Sunday, November 12, 2017

The School's Recess Duty

I have been in middle school now for about 12 years.  Before that I was in high school for about 10 years. Now, you might say that I was working in a middle and high school, but I maintain that when I “live” with middle school students (or high school) I feel as if I am one of them. I feel their accomplishments and their pain. I imagine what it is like to be in their shoes.  Each day I enter school with the same butterflies they feel, and the same worries on my mind.  As a middle schooler I often worry about recess and lunch. Recess and lunch, you might ask?!?!  We typically think that when we ask students what their favorite subject in school is, they respond, “Lunch and recess.” However, that is not the case for a number of middle schoolers.  Some dread those times of day, as they look around the room, searching for someone to with whom to sit and someone who will include him/her in a game.

Natalie Hampton, a sixteen year old in California, developed an app called “Sit With Us” to help students find students with whom to sit during lunch.   Natalie shared that she created this app because she spent most of her seventh grade year sitting alone at lunch.  She suffered from depression and stress, and shared that, “When I walked into a classroom, I was planning an escape route.”  The app also searches for  those who are “happy and willing to invite anyone to join the lunch table.  Users can designate themselves as “ambassadors” who can create “open lunches” and invite others to join. And, because it is on the phone, it is private, and no one need feel like a “loser” for using the app.

   Then there’s ten year old Christian Bucks.  When his family was thinking of moving to Germany he was worried about making friends. A school he looked at had a solution called the “buddy bench.” If a child was sitting on that bench alone during recess it was a sign that other children should ask him to play.  Christian’s family never moved to Germany, but he introduced the “buddy bench” to his school in America. There are now over 2,000 schools with buddy benches in the United States.  

For a child who is feeling as if he hasn’t found his place, recess can be a very lonely time of day. Research indicates the importance of recess for academic/cognitive and physical benefits.  The physical benefits are obvious.  The American Academy of Pediatrics Policy Statement on Recess highlights the cognitive benefits of recess by stating that in order for children to process that which they have learned in class, they need time for “cognitive processing”  which needs “a period of interruption after a period of concentrated instruction.”  Recess actually makes children more attentive in class- even if there is no physical activity and they just socialize with friends.

We often forget the social and emotional benefits of recess as well.  At recess they “practice and role play essential social skills...communication skills, including negotiation, cooperation, sharing and problems solving as well as coping skills, such as perseverance and self-control.”

But, what about the children who struggle with those skills? The children who go outside to recess and stay on the side by themselves?  And, the children who prefer to play games on their iPads instead of interacting with others?  This is where the idea of “structured recess” comes in.  Providing programming during recess allows for children who may have a hard time during this unstructured time.  Research by Stanford University in The Journal of School Health  demonstrates that a recess program can help children feel more engaged, safer and more positive about school.  It is a “critical contributor to positive school climate.”

I am proud to say that in the past few years we have made some progress in the middle school in this area.  This year, we have embarked on a more ambitious effort to provide structured activities DAILY for those who wish.  Our Middle School Recess Program contains: a.  A daily game room with mini hockey, foosball, nock hockey and assorted board games, b. Basketball leagues for sixth (Tuesday/ Thursday) and seventh grade (Monday/Wednesday), Thursday c. Zumba each Thursday  d. Baking for sixth grade e.  Makerspace daily  f. An art component still being developed.  

The other adults in the building have been wondering why I have felt so passionate about making this happen. It is simple. I am in middle school too. I know what it is like to enter a room and not know who to talk to.  I know what it is like to not be sure which table to choose- where will I feel comfortable? I know what it is like to feel anxious about what to do at recess- especially if I am not athletic.   And, so, we needed to make this structured recess program happen.  For middle schoolers like me.

(Parents often wonder, if my child likes being alone, is my child lonely?  What if he prefers to be by himself?  At home, this might be the middle schooler who enjoys reading, art, or just watching TV, while his siblings have sleepovers or are going to the movies and making plans.  There are children who are “home bodies.” I think the first piece is to ascertain whether the child is unhappy- through speaking with him. There are some children who won’t reveal their true feelings. How does he feel about hanging out at home?  You want to find out if his being alone is happening at school as well.  “What did you do at recess today?” “Who are you sitting next to at lunch?” Again, sometimes you can get some information. Reaching out to the school is a good idea as well to find out whether he seems alone in school or is hanging out with the rest of the students.  

On one hand, children have different personalities and some are happy to be relaxing at home without Saturday night plans. On the other hand, if the feedback from school is consistent with the fact that he is alone in school all the time, despite his being content, he is missing out on learning and practicing the social skills needed for interacting with others.  In that case, the parent can encourage some invitations.  That might need to start slow with an activity like bowling or a movie, where not a lot of talking is demanded).

It says in Bereishit 2:18, “ לֹא־ט֛וֹב הֱי֥וֹת הָֽאָדָ֖ם לְבַדּ֑וֹ אֶֽעֱשֶׂה־לּ֥וֹ עֵ֖זֶר כְּנֶגְדּֽוֹ” "It is not good for man to be alone; I shall make him a helpmate opposite him."  It is the only thing in the Torah described as “not good”- being alone.  There is nothing more painful than the feeling of being alone.  Rav Binny Freedman points out that in Parashat Vayishlach 32:25 it describes the pain of Yaakov as, “וַיִּוָּתֵ֥ר יַֽעֲקֹ֖ב לְבַדּ֑וֹ” “And, Yaakov was left all alone.”  That is when he struggled with the angel. Rav Soloveitchik, z”l, points out that the identity of this man that he struggles with is kept mysterious, as it is meant to be Yaakov himself.  

When we feel lonely, and we struggle within ourselves- wondering why no one wants to be with us, it is a miserable feeling.  This feeling is magnified during the pre-adolescent and adolescent stages when children are searching for themselves and dependent on peers and friendships to define them.  As adults, our primary role is to help them discover themselves, to realize how wonderful they are and to develop that self-esteem so that they can stop struggling within themselves. However, our job is also to make for them an עֵ֖זֶר כְּנֶגְדּֽוֹ.  First, to stress to our other students their obligation to reach out to someone who has not been included and be their  עֵ֖זֶר כְּנֶגְדּֽוֹ. We should all have that conversation with our children at home. And, that is also what our recess programming is all about- helping them find that עֵ֖זֶר כְּנֶגְדּֽוֹ.  That is our recess duty.

Advisory Update:

Sixth Grade- Students learned to use google classroom as a time management tool.

Seventh Grade- Students debriefed the Frost Valley experience and heard a presentation by Mr. Jeff Slater from the Bergen County Housing, Health and Human Services Center to introduce the students to the homeless shelter they will be visiting as part of their unit on empathy.

Eighth Grade-  Students discussed the phenomenon of test anxiety and why tests do not define them, in preparation for the PSAT exam this week.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

The Key To Unspoiling

This week I had the privilege of studying with my daughters for their Chumash and Navi tests.  This privilege was not bequeathed upon me because I worked hard for my Masters in Jewish Education and have spent many years teaching Tanach.  I was granted this honor because I’m a mom- as simple as that.    

Those of you who know me or have been reading my column for some years know that I am constantly on alert for material for my weekly column.   While studying both Chumash and Navi the same theme appeared and I took that as I sign that that topic was meant to be part of this week’s column.

One daughter was learning Melachim I 1:5.  These pesukim tell the story of Adoniyahu’s attempt to usurp the kingship from his half brother Shlomo in Dovid HaMelech’s old age.  It describes Adoniyahu as “Mitnaseh” “exalted himself.” And, it says in Pasuk 6, “And his father had not angered him all his days saying,’Why have you done so?’” The Radak pasuk 5 describes how Adoniyahu thought he should be king because he was better looking than his brothers “and he said in his heart that his father loved him more than his other brothers because he never rebuked him and never angered him and therefore he said, ‘I will be king.’” It struck me that this is a child who somehow grew up spoiled, leading to his rebellion.

Later in the week, I encountered Shemot 32:31 where Moshe Rabbeinu approaches Hashem after the Cheit HaEgel- sin of the golden calf, begging for forgiveness.  Rashi on the words, “a god of gold” quotes a Gemara in Berachot 32a that Moshe is saying to Hashem, “It was You who caused them to sin, for you lavished upon them gold and whatever they desired. What should they have done so as not sin? It is like a parable of a king who gave his son to eat and drink, dressed him up, hung a coin purse on his neck, and stationed him at the entrance of a brothel.  What can the son do so as not to sin?”  In essence, Moshe is telling Hashem, “You spoiled them- that is why they sinned.”  

Two sources related to over-indulging our children. Now, either I was getting a message relaying the topic of my weekly column or telling me that my own children are spoiled and I need to do something about it!

As parents, we often consider whether we are spoiling our kids. They no longer have to walk miles in the snow to school like we did in the “olden days” (or at least our parents had to).  They don’t have after-school jobs or need to pay their way.  If they have a test we will clean their rooms for them so they can focus on studying.   Am I the only parent spoiling my children? Or are all American children spoiled?

An article in The New Yorker  2012 article “Spoiled Rotten-  Why Do Kids Rule the Roost?”,  by Elizabeth Kolbert attempts to answer these questions. In 2004, Caroline Izuierdo, an anthropologist at the University of California, lived for some months with the Matsigenka tribe in the Peruvian Amazon. She particularly note the behavior of a six year old girl who made herself useful (without being asked) by sweeping the sand off the sleeping mats twice a day, stacking the kapashi leaves for transport, and fishing for crustaceans- and cleaning, boiling and serving them.  

She compared this behavior to those of children in the anthropological study she was doing at home in Los Angeles. No children in the L.A. families did chores without being asked. “Often, the kids had to be begged to attempt the simplest tasks; often they still refused. In one fairly typical encounter, a father asked his eight year old son five times to please go take a bath or a shower.  After the fifth plea went unheeded, the father picked the boy up and carried him into the bathroom. A few minutes later, the kid, still unwashed, wandered into another room to play a video game… In another representative encounter, an eighter year old girl sat down at the dining table.  Finding that no silverware had been laid out for her, she demanded, ‘How am I supposed to eat?’ Although she clearly knew where the silverware was kept, her father got up to get it for her.”  In another incident, a boy who could clearly tie his own shoes demanded his father do it for him.

In comparing the girl from the Matsigenka tribe to the children in Los Angeles, and the significant difference in childhood responsibility, we need to ask, why is it that the six year old girl helps her parents so much and in LA  it is the parents who are helping  their children?   American children may be the most indulged in history. They have been given too much “stuff” and have been  “granted unprecedented authority.”  Instead of children striving for their parents approval, parents seek approval from their children.  ⅔ of American parents believe their children are spoiled.  This spoiling trend may explain why adult children seem to have a prolonged “adultescence,” as stated by Sally Koslow in her book Slouching Toward Adulthood: Observations From The Not-So- Empty Nest. She says that our children live in “a broad savannah of entitlement that we’ve watered, landscaped, and hired gardeners to maintain.”

So, what do we need to do to “unspoil” our children?
1.  In other cultures they believe “ignoring children is good for them.”  We practice too much “helicopter parenting” where we hover over them at all times.
2. At times, we just need to say, “No” which we don’t say often enough. Limits- including the music they listen to, their technology use, the food they eat, and even the friends with whom they associate (which needs to be more subtly implemented as they get older).
3. We must never excuse their rude behavior.
4. We need to follow through on discipline. We often say there will be some consequence, but we do not carry out the consequence.
5.  We should allow them to be self-sufficient. Reinforce their independence.
6. We cannot be afraid to disappoint.
7. Let them work for what they want.
6.They need to help out more at home and do more chores, as the Kolbert’s article highlights.  In a Braun research study only 28% of parents regularly assign chores to their children, even though 82% said they grew up doing chores.

Why do we resist having our children do more chores?  As Kolbert notes, when she first asked her son to take out the garbage he did not close the lid tightly, which attracted a bear and she spent the next morning collecting refuse. Sometimes we just don’t have the time to have our children help. It is easier to do it ourselves.  We are also fearful of damaging our relationships with them.  We don't want to constantly nag them.  We at times feel guilty asking them to help, as they are so busy with their work and extracurricular activities.

Children who do chores have higher self-esteem, are more responsible, are better able to deal with frustration and delay gratification.  Data collected over 25 years by Marty Rossman of University of Mississippi determined that starting chores at the age 3 or 4 lead to the subjects’ success in their mid-20s. Those children who started chores at a young age understood the importance of contributing to their families, had a greater sense of empathy, were better adjusted, had better relationships with friends and family and were more successful in their careers as adults.  “The best predictor of young adults’ success in their mid-20’s was that they participated in household tasks when they were three or four.”

The good news is we are in good company.  Both Dovid HaMelech and Hakadosh Baruch Hu “spoiled” their children (k’vayachol) (as some interpret the pesukim). It is never too late to “unspoil” our children.  (I’ll let you know how it goes in my house!)

Advisory Update

Sixth Grade:  Students learned how google classroom is an important tool for time management.

Seventh Grade:  Students finished a unit on communication skills and teamwork by focusing on effective listening.

Eighth Grade-  Some groups focused on interview skills this week, while others experienced a lesson on sexual harassment and teens as related to current events.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Peer Influence And Adolescence

As the chagim season has passed and real life returns, school has begun in earnest. For those of us who have 8th graders, the high school application process is on our minds. We will spend the next months at Open Houses, interviews, visit days and helping our children fill out their applications. Some of us are already sure as to what high school is the best fit for our children. Others of us can see our children in more than one school.  How do we decide?  

In 2015, I mentioned a fascinating article in my column from a 2012 New York Magazine  article, "Why You Truly Never Leave High School” by Jennifer Senior.  I had originally referred to this article as I had just attended my high school reunion and thought about whom I had become.   Ever since I discovered that article, as I shmooze with eighth graders and their parents about their choices, I think about its content.

Senior describes how the high school years make a significant impact on the development of a person.  "Give a grown adult a series of random prompts and cues, and odds are he or she will recall a disproportionate number of memories from adolescence." This phenomenon is called "reminiscence bump" - suggesting that memories from ages 15-25 are most vividly retained.   Interestingly enough, in the research, these years until recently were not given enough credit.   For many years, researchers believed that ages 0-3 were the essential years, and beyond that it was "tweaking." Laurence Steinberg, a developmental psychologist at Temple University asserts, "If you're interested in making sure kids learn a lot in school, yes, intervening in early childhood is the time to do it.  But, if you're interested in how people become who they are, so much is going on in the adolescent years."  So, how do we choose a school that will ensure they become whom they are meant to be?

Steinberg points out that our preferences in life are often based on those adolescent years.  For example, "No matter how old you are, the music you listen to for the rest of your life is probably what you listened to when you were an adolescent."  In choosing a school, we want to make sure they will be surrounded by the values that will impact on them throughout their lives.  This speaks to the faculty and mission of the school of choice.  

Neuroscience explains why this is.  As I've mentioned before in this column, just before adolescence the prefrontal cortex begins to rapidly develop. This area of the brain governs our ability to "reason, grasp abstractions, control impulses and self- reflect"- all of which are intellectual skills needed to develop an identity.  "Any cultural stimuli we are exposed to during puberty, can, therefore, make more of an impression, because we're now perceiving them discerningly and metacognitively as things to sweep into our self- concepts or reject.  'During times when your identity is in transition,' says Steinberg, it's possible you store memories better than you do in times of stability.'"  

There are a number of other neurological changes in adolescence that make this time period in life so impactful. One such change is that there is more dopamine activity during this time period than during any other time of life.  This causes everything an adolescent feels to be more intense.

To make this all even more "intense"  psychologists Joseph and Claudia Worrell Allen point out in their book Escaping The Endless Adolescence, that a century ago when adolescents did not continue on to high school and worked in factories or farms they spent their days alongside adults during these tenuous years.  Now, "teens live in a biosphere of their own" as they spend only 16 hours per week with adults and 60 with their peers (and even more in Yeshivot).  Then students create their own hierarchies and divisions based on what they deem important- clothes, looks, sports ability. It is easy to be labeled in this environment. According to researcher Bene Brown, 90% of adults interviewed said "their unwanted identities and labels started during their tweens and teens." And, whatever strategies we gain to fight those feelings during the high school years, we generally will use for life.  

This component speaks to the importance of the peer group in choosing a high school. While we stress to the students that one does not choose a high school based on where one’s friends are going, one does choose a high school based on peers in this “biosphere” that will exert a positive influence on one’s spiritual and academic development.  

In my mind, this is the key component in choosing a high school.  We all throw around the term “peer pressure” as if it is overused. When it comes to teens, it is the crux of their existence. But, in essence, it can be positive and negative.  We hope our children will make the choice to surround themselves by positive peer pressure.  In choosing a high school we must consider, where can my child find that positive peer pressure?

We all know that peer/social influence impacts a teen more as they are less able to control impulses, think ahead, and are less focused on the possible risks of decisions they make.  A research study funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse demonstrated that the number of risks teens took in playing a driving video game more than doubled when their friends were watching as compared to when they played alone.  This finding is quite obvious to those of us who live with teens.   

What is new is the influence of the technology, and particularly the internet, on peer pressure.  On one hand, the internet has helped some overcome peer pressure by speaking their minds. On the other hand,  it has become more difficult to keep our teens away from negative peer influences.  Research shows that teens who spend a significant amount of time on social media are more prone to see photos of their friends drinking or engaging in undesirable behaviors.  The National Center on Addictions and Substance Abuse released statistics that teens who saw images of partying were four times mere likely to have used marijuana, more than three times more likely to have used alcohol and almost three times more likely to have used tobacco.  Social media amplifies the peer pressure they feel.  They simply cannot escape the digital peer pressure. They are constantly searching for acceptance and have the need to show off.  

In a shiur about peer pressure that I have delivered in the past to teens, I begin with this humorous comic:

Interestingly enough, despite there being only two people on earth, Adam succumbed to peer pressure.  Noach, on the other hand, as we read in this week’s parasha
תָּמִ֥ים הָיָ֖ה בְּדֹֽרֹתָ֑יו אֶת־הָֽאֱלֹקים הִתְהַלֶּךְ־נֹֽחַ”  “... he was perfect in his generations; Noah walked with God”  Despite the behavior of his generation, he was able to be “perfect” and walk with Hashem, ignoring the path of others.  This brings to mind Shlomo HaMelech’s words in Mishlei 13:20,
הֹלֵ֣וךְ הוֹלֵ֣ךְ אֶת־חֲכָמִ֣ים וֶחְכָּ֑ם יֶחְכָּ֑ם וְרֹעֶ֖ה כְסִילִ֣ים יֵרֽוֹעַ:
He who goes with the wise will become wise, but he who befriends the fools will be broken. Noach chose to walk with God- who better could he “befriend”?

True, no matter what school we choose there will be positive and negative influences.  Our ultimate goal is to teach our children to resist the negative and seek out the positive, even in the face of extreme pressure to do otherwise.  But, we definitely need to be mindful that the school we choose needs to be a “biosphere” where they befriend peers who will help our children grow.

Advisory Update:
Sixth Grade-  Students began a Time Management unit and are learning the importance of balancing one’s time and prioritizing one’s assignments.

Seventh Grade- Students learned the skills of active listening and its importance in communication and relationships.

Eighth Grade-  Students began to focus on skills needed for an interview.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Avinu Malkeinu- The Dual Nature Of Teshuva And Parenting

You know that feeling when you walk into the house and you see your children engaged in a behavior that frustrates you- a behavior that you had made clear in the past they were not allowed to do!  You angrily threaten a punishment… and you mean it!  And, then, with a twinkle in her eye, your 7th grader turns to you, puts her arms around you, and says, “I love you.”  The magic formula. Suddenly, your anger abates and you forgive.

You can imagine exactly what Hashem felt, כביכול ,when He peered down and saw Bnai Yisrael engaged in Cheit HaEigel.  Didn’t they know they were not allowed to do Avodah Zarah?!  He angrily threatened to destroy them….and He meant it! And, then, Moshe turns to Hashem and recites the magic formula- the יג מדות הרחמים..  Hashem’s anger abates, and He forgives Bnai Yisrael.  

Okay, maybe it is not as simple as presented here. But, clearly Hashem is אבינו, and we can certainly relate as parents.  Yom Kippur is the day that Bnai Yisrael received the second set of לוחות after Cheit HaEigel. It is that day of forgiveness. I believe that in better understanding the day that Moshe Rabbeinu broke the לוחות and the subsequent use of the middot harachamim  on Yom Kippur, we will better comprehend and implement the process of Teshuva and even become better parents.

We know that the use of the 13 middot was introduced after cheit haegel when Moshe goes up to Har Sinai to receive the second לוחות (Shemot 34: 1-10), and were given to Moshe as a “formula” to use to achieve forgiveness for Bnai Yisrael.  However, Rabbi Menachem Leibtag, in his article, “Yom Kippur And The Thirteen Middot of Rachamim” points out that  interestingly enough, some middot are found even before that event in Shemot 20:4-7 -  in the context of the aseret hadibrot when teaching not to engage in avodah zarah and not to use Hashem’s name in vain.
ד לֹ֣א תַֽעֲשֶׂה־לְּךָ֣ פֶ֣סֶל וְכָל־תְּמוּנָ֡ה אֲשֶׁ֣ר בַּשָּׁמַ֣יִם מִמַּ֡עַל וַֽאֲשֶׁר֩ בָּאָ֨רֶץ מִתַּ֜חַת וַֽאֲשֶׁ֣ר בַּמַּ֣יִם מִתַּ֣חַת לָאָ֗רֶץ:
ה לֹֽא־תִשְׁתַּֽחֲוֶ֣ה לָהֶם֘ וְלֹ֣א תָֽעָבְדֵם֒ כִּ֣י אָֽנֹכִ֞י ה' אֱלֹקיךָ֙ קל קַנָּ֔א פֹּ֠קֵ֠ד עֲוֹ֨ן אָב֧וֹת עַל־בָּנִ֛ים עַל־שִׁלֵּשִׁ֥ים וְעַל־רִבֵּעִ֖ים לְשֽׂנְאָ֑י:
ו וְעֹ֤שֶׂה חֶ֨סֶד֙ לַֽאֲלָפִ֔ים לְאֹֽהֲבַ֖י וּלְשֹֽׁמְרֵ֥י מִצְוֹתָֽי:
ז לֹ֥א תִשָּׂ֛א אֶת־שֵֽׁם־ה' אֱלֹקיךָ לַשָּׁ֑וְא כִּ֣י לֹ֤א יְנַקֶּה֙ ה' אֵ֛ת אֲשֶׁר־יִשָּׂ֥א אֶת־שְׁמ֖וֹ לַשָּֽׁוְא:

Rabbi Leibtag in his article, “Yom Kippur And The Thirteen Middot of Rachamim” highlights that these  middot found in the עשרת הדברות are not at all kind or merciful. In fact, Hashem had said, even after he agreed not to wipe out Bnai Yisrael, that He did not plan on entering Eretz Yisrael with the Jewish people (Shemot 33: 1-3).   If one compares the middot found after  the sin to the ones in the Aseret Hadibrot, they are much more merciful, as noted in this chart:

First לוחות:
  1. Kel Kana
  2. Poked Avon..L’sonai
  3. Oseh chesed l’alafim…l’ohavai (Chesed limited to only those who love Hashem)
  4. Lo Y’nakeh
  5. Lo yisah l’fisheichem (Shemot 23:21)(does not forgive)
  6. Hashem displays his “charon af”
Second לוחות:
  1. Kel rachum v’chanun
  2. Poked avon avot al banim
  3. Rav chesed v’emet, Notzer chesed l’alafim (No limitation- to everyone)

  1. V’nakeh, lo ynakeh
  2. Nosei avon v’fesha (Forgives)

  1. Erech apayim

The first  ברית(covenant) that Hashem made with Bnai Yisrael was one of מדת הדין (which includes immediate punishment and immediate reward). It makes perfect sense, therefore, that Hashem’s immediate reaction to the חטא העגל is to destroy Klal Yisrael. The only alternative is to annul the first  ברית. That is what the breaking of the לוחות symbolized- the annulment of the first  ברית- and the only way for the Jewish people to survive.
The new  ברית must be of a different nature, as we have seen that Bnai Yisrael cannot survive a covenant of מדת הדין.   When Hashem reveals Himself for the second לוחות He must relay how these לוחות will be different- more merciful, as depicted in the “new” middot. Then, and only then, after the 13 middot, can Moshe request that Hashem’s shechina come back to Bnai Yisrael:

וַיֹּ֡אמֶר אִם־נָא֩ מָצָ֨אתִי חֵ֤ן בְּעֵינֶ֨יךָ֙ ה' יֵֽלֶךְ־נָ֥א  ה' בְּקִרְבֵּ֑נוּ כִּ֤י עַם־קְשֵׁה־עֹ֨רֶף֙ ה֔וּא וְסָֽלַחְתָּ֛ לַֽעֲוֹנֵ֥נוּ וּלְחַטָּאתֵ֖נוּ וּנְחַלְתָּֽנוּ.

When we say the middot harachamim during Selichot it not just about a “mystical formula.”  It is a reminder of the conditions of the second לוחות, says Rabbi Leibtag, which in essence allows for forgiveness.  It is quite meaningful that on Yom Kippur, the day that Bnai Yisrael received the second לוחות, we ask for רחמים.

Rav Soloveitchik, z”tl, in his 1977 Kinus Teshuva Derasha, discussing the different names we call Yom Kippur in our Tefilla, and focuses upon  the beginning of the birchat kedushat hayom in the amida of Yom Kippur. There we ask of Hashem:
אלוקינו ואלוקי אבותינו מחל לעוונותינו ביום הכיפורים הזה
These words differ from that which we say before the communal vidui during chazarat hashatz:
אלוקינו ואלוקי אבותינו סלח ומחל לעוונותינו ביום הכיפורים הזה

The Rav states, “Selicha represents a relationship with Hashem where He is an absolute ruler.” On the other hand, the other type of relationship we have with Hashem is that of “an intimate, childhood friend... mechila addresses the sociological alienation between man and G-d as a result of sin.”  

For Teshuva we need both selicha (מדת הדין) and mechila (מדת הרחמים).

Cheit HaEgel, Yom Kippur And והלכת בדרכיו- Imitating Hashem

As Rav Soloveitchik and Rabbi Leibtag have both elucidated, without מדת הרחמים Teshuva would not exist. However, we know that the dual relationship of both דין and רחמים are essential for real Teshuva.

Even Moshe, who begs for that mercy, understands the need for these two types of relationships when it comes to Teshuva. First, Moshe approaches Hashem with Tefilla, trying to elicit that מדת הרחמים.  But, even Moshe himself understands that רחמים is not sufficient, and implements the דין as he breaks the לוחות in front of Bnai Yisrael.  He then burns the eigel, grinds it, sprinkles it into the water and makes Bnai Yisrael drink from it.  Moshe then punishes the leaders. All along Bnai Yisrael do not protest, but go along willingly as these actions demonstrate their remorse.

Moshe, in essence, is imitating Hashem’s balance of the mercy and judgment.  Thinking of Hashem of אבינו, I consider how as parents we too need to imitate Hashem and balance both the דין and רחמים.  As we know, Hashem is מלכנו and אבינו simultaneously.

There are different types of parenting styles, based on the work of Diana Baumrind. She developed a typology of parenting in three categories Authoritative, Authoritarian and Permissive.

Authoritarian parents focus on obedience and try to break the will of a child through coercion and power.  They are controlling and never believe in bending any rules, with an extreme sense of justice.  This style appears to be more in line with דין.  Children of these parents are more timid and have lower self-esteem.

Permissive parents make few demands on their children. They are lenient and avoid confrontation.  This parenting style seems to be a pure רחמים parenting pattern.  Children of these parents grow up entitled and rebellious when any limits are set.

Authoritative parents are strict, consistent and loving and can adjust their expectations to the needs of the child. They hope their children will internalize their goals. They are demanding and responsive. They are assertive, but not restrictive.  I see this style as more in line with a combination of דין and רחמים.  Children of this style seem to be the most well-adjusted and competent.

(There is a difference between the discipline of the authoritative parent versus the punishment of the authoritarian parent as seen in the root of the words, as highlighted by Michael Eric Dyson. Discipline comes from the Latin “discipuli” from where the word “disciple” comes.  Punishment comes from the Greek “poine” and Latin “poena” which means revenge, from where the words “pain” and “penalty” also come. Clearly the authoritative parent is using דין to teach and educate.  The authoritarian parent is looking to cause pain and even take revenge- unintentionally).

Dr. Angela Duckworth, famous for her work on grit and success in life, notes in an interview:
...The second thing I would say is that there’s a very rich literature on parenting, which I think can be summarized as this: it used to be thought that you could be a supportive parent — super warm and respecting your child’s individuality — or you could be a demanding, strict, high standards parent. And you had to pick somewhere on the continuum. It actually turns out that there isn’t a tradeoff. You can be extremely supportive, warm, tell them that you love them unconditionally, and, at the same time, be a very firm, high standards disciplinarian. There is not one continuum; there are two. This combination of being very warm and very demanding is called authoritative parenting. We don’t yet have the research linking authoritative parenting to character itself, but from everything we do know, the parents who are not only modeling character for their kids, but bringing up their kids in a supportive, warm, consistently disciplined, high expectations environment, are helping their kids stand the best chance of developing character as they get older.

As parents we are encouraged “והלכת בדרכיו” (Devarim 28:9)- to parent as Hashem does.  As an “authoritative” parent, Hashem,  כביכול , demonstrates the dual relationship of דין and רחמים.  May we merit this year to parent our children as Hashem does us.  And,  on this Yom Kippur may we merit to receive both Hashem’s מחילה and סליחה to achieve true Teshuva.

Advisory Update;
Sixth Grade :
Students have discussed tips for success that last year’s sixth graders provided at the end of the year. They discussed what might be some key areas upon which they should focus to succeed this year and made some tentative commitments to do so.

Seventh Grade-
Students focused on the importance of changing the world around them and changing  themselves as the highlighted the projects they will accomplish this year in Advisory.  

Eighth Grade-

Students set S.M.A.R.T. and gritty goals for this year as they explored what grit is and why it is important. Utilizing a website called, they will have their goals come back to them the day before graduation in an e-mail, and they will see how much they have truly accomplished!