Dear parents: There is no question that our child-rearing years can often seem to be the ultimate roller coaster ride. Just as we find ourselves reaching a potential breakthrough, in which our children seem to display the maturity/kindness/responsibility/etc. for which we had labored mightily to see from them, they can so often slip right into their next difficult phase and frustrate anew we who care most for them.
However, what we must always bear in mind, as challenging as it may sometimes be, is that the difficult stages of our children’s development so often serve as a springboard to their ultimate maturation as a well-rounded adult.
This idea may very well originate from this week’s Torah portion, Parshat Beshalach. After the Splitting of the Sea, the people of Israel found themselves in a place called Mara, unable to drink the bitter water for which the place was named. G-d instructed Moses to place the branch of a bitter tree into the water, and the water miraculously became sweet, enabling the people of Israel to drink it. Amazingly, this bitter branch turned the bitter water sweet!
If we think about it however, this is one of the many amazing miracles in the creation of all the food with which G-d provides us — not merely that water from so long ago. The blessing we say before eating fruit from trees is boreh pri ha’etz, thanking the One who creates the fruit of the tree. We don’t just thank G-d for creating fruit, we also recognize the miracle of creating the fruit, something sweet, from the tree that has a bitter taste. This is similarly true with the blessing said over fruits of the ground and vegetables, boreh pri ha’adamah, where we also recognize that G-d has created something so sweet from something so bitter, the earth.
And so it is with our children. The moments from which we can derive the greatest satisfaction in our raising of them are often a direct result of the times of greater challenge and how we worked with them during those times to persevere. In fact, there is an even greater connection between the growth of nature’s fruits and that of not only our children, but each one of us as well.
In Deuteronomy, the Torah provides an interesting rule of war. When laying siege to a city, we are commanded not to cut down any fruit trees, for we might need to eat from them, and a person is like the tree of a field. How are we to understand this?
Our sages explain that there are two main components to any fruit-bearing tree; the roots that allow for the tree to receive its sustenance, and the fruit that it bears. The roots are always the most important element of any tree and take the longest to grow strong; only then, with healthy, strong roots, can the tree and its fruit remain. So it is with a person’s spiritual growth as well.
Just as we are reminded by the verse that we should plan for the future, as we might need the trees, the secret is not to act rashly in our own growth either; it requires careful planning. Then, just as strong roots are essential for a tree’s growth, so too must we slowly build up a strong foundation in our service of G-d, as well. This then, is the recipe for greatness: hard work through challenging times, laying a solid foundation for ourselves and our children, and planning for the future.
May we all succeed in these endeavors and achieve the spiritual greatness of which we are capable. JN
Rabbi Yisroel Weiner is the principal of the Phoenix Hebrew Academy.