Rabbi Benny Berlin

By Rabbi Benny Berlin

Rabbi Kelemen once recounted a story where the principal of a prominent Jewish high school in the United States expressed a perplexing observation. Parents invested significant amounts of money in tuition fees to enroll their children in the school, where subjects like Chumash and Mussar along with calculus and chemistry are taught. However, the same parents, during a weekend visit to an amusement park, can deceitfully lie about their children’s ages to save a mere five dollars on admission fees, inadvertently undermining the value of a $15,000 education. This curious incongruity highlights the critical need for parents and schools to collaborate on each child’s education to solidify the ethical teachings educators strive to impart.

As the new school year approaches, the initial days resonate with excitement and the potential for fresh beginnings. Yet, a timeless truth remains, as Chazal astutely observed, “Kol haschalos kashos”—all beginnings are difficult. Transitioning from the relaxed atmosphere of summer vacation to the structured routines of academics, procuring school supplies, and acclimating to new instructors and their methodologies all pose initial challenges as we rush to get everything situated in time for the new school year. However, the profound wisdom of the Muzishetzer Rebbe offers a novel interpretation of this adage. He suggests that this saying does not merely acknowledge the inherent difficulties accompanying novel ventures but also underscores the prescriptive aspect of new beginnings. In essence, all beginnings must possess a sense of “kasheh”—strength or firmness—to establish a sturdy foundation.

Are we, as parents and educators, laying down a strong foundation for our children? Are we united as a cohesive force or inadvertently transmitting mixed messages? As we stand on the threshold of a new year, ushering our children into a phase of transition, the imperative to reinforce these foundations and uphold internal consistency becomes paramount. Our children keenly observe, and a robust ethical foundation can pave the way for an exceptionally enriching year ahead.

The Gemara in Sukkah 56b imparts an important lesson through Abaye’s statement, “The speech of a child in the marketplace is learned either from that of his father or from that of his mother.” Psychological studies further underscore the significance of this statement.

I read an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) that said, “Neonates are born with an instinctive capacity and desire to imitate adult human behavior. That infants can, and do, imitate an array of adult facial expressions has been demonstrated in neonates as young as a few hours old, i.e., before they are even old enough to know cognitively that they themselves have facial features that correspond with those they are observing. It is a most useful instinct, for the developing child must learn and master a vast repertoire of behavior in short order.”

The JAMA report also cautions against the potential negative implications of pediatric emulation and writes, “Whereas infants have an instinctive desire to imitate observed human behavior, they do not possess an instinct for gauging a priori whether a behavior ought to be imitated. They will imitate almost anything, including behaviors that most adults would regard as destructive and antisocial.”

Infants are naturally inclined to imitate adult behaviors, with the ability to mimic facial expressions emerging shortly after birth. However, this innate imitative tendency lacks the capacity to distinguish between positive and negative behaviors, underscoring the pivotal role of responsible role models.

Numerous psychological studies have highlighted robust correlations between parental conduct and the choices made by their children. For instance, parents who smoke inadvertently raise the likelihood of their children adopting smoking habits, while a healthy diet in parents positively influences their child’s dietary choices. These associations extend to a broad array of behaviors, including alcohol consumption, seatbelt usage, and physical activity levels.

As we stand at the precipice of a new school year, let us prioritize consistency and intentionality when it comes to paving the way for a year with a strong foundation that is a partnership between our children’s teachers and ourselves, as parents. Through the synergy of parents and schools, with that firm foundation, we can shape the ethical development of the next generation and set them on a path toward a bright future.

Rabbi Benny Berlin is the rabbi of BACH Jewish Center in Long Beach, New York.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here