Making the Grade

July 14, 2019

4 min read


Balak (Numbers 22:2-25:9 )

We recently had the pleasure of receiving our five-year old son's year-end report card from school. Apparently, number grades are antiquated and even letter grades are old hat. To the contrary, each category - whether it be "I am respectful of others" or "I can hold a pencil/scissor correctly; " classroom participation, self-control and (my personal favorite) "I demonstrate appropriate attention span" (how many adults can boast of that accomplishment) - is associated with one of three "evaluations:"

M = Most of the time
S = Some of the time
W = Working on it

I found this "grade scheme" a telling insight into the way one's progress can be gauged when assessed from the vantage point of love, encouragement and confidence-building as opposed to one of critique that frequently masquerades as "constructive" and yet so often leaves only bruised egos and crushed spirits in its wake. Even those students who walked away with a report card of "straight W's" can remain in an optimistic state of mind knowing that he, too, is in the positive trajectory of "working on it." (Apparently they don't give out R as in Resigned to mediocrity).

* * *

I recently had the opportunity to hear some insights in the field of child development when an expert raised the following notion that, at the end of the day, one of the most valuable things that a parent can instill in a child is the deep-seated notion that Mommy and Daddy are deeply committed to your success, and believe in your capacity to achieve true progress (even when the child may not maintain confidence in him or herself). When parents don't throw in the towel but rather rise to the occasion with optimism and positivity that can produce tremendous trickle-down benefits for the child.

Apparently, this difficult-to-quantify X-factor looms large in a child's capacity to endure difficulties and ultimately persevere notwithstanding formidable obstacles to happiness that beckon for longer, sustained triumphs rather than the instant success (and gratification) with which our generation (and its youth) have become so smitten.

* * *

"God displayed anger because Balaam was so anxious to go and an angel of Hashem stood on the road to impede him..." (Num. 22:22)

Rashi: "He was an angel of rachamim (mercy) and he wanted to prevent Balaam from sinning so that he should not sin and perish."

This week it finally dawned on me that the "angel of mercy" was impeding Balaam's progress not for the purposes of saving Jewish lives from Balaam's diabolical scheme, but rather to discourage Balaam himself from falling into the abyss of such depraved conduct. God, in his boundless love and concern for every single one of his creatures (even those who have already exhibited behavior that is a far, far cry from righteousness), routinely demonstrates a patience, steadfast desire for each of us to ultimately succeed.

We all have flaws - true, they are not quite as abominable as Balaam's cold-hearted scheme to eradicate the Jewish Nation en masse - but flaws nevertheless. This being the case, Rabbi Braun is wont to say, "It's not a imperfection to have a imperfection; but it is a imperfection not to do anything about it."

So whether it's a character flaw such as jealousy, greed, self-centeredness or flat-out pleasure-seeking. Or whether it's a shortcoming in one's spiritual work that manifests itself in inconsistent observance, uninspired davening or unjustified ignorance. Whether we rightfully belong to the "Most of the Time," "Some of the Time" or "Working on it" camp of Jewish growth, we can take a solace and a dose of inspiration that our Merciful Father is waiting for us, is hoping for us, is rooting for our success and is deeply whetted to our progress.

Indeed, the very first words that leave our lips in the morning, Jews proclaim that God's decision to allot us another day on the planet reflects his "abundant Faithfulness" in our capacity to live up to our responsibilities (despite our track record to the contrary). For God, too, seemingly allows for a mark of "Working on It."

Next Steps