Last week, the article I sent, entitled, “The Constitution of Children at the Shabbos Table,” seems to have really resonated. I was gratified that it was read and forwarded many times. I also received numerous comments in response, the most common of which was, “Do you have a video camera in our house on Shabbos? How do you know about all the stuff that happens in our house on Shabbos?”
Although I technically can only speak for myself, that never stopped me from speaking for others, as well. My sense is that many parents suffer from a parenting inferiority complex. That, coupled with our natural Jewish guilt, makes for an uncomfortable combination.
We know the struggles we face in our own homes trying – sometimes more successfully than others – to educate, discipline, guide, and not lose patience with our children. For some silly reason, we live under the false and silly notion that all our neighbors have it down to a science, and that their Shabbos table is the epitome of holiness and chinuch.
If nothing else, it’s incredibly validating to know that one is definitely not alone in these struggles. Most likely, the neighbors’ kids also fight over who sits where, and they too struggle to get their kids to help serve and clear.
But wait, we think to ourselves! What about all those depictions of the beauty and pristine holiness of the Shabbos table? What about the fact that baalei t’shuvah have often recounted that they became Torah-observant because they were so enamored by experiencing a Shabbos meal? A friend of mine once jokingly, but dolefully, quipped that if an irreligious person saw his family’s Shabbos table – forget about becoming religious – he would probably want to leave Judaism altogether.
Firstly, we don’t appreciate the greatness of our Shabbos meals – struggles, frustrations, and all. In our society, most families hardly ever sit down to a meal together; and when they do, it’s with electronic distractions. The very fact that our families sit together for two meals each week, without any electronic distractions, discussing and sharing Torah thoughts and ideas, and hopefully singing and laughing together, makes it an invaluable gift, even with all of the challenges that are par for the course.
A large part of the guilt is the result of living under the delusions of the social media effect. Everyone’s life is perfect on social media. On Instagram, Snapchat, and Facebook, everyone is smiling, daily life seems dreamy, and marriages and relationships are perfect. But it’s basically a big lie. No one posts what their lives are really like. Rather, they post what they want others to think and what they wish their lives were like.
In addition, it has been noted that the biographies of our Torah leaders, despite containing many factual inspiring and beautiful stories, are also guilty of giving a faulty perception. The books are a snapshot of the glorious moments of the lives of great people. However, they fail to depict and describe their struggles and “bad days.” Those struggles are what make them relatable and make them more inspiring, not less. But at times, those depictions leave us feeling like absolute failures.
When we have impossible ideals such as perfection, we set ourselves up for inevitable frustration.
Life is challenging, and child-rearing is an ongoing struggle. But engaging in that struggle is the most noble and important task we have in life. Our Shabbos tables are incredible places, even if they aren’t as perfect as we would like them to be.
Tu BiSh’vat reminds us that the real fruit of our efforts is beyond what the eye can see. During this minor holiday, we celebrate and express our gratitude to Hashem for the beautiful variety of fruits that He created, despite the fact that it is still winter. The trees are barren and there is no trace of the bounty that we know is to come in a few short weeks.
Chinuch, too, is a long-term endeavor. In the short-term, there are numerous frustrations and annoyances. So, we have to remind ourselves to look beyond what we see in front of us. When the fruit is not yet ripe, one must remember that it’s a process.
Not that I would know yet, but I have been told that the day will come, b’ezras Hashem, when I will miss the squabbles and annoyances of our Shabbos table. My rebbe, Rabbi Berel Wein, quips that G-d pays back children by making them parents. That’s when the former children get to deal with their own children’s constitution of the Shabbos table. That’s the price we pay to produce beautiful fruits.