The Battle on the Homefront
This week has been one long series of logistical challenges for our family. I'm not complaining – it's all for good things. As many of you know, Rebbetzin Aliza Blumenthal is currently on the OU's Women's Mission to Israel together with the rest of the Boca Delegation: Rebbetzin Goldberg, Dr. Michal Miller and Sue Kaskel.
All this means that I've been doubling up on the daily family tasks. Like most families, as our family has grown, Aliza and I have divided up the multitudes of carpools, bath-times, homework sessions, meal preps, shopping trips, cooking, laundry etc... We know our daily and weekly roles and we pretty much get on with getting things done. It's this schedule that allows us to attempt to be functioning adults as well. As any parent of young children knows, all we can ever do is make an attempt. Young kids are predictably unpredictable.
Now, don't get me wrong; I love spending time with my kids, and Baruch Hashem, I get to spend a lot of time with them. Truthfully, the days when I can be a full-time Abba are some of my favorite. But it's tough to be a full time Rabbi at the same time. It's tough to daven properly, prepare shiurim, learn Torah, and teach my talmidim. It's tough to be a functional adult while also chasing kids.
Of course, I fully recognize that my challenges this week are the tip of the iceberg for so many single parents each and every day. I remember those days well from the other side. For almost a decade, my brother and I were raised single handedly by my mom; and through this amazing privilege of raising my own children I am still consistently awed by the fact that my mom managed to achieve so much by herself. It's a debt of gratitude that I feel even more powerfully this week.
So, between the extra carpools, tantrums, lunches and schedule, I've tried to find a minute to reflect on all of this. In some small way, I'm trying to empathize with all of hundreds of thousands of Israeli parents who have been struggling along, alone at home worrying about their family on the front lines.
Throughout this week, Aliza and the other incredible women on the trip have met with the wives, mothers and families of Chayalim who have been away from home for weeks. The presence of these Rebbetzins and community leaders has relieved a drop of loneliness and exhaustion from the Israeli Homefront, and if I can help them by changing a few extra diapers in Boca, then I'm honored to add to that relief.
But, tragically these are still all comparatively “normal challenges”, barely grazing the surface of the turmoil and complications for the families of the hostages.
This week I have thought about the fathers and mothers in captivity in a far more personal light. Please forgive me; it's absurd to compare at all, but when our two year cries for his mommy, I tell him that mommy will be home in a few days; and that maybe we could FaceTime later.
Every time I've said those words, I have thought about the words – or lack of words – that must be said to toddlers waiting to hear if their parents have been released from the Hell of Hamas captivity. Or the parents waiting for news about their kids.
For them, there is no assurance, certainly no FaceTime. For those families, there is no reprieve from the relentless agony of longing, yearning, crying, hoping and fighting against the ever looming despair.
These past few days have brought me closer to the pain of our brothers and sisters in Eretz Yisrael. My tefillos, rushed as they have been, have been focussed on and dedicated to those families.
But, like everything else in life, I have tried to view the past few days in the greater context of understanding Ratzon Hashem. And so I've asked myself: What does Hashem want from me right now?
The answers are not difficult to say; but they are certainly challenging to implement. This week, I suppose, Hashem wants me to work harder on my middos of empathy and patience. He wants me to get better at managing my expectations of myself and my children. He wants me to give more gratitude to my wife now, and in general.
Hashem does not want me to experience annoyance and frustration and conclude “only a few more days.” The point of this exercise is not just to “survive” the week, but for me to become a better father, husband and Eved Hashem.
In a strange way, adopting this type of growth mindset is not only possible while taking care of kids, it is almost a requirement of the child raising process.
Young children force us to work on our flexibility, forgiveness, patience and empathy in a way that we often overlook in our dealings with ourselves and other adults. Kids are so honest with their needs and emotions. They are transparent and devoid of agendas. Primarily, they just want to be happy, and they want others to be happy as well.
To enjoy spending time with our kids requires us to abandon negativity, cynicism, pessimism, over-thinking and judgmentalism. For most adults, this is nothing less than a radical shift in perspective. It's a totally new way of looking at and experiencing the world. We are so often consumed by the duplicity of the media and politics; surrounded by sarcasm, falsehoods and hatred, that we fail to see any hope or beauty.
The Yesod Tzadik – Reb Shlomke of Zhevil explains that this childlike perspective not just for kids. It's the essence of being a Jew, and it's hidden in the life of Yaakov Avinu:
The Torah often refers to Esav as a “Gadol” – a great one, as opposed to Yaakov, the “Katan”, or small one. It's a strange detail to harp on when they were born barely a minute apart; indeed, Yaakov practically emerges together with his brother, holding his heel. Why should Yaakov always be a Katan?
Reb Shlomke explains: We look at the challenges of a Gadol and Katan very differently. Contrast the adult who cannot walk well, with the toddler who tripping over their own feet. The adult makes us nervous and concerned. His situation demands a visit to a doctor, a diagnoses and a prescription. But the toddler's problems walking are of little concern to anyone. His challenge is normal and kids grow up. He'll learn to walk in due course. Likewise, an adult who can't talk is potentially seriously ill, but a babbling child is cute; he's still learning.
Consider how the mistakes of an adult are always so grave, so irreparable, so unforgivable, while a child can always do better next time.
How do we relate to a child who is crying over nothing?
If we're trying to be good parents, we'll note that “They're probably just tired, hungry or uncomfortable.” But isn't the same true for most adults as well? Do we not become a little less reasonable when we're tired, hungry and uncomfortable? Imagine if we gave ourselves and each other a little of this treatment. How many arguments could be avoided by sharing a snack before the discussion?
And what of our setbacks and failures? From the moment one is a Gadol, every challenge is a decline. But for a Katan, the issues are only issues as long as they last; they exist only until we “grow out of it”. We never stop encouraging a Katan. His setbacks are not brick walls, they are speed-bumps. A child can always learn more, grow more, achieve more.
So the Torah tells us that Yaakov is the paradigmatic Katan – he's always willing to see each and every moment as the beginning of a greater story. His Tefillah before engaging with his murderous brother indicates this growth – in becoming even more of a Katan:
קָטֹנְתִּי מִכֹּל הַחֲסָדִים וּמִכּל־הָאֱמֶת Hashem, I have become less due to the kindness and truth that You have done for me...
The Meforshim grapple with the phrase קָטֹנְתִּי. How has Yaakov gotten smaller? But with our explanation it makes perfect sense. Yaakov is relating to Hashem that precisely because of all the kindness that Hashem has showed him, he is further inspired to be a Katan. He can see that even this terrifying, life-threatening encounter with Esav is a new beginning, it's a moment of growth. Effectively, Yaakov is saying “There is nothing in my life that will make me stop believing that I can do better, that I can grow though this. If I remain a Katan forever, there is always more growing up for me to achieve.
This has been my Avoda this week – קָטֹנְתִּי – I'm trying to get a little smaller. I'm working on my middos, becoming a little more childlike, learning with and from my kids.
But beyond all of this, I'm davening for the parents fighting the longest battle of all on the Homefront. The battle to ensure that the Klal Yisrael which emerges from this war is raised with a love of Hashem, His Land, His People and His Torah.