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A New Perspective on Chores

Every Friday morning, my children and I set aside our week’s homeschooling studies and work together to prepare for Shabbos (Sabbath). With music playing in the background, one child bakes dessert, another prepares a salad, a third washes dishes or sets the table. We have been doing this since they were very young. Years ago, I would cook most foods for Shabbos on Thursday evening to allow myself the extra time it would require to accept the “help” of my  toddlers and preschoolers on Friday. It would have been much simpler and quicker for me to cook entirely by myself, but I wanted my children to view themselves as contributors to our family from a young age. Their “help” before it was of any assistance, paved the way for them to grow into people who competently and compassionately continue to help others. 

In Parshas Terumah (Exodus 25:1-27:19) the Jewish people are commanded to build the Mishkan (Tabernacle). Hashem (God) doesn’t need a dwelling on earth and if He did, He could create it perfectly in a moment. The commandment to build a Mishkan is not for Hashem’s sake, it is for our own. The Sefer HaChinuch (Torah commentary anonymously written in 13th century Spain) explains that the commandment to contribute towards and build the Tabernacle ourselves is because we needed to build the Mishkan, not because Hashem needed it built. The introductory words of this week's Torah portion are, "And they should take for me a donation" instead of “And they should give…” precisely because the givers benefited from providing the donations. The commandment to give was for the people's sake. 

Everyone had to contribute to the donations and building project. The Torah delineates thirteen items required for the Tabernacle and Jewish tradition draws parallels to the thirteen tribes who contributed.  The Tabernacle was a project for everyone, no exceptions.  Everyone had to give because by giving one receives more than one gives. The Jewish people were fresh from generations of slavery and poverty. They needed to learn to see themselves as people with great resources and skills.  By instructing all the Jews to contribute to building His edifice, the Mishkan, Hashem was demonstrating to us our abilities, our wealth, and our skills.  Through being givers of such magnitude, we could now recognize our worthiness and value.

This lesson is what drives mothers to include their children in family activities. In each family there are people with different strengths, weaknesses, and contributions to make.  Just as the Tabernacle's supplies needed to come from all thirteen tribes, men and women, leaders and laymen, our homes are also built when everyone has a role and contributes in their own way.  Of course we can cook and clean without our children's help but our children need to help for their own benefit.

There are two ways mothers can ask for help.  One way is to focus on our needs, by asking for help when we feel overwhelmed.  That isn't wrong and may sometimes be necessary.  However there is a completely different way to ask for assistance that is of far greater value, which is when we ask because it's important for our children to contribute, not simply because we want help.  It’s valuable for our children to know they have worth, resources, skills, and talents that contribute to our families.  What if I ask my child for help not because I desperately need help, but because my child needs to contribute? The request may be the same, but the tone and effect is completely different.

When we are focused on our needs, we usually ask the child who is most capable or easily available, but when we focus on our children's need to contribute we approach situations differently. Parents should think proactively about what each child can contribute to the family and how they can make that happen in a way that is right for each child. Sit down with your spouse and discuss the strengths of each child and how they can best help the family. Brainstorm jobs your children can help with, whether or not they're jobs you particularly care about. You may not need your drawers organized, but if your daughter is a good organizer, then this is a job for her. If you have a young boy full of energy, appoint him in charge of bringing in groceries or taking out the garbage. Think through chores from the perspective of what your child is best able to do. A bit of planning allows each child to contribute to the family, not only to help the family, but for their own sakes. Everyone needs to be a giver. Everyone has what to contribute and by doing so each receives far more than they give.

Do you want to learn how to work together with your spouse to build your family proactively and with thoughtful intent? Watch Parenting As Partners for a unique and comprehensive presentation guiding you to develop a strong parenting team with your spouse. See what everyone's raving about... "This is the parenting playbook that never existed."

This article is dedicated to the memory of Yonatan Elazari, 19. Yonatan was only in basic training on October 7 and was spending the holiday of Simchat Torah with his yeshivah in Ofakim. When Ofakim was infiltrated by Hamas, Yonatan went outside to attempt to fight off the terrorists though he was only armed with some rocks. He later found a weapon discarded by a wounded policeman and climbed to a rooftop to shoot at the terrorists below. He was killed on the rooftop. May his memory be for a blessing and may his selflessness and sacrifice serve as a merit for his people.

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Feb 16
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

This makes so much sense. I love it

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