received the golden candle stick and guarded them the whole day. The fair was over and the countdown began and I couldn't wait wait till Friday to finally be able to light them .
Every day was forever till that holy day came. The intense feeling I felt that day of the march finally bridged over to Shabbos itself. and I felt so serene and so connected to Israel and to my people. Miraculously I somehow started to get invited to celebrate Shabbas fully at different religious people's home
. The joy and warmth at the Shabbos table just solidified my love for Shabbas for Judaism Receiving those bright shinning Shabbas candle started it all
Thank you Lubavitcher Rebbe for sending your shluchim to ranch park
Thank you Rebbe for caring that I as a little girl would have a chance to get ignited
So the flame of these Shabbas lights ignited the flame of my soul
Guest post by Chana Leah Yerushalmi
The art of studying Chumash can be broken down into so many aspects. There’s the basic understanding of the text which as children, we grow up with mostly that understanding of the Torah, and then there's the deeper levels of understanding the Torah which as we get older, more and more layers are revealed to us. But, to reach the level of deep understanding of our Torah we must toil and analyze the studies of our Commentaries and Chassidus.
So when we opened up our Chumashim and began to learn about two of the most iconic woman in Jewish history, Yocheved and Miriam, I knew I was going to be gaining a deeper understanding of who these two women really are, even more then I have ever gained before. Little did I know how much one can gain when you take a seemingly simple idea and extract from it its very core. The once simple idea, no longer remains simple at all, it becomes life changing. That is exactly what happened upon stumbling on the Passuk in Chumash where Yocheved and Miriam are introduced to us for the very first time. Yet, for some reason they are introduced to us by their nicknames Shifra and Puah. Rashi explains in his simple manner that we know these nickname are referring to Yocheved and Miriam by the fact that each name is a nickname given to them in reference to their specific jobs with the newborns. Shifra alludes to Yocheved, since her job was to clean (משפרת) the child and Puah alludes to Miriam, since she would calm the baby with her power of speech (אפעה).
Based on what was just explained a very strong question arises. Why would these holy women who have contributed an immense amount to the Jewish people during this time period, be introduced to us in the Torah for the first time with such seemingly trivial and disrespectful names? Names that does not honor who they really are, the full extent of what they contributed or their caliber of greatness.
Our Commentaries address this question and answer it with a Drush leveled answer. They state that the reason why these women were mentioned by their nicknames was because, these names signified their most essential job and contribution they gave. Zooming in on Miriam, we can understand that the idea of speech which is brought out in the word Puah, is the greatest contribution and quality Miriam had. With her power of speech Miriam gave over the famous Nevuah, thus enabling the Jewish nations redeemer to be born and save the entirety of our nation.
But of course there is no coincidence in the Torah. The fact that these women are brought in and mentioned for the first time juxtaposed to their job as caregivers for the next generation, must teach us, the women of today, an enormous message about who we are and what our role really is. But before we can understand what we can learn from them, we have to understand who exactly is it that we're learning from.
These women were the ultimate example of people who stood up for their morals and what they believed in. One Commentary explains upon analyzing the text and its choice of words, that the text uses an odd grammar choice regarding Pharaoh’s commandment to the Meayaldos. The Passuk states: The midwives feared G-d….. and did not do what the king of Egypt had told אליהן - about them. אליהן usually is translated as about them, but in this context it seems grammatically unfit. It would have been more accurate for the Passuk to say “the command told to them”, since the commandment seemingly was told to them and not about them. The commentary explains that the reasoning behind this unfit grammar choice is to teach us that Pharaoh's command was not about the baby's, but it was about the women! Pharaoh had ordered the women to have relations with him yet they refused and didn't listen albeit the consequences to their actions which could ultimately mean death. What was the strength behind these women's decisions? It was the knowledge that if they, the feminine leaders of the jewish woman body, gave in to Pharaohs demands then this can badly affect the morale of all the Jewish woman. They understood the brilliance behind Pharoah’s plan; by targeting the Jewish woman's leaders and forcing upon them their spiritual downfall, it will cause a ripple effect on the entire Jewish nations continuity. Thereby, causing the destruction of the whole nation. Yet, these Jewish heroines stood steadfast in their convictions and values.
Aside for all their heroism and bravery there is a deep lesson we can come out with by understanding Yocheved and Miriam's first and foremost role mentioned in the Torah, their ability to be a caregiver and raise a child with their unique qualities. It seems rather unfair that although we know later on from the Torah that they took on roles of leadership etc, that they were first introduced to us as just simple midwives.
The Torah introduced them to us precisely in this matter, to teach women the most valuable lesson of what it means to really be a women. That the most impressive, important and praiseworthy title and job we can give to a woman is her role as a caregiver for her children. Only after that you establish what your primary role is, then can you accomplish your other gifts and capabilities.
These days you see woman of all sorts of backgrounds who are thirsting for meaning and purpose and to give over and share all the amazing qualities they are blessed with, but a lot of them seem to forget their most honorable and beautiful gift they were given is to raise their children. So many idealistic Shluchim who are running out and trying to save the world yet forget that as women before anything else comes their children. We learn from Shifra and Puah what it means to give our full undivided attention to children. Our children need those loving reassuring words those soft caresses and hugs, the knowledge that they are always on your mind and are your first priority. Only after we establish who we are and what our primary role is, only then can we explore our talents and capabilities and reach out to the public.
So many children are struggling with so many issues in today's day and age, whether it be physical or spiritual. How much longer will it take society to understand that proudly claiming that your primary role is being a mother to your children, is nothing to be ashamed of. How long will it take women to realize that being a mother as a primary role does not negate our abilities to accomplish and immense amount out of the house. It's just about our priorities! Who is our priority in our life, our work requirements out of the home or our child whom we lovingly raised? Our children are our biggest accomplishments we can show for ourselves. And that is what Yocheved and Miriam understood they understood that this was the future of the next generation and they took to their job with utmost care and devotion.
So many times we lose focus and lose our direction, but we have to keep on reminding ourselves that we have the Torah which is our map leading us to the proper destination. We must understand that nothing is stated in Torah by default and that every little nuance mentioned in the Torah has layers upon layers to uncover. With every layer we uncover with the help of our sages, teachers and Rebbeim, we can understand a whole new understanding of the core of what the matter really is. Each word takes you on a journey, a journey to uncover an immense amount of interpretations, and when we think we have reached the end we realize it is only the beginning.