The First Rule of Parenting
וְלִמַּדְתֶּם אֹתָם אֶת־בְּנֵיכֶם לְדַבֵּר בָּם בְּשִׁבְתְּךָ בְּבֵיתֶךָ וּבְלֶכְתְּךָ בַדֶּרֶךְ וּבְשָׁכְבְּךָ וּבְקוּמֶךָ׃ and teach them to your children—reciting them when you stay at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you get up;
וְלִמַּדְתֶּם אֹתָם אֶת־בְּנֵיכֶם לְדַבֵּר בָּם בְּשִׁבְתְּךָ בְּבֵיתֶךָ וּבְלֶכְתְּךָ בַדֶּרֶךְ וּבְשָׁכְבְּךָ וּבְקוּמֶךָ׃
and teach them to your children—reciting them when you stay at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you get up;
I’ll admit it. I like sleeping in on Shabbat. So when my precious ten-year-old son began nudging my shoulder at 6:00 AM on Saturday morning, I was tempted to roll over and hide under the blankets. But I didn’t. Being a parent is not a nine-to-five job, it is 24/7 and even a little bit more than that.
The Torah alludes to this when it says:
and teach them to your children—reciting them when you stay at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you get up; Deuteronomy 11:19
But it’s one thing to parent, it’s another to teach. Isn’t teaching usually done at set times? And even if not, it is most often done sitting at a table or desk, either at home or in a classroom. Not when one is away or lying down. Why does the Torah command us to teach our children at these strange times?
Every parent knows that when you are in front of your child, every aspect of you is under the spotlight. All of your actions are scrutinized by little eyes that see everything. No child will accept a rule that you break. The most painful thing is to see your child mimicking a bad habit of yours.
What the Torah means in this verse is that your children learn from watching you: seeing how you lie down and when you rise up and everything in between, all day every day. Our children can even intuit how we act when we are not at home. Teaching our children has no set times and no set place. There are no set lesson plans. Children learn from their parents in a process that is all-encompassing.
Our children watch us so closely they can even see what is in our hearts, precisely as the Torah stated in the previous verse:
Therefore impress these My words upon your very heart: Deuteronomy 11:18
The Torah also tells us what the reward will be for educating our children in this manner:
to the end that you and your children may endure, in the land that Hashem swore to your fathers to assign to them, as long as there is a heaven over the earth. Deuteronomy 11:21
Children are constantly watching our actions and reading our hearts. We teach them during the moments when we learn something together or have a meaningful conversation, but they learn even more from us, and about us, in the other moments – when we are going through the motions of everyday life. We must be careful to behave in a way that we want our children to mimic, and take care that our hearts match our behavior.
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