7 Shvat 5781 / Wednesday, January 20, 2021 | Torah Reading: Bo
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Measuring Success    

Measuring Success

What constitutes a successful child? What is successful parenting? We start with being “happy with our lot” no matter how things appear or how difficult our children might be...


Inspired by a lecture on Raising Children by Rabbi Lazer Brody entitled “Two Sons”


Success means various things to different people: For some, it’s fame, fortune, a college degree, a great career, vacations, and lots of material stuff. Judaism teaches us a different measure of success. For those who read my article “Stop Working So Hard”, you probably got the message on how working too hard for the wrong things and from the misdirected viewpoint that we control outcomes can be a road to disappointment. We learn that failure is not really a bad thing because it is G-d’s way of redirecting us. We learn how G-d measures success and that real success comes from who we are inside.


The way Moses merited to become a leader of the Jewish nation is not what we would expect. He was the most humble of men, and his humility was what G-d rewarded. The one act that won tremendous favor in the Eyes of Hashem was when Moses, shepherding the flock of his father-in-law Yisro, ran after a lamb that had lost its way. Moses carried it lovingly back to the herd. This gentleness and concern for the welfare of a tiny creature was what propelled Moses forward because it was an act of pure unselfishness.


Reasonable effort toward our goals coupled with consistently partnering with G-d is the most likely path to success. Our success is related to emuna, our good deeds, our contribution, our refined character traits, getting close to Hashem, and raising our children to be respectful, kind, and giving. Hands down, for me personally, the most direct way to success has been self-awareness and working to refine the garments of the soul---our thoughts, speech, and deeds. When we do that, Hashem often takes care of the rest, and our perspective on life changes for the better.


The Torah teaches that the word “offspring” does not necessarily define our children but rather our good deeds because they live on eternally. All that we do in the service of Hashem lasts forever. Amazing, right? When we use our talents to become better people (develop our menschlichkeit), we partner with G-d in the creation of an unselfish, moral, and ethical world, starting with ourselves. We become successful in developing an honest relationship with others and with G-d.


We get what we give is a simple way of understanding success. When the earth rebelled against G-d and did not create fruit trees the way G-d intended, mankind was seriously affected. G-d wanted the tree itself (the wood), representing mankind, to taste just like the fruit (representing the children) so that when we use the term “fruit tree” we would mean the whole tree. Every part, then, would be delicious. Adults and children alike would grow to be kind and giving. Yet only one tree fit this description, and that was the precious etrog tree, whose trunk and whose fruit both taste sweet. The fact that the only edible part of all other fruit trees is the fruit itself shows us how precious the fruit (our children) truly are. The fruit tree, being that it was not created as Hashem desired, indicates that we live in an imperfect world----one that we must strive to infuse with sweetness. We must be careful with our “fruit” (our children) and with the messages we send their way. We have to tone down our own coarseness (the tasteless wood) when we teach our children.  A measure of our success is based upon how careful we are in educating our children and others.


Success comes from a gentle approach. We merit G-d’s assistance when we treat our children with the respect, love, and understanding that their tender neshamas (souls) deserve. The Torah tells us to “teach our children according to their way.” What is “their way”? “Their way” means that we guide them according to the unique kind of soul G-d gave them. We try to understand them on a deep level in order to guide the most rebellious and difficult children in a positive, caring manner. We emphasize only their good points and help them defeat their strong yetzer hara (evil inclination).


Success is a product of being “happy with our lot” no matter how things appear and no matter how difficult our children might be. We learn not to compare ourselves or them to others and to trust that Hashem will assist us as we converse with Him on a daily basis. We remain upbeat, happy, and focused upon success. We look for ways to improve, learn G-d’s method of educating us through our children, and become grateful for both His rod and His staff that He uses to guide us toward success.


Hashem wants the best for us. When we do His will, He is more likely to fulfill ours:  It’s the ATFAT Principle, a Turn for a Turn, also known as Measure for Measure (middah k’neged middah). When we accept that G-d’s guidance on the road to success is administered only with love even when it feels otherwise, then when we fall, we can pick ourselves up, brush ourselves off, and keep on keepin’ on. A good life is a life of meaning,  joy, perseverance, momentum, and contribution. When we have all of these components in place, we have an awesome recipe for genuine success.

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