It’s been noted that parents who only have one child don’t have the complete parenting experience. That’s because when something is broken, they easily know who did it. Those who have multiple children, however, get to deal with multiple blank angelic looks and innocent replies of “it wasn’t me,” and have no way of knowing what really happened.
One of the biggest challenges of parenting is dealing with sibling rivalry. Nothing quite warms parents’ hearts like seeing their children play nicely together. Conversely, nothing raises parents’ blood pressure as much as dealing with the squabbles and quibbles of their children.
When those rivalries take place, it doesn’t matter what the parent’s occupation is – lawyer, financial analyst, actuary, surgeon, real estate agent or rosh yeshiva. At that moment, he/she becomes a detective and goalie whose sole motive is to de-escalate the situation while trying to preserve his/her sanity and eardrums.
One such scenario that occurs periodically in our home is when one of our children is playing with Magna-Tiles and constructs a delicate structure even above his own height by carefully laying one piece upon the other. Then, suddenly, a sibling who was not invited to participate in the building or perhaps wanted some of the pieces for his own building, takes a swipe at a bottom piece, causing the whole structure to come crashing down. Screams erupt and we are summoned to try and restore peace. What took ten minutes to build was knocked down in two seconds.
There exists an unfair balance in our world between building and destroying. While building needs planning and painstaking attention, and is accomplished step by step and layer by layer, destroying is easier and quicker. What is true about toys is true about great buildings and structures. What can take years to build can be felled in moments. We were painfully reminded of this with the recent tragic collapse of a building in Surfside, Florida.
It’s true not only in the physical world but in the spiritual world as well. It takes commitment and effort to improve one’s middos and to grow in one’s service of Hashem. Yet it’s so easy to lose one’s spiritual gains in one fell swoop.
Similarly, it takes years of effort to foster a positive reputation which can be destroyed in minutes, especially in our world of social media and instant communication.
The yetzer hara is quite proficient in what he does. After all, he’s been in business for over 5780 years. But he also has the advantage of having a far easier job than his more pious counterpart, the yetzer tov. As one of my rabbeim once said – the yetzer hara has home court advantage.
The pasuk states that one small fly that lands in a large bowl of perfume can cause the whole bowl to become sullied and unwanted (Koheles 10:1). The yetzer hara is that fly (Berachos 61a). When he lands in a metaphoric bowl of delectable food or sweet smelling perfume, all the contents are no longer palatable or desired.
One fly in a bowl, one push from beneath and the whole carefully crafted building will topple over and the whole bowl will become ruined.
I’ve noticed something else when these sibling rivalries occur. Even in those circumstances when a jealous sibling knocks down a tower, once the architect finishes crying and carrying on about it, he immediately begins construction anew, at times with the help of the sibling who just knocked down the previous structure.
In fact, sometimes the builder himself knocks down his own structure. Why would he knock down his own creation? Because he wants to build something bigger and better.
Hashem tells the prophet Yirmiyah: “See, I have appointed you today over the nations and over the kingdoms, to uproot and to smash, and to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant” (Yirmiyah 1:10 – the haftarah of the first of the Three Weeks).
Alshich notes that it is clear from the pasuk that the purpose of the destruction was ultimately in order to rebuild. In that sense, the painful words of prophecy that Yirmiyah was forced to convey was ultimately for the good of the nation.
The greatness of the Jewish people lies in our resilience. We have been uprooted, smashed, destroyed, and exiled repeatedly. Yet somehow, we find a way to build and to plant, often upon the charred remains of what was destroyed.
Every year we move from the destruction of Tisha b’Av toward the days of Elul with anticipation that we can build and plant anew. There’s so much that has been destroyed. But we immediately pull ourselves up and start the process of rebuilding again.
There’s a lot we can learn from our children and their toys. (I think I need to start by buying more Magna-Tiles.)