Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Inclining Towards The Evil In Me

We had a couple of role reversals in our home last night.

While most Wednesdays it is on me, last night Sharon had to pick up Limor, our 7-year-old from gymnastics, bring her home and get both Limor and 10-year-old Revital fed, ready for bed, finishing homework etc. while I had a doctor’s appointment.

And of course, with Murphy alive and well and enforcing his law in our home, since Sharon usually does not have to do the evening routine solo, last night Limor had one of her very rare major "melt-downs".

When I called to check in with things at home after my appointment, Sharon said that she could really use me there ASAP, so home I went. I walked in to hear Limor crying and yelling in her bedroom as Sharon was coming back into the living room to help Revital with some homework. So I asked if she minded me going in to talk to Limor (sometimes it’s best to let one parent deal with a crisis from beginning to end, and any intervention should always be agreed upon), and Sharon gave me the green light to go for it.

I walked into the bedroom, Limor was still crying very hard so I very calmly asked her “What’s going on? Why are you having such a tantrum tonight?” Her answer – through the tears, the crying and the near hyper-ventilation was “My yetzer ha-ra (evil inclination) made me do it”.

I should say here that in 10 years of being a father I have learned that possibly the most important trait necessary for good parenting is the ability to not break out laughing when your child is very sad, or angry, or both – no matter how life-threateningly funny what the child says may be!

And by that measuring stick, I definitely passed the “Good Daddy” test last night because I didn’t even break a smile, even though this was easily one the funniest and most gosh-darmed adorable things I have ever heard a child say.

I even managed to help Limor calm down and get to sleep not long after that. I told her that I know she is much stronger than her yetzer ha-ra, and if she feels that it’s too strong for her, then her body is telling her that she is too tired to fight the yetzer ha-ra the way she otherwise could. Surprisingly enough, she bought this, and agreed to finish her bedtime routine and go to sleep. Crisis ended, Peace once again reigns.

But the whole thing got me to thinking (a rare enough occurrence, by any measure). We never discuss with the kids the idea of yetzer ha-ra. Not that we don’t believe in it, but simply because it doesn’t come up in conversation. It does not play a role in our daily lives. Yet this was not the first time that Limor has brought it up, and not the first time that she has very recently used it to explain behavior that she knew she should not be exhibiting. The obvious explanation for it being at the forefront of her thoughts is that she is learning about it in school.

Our girls go to what is referred to in Israel as a “State-Religious school”. That is to say, a school that is under the auspices of Israel’s Ministry of Education, it meets the requirements for secular studies, while placing an emphasis on religious studies and the teachers serve as Religious Zionist role models. While this definitely works for us, it does present certain challenges.

When I first started this blog, I defined myself as a “Monotype” (if you feel like a stroll down memory lane, you are welcome to read here my "pilot entry" to this blog), as opposed to being a “stereotype” since I don’t really fall into any of the religious or political stereotypes, which in Israel tend to be very clear-cut. Enrolling the kids in a State-Religious school means that the education they receive embodies the “stereotypical” religious and Zionist approach, some of which is in line with our beliefs, and some of which puts me a little bit on edge.

For example – this whole yetzer ha-ra thing. I am extremely uncomfortable with my kids learning that when they misbehave, it’s really not their fault – it’s their yetzer ha-ra. They are innocent victims, and their “evil inclination” is the fallback plan to excuse whatever they’ve done. It’s almost like the all-too-over-played “temporary insanity” card used to acquit people of all sorts of heinous crimes.

I want the girls to understand the concept of yetzer ha-ra, and to understand that it is something with which we all must struggle. But ultimately, I want them to also understand that they are responsible for their actions, for their behavior, and for whatever the consequences may be be for their actions and behavior. Just as they receive (and deserve) the full credit for the good that they do (and Thank God there is no shortage of that with our girls), they are also accountable for their tantrums and misbehaving.

Similarly, the manner in which Torah is often taught, or Jewish and Israeli history, or the Jewish-Palestinian issue, all have good foundations from an educational standpoint, but are certainly not the only ways to understand these subjects, and not always in sync with how Sharon and I approach the issues and want our girls to learn them.

And so if falls on our shoulders to “balance” the education they receive in school. What makes this a particularly daunting challenge is that it all needs to be balanced with teaching the girls the proper respect for their teachers and rabbis. Yes, as they grow older the girls will learn that there are in fact appropriate times and appropriate ways to disagree with their teachers, but with that should also come the understanding that disagreeing does not mean completely disregarding - or disrespecting what is being taught.

I hope that what I said last night to Limor didn’t put into her mind to go to school today and tell her teacher that what she taught about the yetzer ha-ra was “wrong”, yet hopefully I was able to still give her an alternate understanding of what the yetzer ha-ra may or may not be.

While I know this challenge will continue, even increase throughout the years that our girls are receiving an education outside of the home, I can take a certain comfort in the knowledge that if I am in fact wrong in my attempts to “balance” out what they get in school that it’s probably not my fault – it’s just my yetzer ha-ra

1 comment:

  1. Asher, first, I though your answer was spot on. It makes perfect sense. When we are tired, we cannot make good decisions. Our "yetzer hara" is stronger than we are. I know that I don't always make the best decisions when I'm tired. However, I can't help but wonder if Limor was using her "yetzer hara" as an excuse for poor behavior or decisions or if she was upset because she wasn't strong enough to control it. When I read it first, I thought the latter. And if that's the case, maybe she isn't learning to use the "yetzer hara" as an excuse but learning it as the struggle we all have to make the best decision we can make. (just another perspective)

    Second, I laughed along with you. My son said the same thing to me and I only hope that my answer was a good as yours. I will, however, keep it to use later.

    Finally, thanks for bringing me back to the Flinstones image of the devil and angel on Fred's shoulders. It's the image I always get when this topic is discussed. :-)

    Great post.