Summer vacation is a dangerous thing. Currently I am watching my kids create an indoor pool/slip n’ slide out of my kitchen and dining room floor, sliding across the soapy mess- some with shorts on, some without. As they keep adding more water to the floor despite my threats and repeated objections, I am unsure whether I should laugh at their creativity or cry. It is moments such as this that I find myself wanting to blame my parents. Even though I am a grown woman, my evil inclination still likes to give me a “rational” reason to blame someone for my problem. Who better to blame than my parents?
This begs the famous question: Are our tendencies a result of nature or nurture? Are we born with them, or do we acquire them as a result of our upbringing? For the purposes of this article, I am going to stick with behavioral tendencies such as anger and other reactive behaviors. I feel that other issues, such as gender and sexual preference are beyond the scope of this article, and therefore I will not address them here.
Back to my dilemma. As I watch helplessly while rocking my baby to sleep, the kids are taking full advantage of the situation and pouring yet another bucket filled with dish soap across the floor. I struggle to maintain my composure and not break out into full-blown yelling as I tell them yet again to stop putting more water on the floor....but no one’s listening. Alright, here comes the yelling: “I told you to STOP PUTTING MORE WATER ON THE FLOOR!” But as my second son catches my eye, I see his mischievous smile with that sparkle in his eyes, and all of a sudden I’m trying not to laugh myself. But it’s too late- he caught the smile trying to escape from my lips. I always was a bad liar... I finally gave up trying to fight it. After they were finished playing, I spent the next 45 minutes cleaning out the only flood in the entire country of Israel. Well, at least my floors were clean.
Ah, yes, The Blame Game. It’s the story of our lives. No matter what happens to us, we’re constantly looking for someone to blame. Think back to when you were a kid- what didn’t you blame your parents for? You weren’t popular? Blame your parents for putting you in the wrong school! You didn’t wear the latest fashions? Blame your parents for not making unlimited amounts of money! You didn’t get a car when you were able to drive? Those darned parents again! And when we get older, The Blame Game follows us. Your college professor gave you a C-? He’s obviously impossible to please! Your boss is the reincarnation of Haman? Maybe the boss and professor were separated at birth...or maybe we should stop blaming everyone else for our problems!
I think the problem of this question lies within the question itself. It is almost as if we’re looking for a way out of taking responsibility for our character flaws. Because if the answer is “nurture”, then hey, we don’t have to take responsibility for anything! Just heap the blame back on those rotten parents! Believe me, I love to do that sometimes- especially when I’m ready to have a major Iraqi freak-out session because my kids are driving me INSANE. My yetzer is yelling in my ear even louder than I am yelling at the kids: “See, if your parents didn’t raise you in a yelling house, you wouldn’t have this problem to begin with! It’s all their fault!” Oh, that yetzer, I just want to strangle him! But seriously, it’s all too easy to look for a way out.
In reality, the answer is both. We are a product of nature and nurture. Even using the word “nature” is misleading. To me, “nature” is really the way Hashem has individually programmed us. He has given us a unique package based on our past lives and our soul corrections. Kabbalah teaches that we come into this world with baggage that we didn’t resolve from our previous incarnations. If one suitcase happens to be anger, like mine, which is waaay over the 50 pound limit, we are obliged to drag it with us from one stop to the next, until we figure out how to get rid of it.
So how do we consolidate Hashem’s “nature” with nurture? Here’s how: Not only does Hashem give us our good and bad tendencies in a neatly wrapped package, but He also provides the perfect environment for BOTH types of tendencies to flourish. For example: since I had a tendency from a previous life to become angry, Hashem put me in an environment with parents who would bring this tendency to the surface. This brings my soul correction to my attention, thus giving me a chance to fix it.
If I were to grow up with the Brady Bunch for parents, I might never know I had an anger issue to work on. Therefore, when I were to go back Upstairs, I would be dumbfounded when the Heavenly Court asked me why I didn’t fix my anger issues.
We can also look at this in a positive light. My parents are extremely generous and welcoming with guests; I like to think I followed in their footsteps. But if I look at the big picture, I could say that I already had this tendency from a previous life, and Hashem put me in the environment that would nurture this tendency and bring it to the surface once again.
It’s really quite amazing, once you think about it. Hashem has to match us up with our parents and families and communities and everything on so many levels, it’s mind-boggling. This is why emuna is so vital to our emotional and spiritual health. Only with emuna can we understand that Hashem made us with certain undesirable traits for our benefit. Only with emuna can we understand that every test in life is designed to make us stronger and bring us closer to Hashem.The next time you find yourself wanting to blame someone for the things that aren’t perfect in your life, just remember- Hashem put you in the perfect situation to stimulate your soul correction. It’s up to you to take it from there.