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‘Setting Limits’

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“Isn’t it ironic that kids whose parents fail to set and enforce limits feel unloved and angry? Although they tend to test and protest, we have learned over and over again that limits are what kids really want. Invariably, when we talk with out-of-control teenagers or adults who were juvenile delinquents and lucky enough to survive, we ask them, ‘If you could go back to when you were a child, what would you change?’ Most of them say something like, ‘I wish my parents had reeled me in when I was a kid. Why didn’t they make me behave?’

“A counselor we know sat down with a teenager we know who led a pretty rough life. She had been promiscuous… and was in trouble with the law. She went on to describe how she had smoked pot and guzzled beer with her dad as a ten-year old. When the counselor asked her what she thought about it, her eyes lit up with rage and she said, ‘I hate him!’ Surprised, the counselor said, ‘You had so much freedom. Why do you hate your father?’ Even more surprised, the teen responded, ‘I hate him ‘cause he let me do anything I wanted. He never made me behave. Look at me now!’

“If you want your children to have internal controls and inner freedom, you must first provide them with external controls. A child who is given boundaries, and choices within those boundaries, is actually freer to be creative, inventive, active, and insightful. How you expose your kids to the life around them – how you encourage them to use their creativity within limits, by using yours – is key to developing their personal identity and freedom. Setting limits does not discourage inventiveness. The world is full of limits within which we must all live. Give your children a gift. Teach them how to be creative within these limits.” (Love and Logic Magic for Early Childhood, by Jim Fay & Charles Fay)

“In the beginning of G-d’s creating…G-d saw that the light was good…And there was evening and there was morning, one day.

“…And the earth brought forth vegetation… And G-d saw that it was good… And there was evening and there was morning, a third day.

“…Let there be luminaries in the firmament of the heaven… And G-d saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, a fourth day.

“…Let the waters teem with living creatures, and fowl that fly… And G-d saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, a fifth day.

“…Let the earth bring forth living creatures…And G-d saw that it was good…Let us make man…And G-d saw all that He had made, and behold it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, a sixth day.”

The Medrash in Bereishis Rabba (9:6) discusses the difference between what the Torah deems “good” (throughout the six days of creation) and what the Torah deems “very good” (after the creation of man). The Medrash offers a few explanations: “Very good” refers to sleep, because when one sleeps a little he is able to toil exceedingly in Torah study. “Good” refers to when things are going well; “very good” refers to affliction. “Good” refers to the Garden of Eden; “very good” refers to purgatory. “Good” refers to the Angel of Life; “very good” refers to the Angel of Death.”

This Medrash is unquestionably enigmatic and perplexing. How can all of the pleasantries of life be referred to as “good” while all of the dreaded facets of life be referred to as “very good”?

The idea that this Medrash is espousing contains the basis for the implosion and unraveling of Western Society that we are privy to. When a society does not know how to set limits and “Just Say No” then it is doomed to disaster and destruction. The mighty empire of Rome, which ruled the ancient world for centuries, eventually succumbed not so much to external forces as it did to internal hedonism. The insatiable drive for narcissistic gratification and indulgence destroyed the fabric of its society until it was no longer able to maintain itself. The surrounding invading forces were simply the final blow to an already decrepit society.

Our permissive promiscuous world seems to be heading down that same slippery slope. All agree that, “we need change.” It has become the mantra and battle cry of all political parties. The disagreement is about what change is necessary. There is nothing that can salvage and save a morally bankrupt society except for the implementation of morals and restraint. Sadly, all of the vapid ideas we hear presented will do little to stem this trend.

Blessings are wonderful and we all pray that we merit a life of goodness and prosperity. But if one does not know how to handle the blessings he is granted, they can quickly become the greatest and most detrimental forces in a person’s life.

My Rebbe, Rabbi Berel Wein, often remarked, “I have been in the Rabbinate now for many decades. In that time I have seen how money can rip apart families, destroy parents and children, best friends, even grandparents and grandchildren. So everyone says, ‘let me blessed me with that curse.’ But I am witness to the fact that it is indeed often the greatest curse.”

When “good” is unbridled and without limit, it can have the most disastrous results. Within one thousand years of creation, in the generation of Noach, the world had sunk into a spiritual bankruptcy and morass beyond any hope of rectification. There was no longer any respect for people or property. The only thing that mattered was money, gratification, and indulgence. The world, which G-d founded on kindness and giving, could not continue to exist when its inhabitants became completely self-absorbed. The only hope for life and mankind was for that world to be destroyed and begun anew.

For the “good” of life to truly be positive, there must be built in restraints and protections so that one does not lose oneself in that good. It is only with those protective barriers that “good” becomes “very good.” Surely no one wants to suffer, but it is only because there is pain and difficulty in the world that we are able to appreciate our health and our wellbeing. In a similar vein, we all hope that we will merit eternal life in Gan Eden, but were it not for the fact that one who is sullied with sin and iniquity requires the purging of purgatory, most people would not seek a moral life of value and meaning. It is the fear of pain and suffering, and the knowledge that there is a Judge and a process of judgment, that grant us the ability to recognize and appreciate the blessings that we are endowed with. If man never needs to stop and rest, he would quickly forget his fragility and vulnerability. His need for sleep constantly reminds him that he is a temporal being with a mission to fulfill.

The creation of the world is the first subject read when the new cycle of Torah-reading begins. The lesson of what is “good” and what is “very good” touches on the greatness and centrality of Torah in our lives. Without the rigid boundaries and guidelines that the Torah dictates regarding every aspect of our lives, we would be unable to enjoy the wondrous and majestic creation that G-d created during those first six days.

If it can be eloquently said regarding child-rearing that, “If you want your children to have internal controls and inner freedom, you must first provide them with external controls,” it is surely true regarding life in general. If we want to have internal control and inner freedom, we must be meticulous to follow the “controls” that the Torah provides.

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About the Author: Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW is the Rabbi of Kehillat New Hempstead and the Social Worker at Yeshiva Bais Hachinuch in Monsey. He can be reached at stamtorah@gmail.com. Or visit him online at www.stamtorah.info.


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