For the last few weeks, I've had the privilege of teaching a class based on Rav Arush's latest book on parenting with love, called in the Hebrew, 'Chinuch B'Ahava', which G-d willing will appear in English in the coming few months.
The book has changed so many of my ideas about how to be a 'good' parent, and has cut away so many of my pre-existing, non-Jewish notions about parenting, that it's sparked off quite an intense amount of teshuva (repentance).
One of the things that I never realized is that what's going on with the parents at the time of conception profoundly affects the sanctity of the soul that can come down at that point.
Children that are born in purity will have a much, much easier time of it. They will have a natural 'attraction' to spirituality and good, and will find it much easier to do the right thing, and live happy lives.
By contrast, children who are not born in purity have an in-built disadvantage. Right from the start, they will have much stronger yetzer haras (evil inclinations), a much stronger 'pull' to destructive, dangerous things, and will find it much harder to give the soul priority over the body.
So how do we help our kids to be born in 'purity'? First of all, we need to be keeping the laws of family purity, including going to the mikvah every month. But that's not all. In a nutshell, we will have the best chance of bringing down a child with an optimally healthy soul if:
Our marital relations occur according to halacha (Jewish law), namely, observing the laws of family purity; in a dark room; and with the couple always covered by a sheet or blanket.
In addition to this, Rebbe Nachman also advises a couple to:
Ritually wash their hands
And beforehand (if not at the actual time…) they should also pray that Hashem should help them to have relations in a holy way, that will bring down a very holy soul.
A lot of this stuff was 'new' to me - so clearly, I wasn't doing it 12 and 9 years' ago. Hmm. I pondered on it for months and months; I put myself through quite a few guilt trips; I regretted quite a few things, then I decided (after a lot of praying) that G-d had planned it all this way, and I just had to be happy with His decision.
But it was still bothering me, that I hadn't given my kids the best spiritual start in life - and it's hard enough keeping close to holy and Hashem these days, even if you were born in 'purity'.
So when I reread this section of the book, I decided to email my spiritual guide, to see if there was a program of teshuva he could recommend, to try and fix the problem. I've been through a lot with my spiritual guide. I've moved community; I've stopped doing things I otherwise would have done; I started doing things I otherwise wouldn't have.
In short, whatever he tells me, I trust him that he's my shaliach (messenger) from upstairs - and sometimes, he tells me to do things that are excruciatingly difficult.
This time, he sent me back something very simple: "Buy 100 'Magic Mikvah' CDs, and give them out. Hashem will clean things up for you, a turn-for-a-turn."
Usually, when I give out CDs, I go to a local mall and I stick them on a bunch of windscreens. I can give out 100 CDs in less than 10 minutes, and with minimal 'embarrassment' potential.
This time, I wanted to give them out with a bit more self-sacrifice. I hate making a show of myself. I hate standing out from the crowd, or drawing any attention to myself.
But when you're dealing with your kids - what wouldn't you do for them?
So I took the CDs, and I made an agreement with myself to go and stand in the local supermarket for an hour and a half, giving them out.
It was every bit as embarrassing as I thought it would be. Two women tried to give me charity. Lots of people turned up their nose (and a lot of them were 'religious' looking…) One man in a black kippa came over to me and started arguing with me about why I was giving out CDs in the supermarket.
That was the 'downside', or the 'scrubbing' part. The great part was the 36 people who took a CD, including one woman who I wouldn't have guessed was interested in a million years, who asked me if I had anything she could give to her husband, as well.
When the hour and a half was up, I took the rest of the CDs and I stuck some of them on windscreens in an area with a lot of Russian immigrants, who know very little about Judaism; and the rest I took to a place known for being 'anti'.
I felt like James Bond, dashing around with my Torah CDs, trying to stick them on windscreens before I got caught and arrested for trying to spread a bit of G-d's light around.
I came home exhausted.
Initially, I was quite disappointed that I'd only given out 36 CDs at the supermarket. Then I realized: 36 was a great number! It was twice chai, or life - namely, my two girls.
You know me, and my lack of patience. I'm waiting for the asthma attacks and other issues to all disappear already - and they haven't. Yet. But what has gone is the heavy feeling I had that I'd irreparably stuffed my kids up. Thank G-d, there is always a way back. Thank G-d, there is always a way forward.
And thank G-d, that He has so many good messengers down here telling us how to sort out all the messes we make.