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There is nothing like a challenge. Mount Everest blindfolded, the 3-minute mile, a Mars landing. Great, but they all pale to a piece of cake compared to raising emotionally healthy children.
Of course, you could make it easy on yourself instead. For those of us who are, well, wimps. You know, like climbing Mount Everest without a blindfold, running a 4-minute mile, going to the Moon, or raising children in a crack house.
Ah, there is nothing quite like a crack house to help raise healthy children.
I know at this point you must think I have lost it. And if that is you, then this week's Torah portion drops the proverbial bombshell of parenting.
Rashi, the pre-eminent Torah commentator, tells us that both Rebecca and Isaac prayed for children, but it was only Isaac's prayer that was answered (Genesis 25:21). This is because, even though both were righteous, Rebecca's prayers were not as great as Isaac's. Rebecca was the child of an evil person while Isaac was the child of a righteous person.
Now, I really want you to understand what Rashi is NOT saying. He is not saying that because Isaac came from a "better" home, he was greater than Rebecca. He's not saying that the children of righteous people are righteous. He's not saying that at all.
It's not BECAUSE Isaac came from the home of Abraham that he was righteous, it was in spite of it.
Listen again to what Rashi is saying. Isaac's prayers were more precious to God because he struggled more, he had greater challenges, he learned how to get past the enormous obstacles of life and become a righteous person. He was holier because he had a more difficult life: He was raised in the home of Abraham. Rebecca had an easier time of it: Her parents were the crack dealers.
Let me give you a parable: Which is easier, for your children to be financially successful when raised in the home of Bill Gates (you know, the guy who's picture is on the dollar bill) or in abject poverty? Intuitively, we would answer the Gates home (does anyone have his address?) But that's the wrong answer. As evidenced in real life, the children of rich people often don't achieve much. They have too much to lose and very little to achieve. It's hard to make it on your own, to achieve your own success, when your daddy owns half the Internet. If the son of Bill Gates becomes a "Bill Gates" in his own right, not only did he achieve something remarkable, but he actually achieved something greater than Bill Gates!
It's true, the child of Bill Gates will have a lot of money, but achieving success is much, much more than that. How does the son of Bill Gates overcome a challenge? How does he find a challenge? How does he chart a new course, discover new paths of success?
That's really tough. Growing up in abject poverty is so much easier because the difficult path is almost obvious.
For Isaac to be righteous in his own right, not just the son of Abraham, not just do it by rote and follow Abraham's direction, required such strength of character that he was greater than Rebecca, who was basically raised by animals.
For sure there are very rare cases of two or three generations of wealthy, successful people. But when it comes to being good, although there are many people who came out of the most awful of homes, real crack houses, who raised themselves to become remarkable and righteous. There are righteous among the nations for sure, we Jews don't have the exclusive. But when it comes to raising the second, third, fourth and 100th generation of righteous people, you need more than a crack house to get that right, you need a Torah.
I know a lot of observant families try to shield their little progeny from the evils of this world (me, too), but not having the newly religious (so called Baal Tshuvas) as guests is not the way to go. Sure, they aren't the Isaacs of the world, but unless you are into climbing Mount Everest blindfolded, you can make your parenting job a little easier by inviting a few of the Rebeccas - Baal Tshuvas, that is - over to the house. They won't turn your home into a crack house, but they will let your children know what is wrong with one.
BRAINSTORMING QUESTIONS TO PONDER
Question 1: What have been your three biggest struggles? Do you think they made you a better person?
Question 2: Look at the struggles you are going through now and try and figure out how they will make you better