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The Art of Parenting - Restoring a Ruptured Relationship

Parshas Vayakhel (Exodus 35:1-38:20) opens with Moshe (Moses) gathering the entire nation of Israel to hear Hashem's (God's) instructions for contributing towards the Mishkan (Tabernacle). Over the forty years he led the Jewish nation, there were many times that Moshe spoke without gathering the entire nation to listen together. Why did Moshe have to share these specific words directly with each and every person? What was unique about this communication regarding building the Tabernacle that required everyone’s presence?

The Ramban (Nachmanides 1194-1270) shares a beautiful insight. This gathering occurred on the day after Yom Kippur, The Day of Atonement, on which Moshe came down from Har Sinai (Mount Sinai) with the replacement tablets after the first ones were shattered in response to the Golden Calf. The Ramban says that before the Golden Calf  the Jewish people knew there was a plan to build a Tabernacle, but after their terrible sin they assumed Hashem wouldn't want to dwell amongst them. The Children of Israel thought their post-sin relationship with Hashem had been irreparably damaged and that Hashem wouldn’t want them to build a Mishkan for His presence. To reassure them, Moshe came down the mountain and immediately assembled everyone together so that every person would  hear directly from his mouth that their fears were unfounded. Hashem wanted the Mishkan built immediately with donations from each person inspired to give. Hashem would still dwell among them and desired their contributions. This is why every person had to assemble and listen to Moshe. More than the beginning of a construction project, this gathering announced that the nation's relationship with Hashem, while severely impacted by the Golden Calf,  was nevertheless restored to its earlier state of intimacy and love.

This is a beautiful lesson for parents.  Often, we are confused about disciplining children.  Some parents don't want to discipline or punish at all, as they're scared about creating a rift in the parent-child relationship.  This fear leads them to overlook unacceptable behavior because they’re afraid of the effects of discipline.  There are other parents who are quick to discipline, but who do it in ways that indeed harm the parent-child relationship, leaving wounds that fester and drive wedges in the relationship.  Contrast both those approaches with the model of the Torah! The Jewish people did a terrible sin.  They were punished swiftly and harshly, and in many ways we are still living with the reverberations of that sin  However, after the initial punishment they weren’t left to wonder if the relationship with Hashem was still intact and they weren’t left to withdraw and isolate in the belief that Hashem no longer loved them.  On the contrary!  Moshe’s first act was to bring together the entire nation, men and women, so that they would all hear directly from his mouth that Hashem’s love for them was complete and unchanged, and that His desire to dwell among them was still exactly the same as it was before the sin.

A healthy parent-child relationship is not one without discipline.  A good parent-child relationship is not one where the child is happy with every parental decision.  But in a good parent-child relationship, the parent always circles back and reconnects to the child after a time of distance.  A mother or father who takes responsibility for the relationship will seek out their child after a rupture to demonstrate that their love is still strong and the relationship is as strong as it ever was. Children don't benefit from either a lack of discipline or discipline that divides the relationship, but just as the Jewish people after the Golden Calf, all children need the assurance that no matter how serious it is, discipline doesn't threaten the relationship. The parent-child relationship, just as our relationship with Hashem, is so strong that it can withstand everything. Just as Hashem reassured the Children of Israel of His love and desire for us, it is the  role of a parent to reconnect and reassure a child that despite discipline, our love and commitment to the relationship will never waver. Difficult moments occur in every relationship. The key is not to avoid conflict, but to assume the responsibility to restore the relationship after ruptures. Parents don't need to fear discipline or their child's anger, but parents do need to lead the way to healing and reconnection once emotions simmer down.

Are you seeking a deeper understanding of a healthy parent-child relationship and how you can parent your children with courageous leadership combined with emotional sensitivity, following Biblical wisdom? Choose from Parenting for Children to Listen for parents of children ages 10 and under or Thriving with Teenagers for children 11+.

This week's article is dedicated to the memory of Ortal Bobtas BenAyun (24) of Jerusalem who was murdered by Hamas terrorists at the Supernova music festival on October 7, 2023. Ortal's sister, Shirel, wrote "“Ortal fought cancer and she defeated it — she just wanted to live and to make her dreams come true and to travel around the world and to have a family... My sister was the soul you would want to meet on a bad day, she was everything — and not just because she was my sister, because of her good heart, her desire to lift the spirits of every person she met.” May Hashem comfort her parents, sisters, and entire family along with all the mourners of Israel.


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