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Raising Children & Tu B'Shvat

January 12, 2014 | by Rabbi Moshe Don Kestenbaum

Embracing the mission to nurture the inherent potential of our children.

There is no better parable in my eyes to parenting a child than tending a seed into a tree. We are entrusted with a precious seed from God to help see it develop and grow. We do not choose its type, we do not control its process of growth; we just do our best to give it what it needs to grow and flourish, and sit back and watch. This perhaps is why the Hebrew word for offspring is “zerah” – which means seed.

Some of us are handed seeds that need little talent and attention to grow, while others were entrusted with a bit more complex seed. We must not become frustrated and upset at the seed or the One who handed it to us, but rather embrace our role in our special mission. Certainly screaming at the seed, “What’s a matter with you? Why can’t you grow already?” will only retard its development.

We don’t control if and when our children will grow. Our objective is to give them as much nourishment as we can. We embrace them for who they are. We show them how beautiful the Torah is. We water. We provide sunshine. Just because you don’t see immediate growth does not mean nothing is happening right now.

When we see a plant break the surface of the ground, things did not begin to happen now. They have been happening months before; just it is not visible to the naked eye. Year after year I see a boy in twelfth grade who is learning and growing while he was performing poorly in eleventh. Did he just wake up now? No! It just took time until he was ready to process all the internal growth and development into external action.

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch explains most beautifully that herein lies the significance of the holiday of Tu B’Shvat. As he articulates in his poetic style: "Though still in the middle of the bleak embrace of winter, the gentle murmur of the awakening spring begins its hidden work. In the core and the arterial network of the trees, silently and softly, hidden from casual view, the new sap flows announcing the coming of spring."

Parenthetically, I think if we were more in touch with the real growth process of our children and people in general, we would pick up on our child’s true internal state. A parent will tell me that they don’t see any significant change; just maybe he is showing a little more courtesy at home. At that point I become excited and say, “Wow, that’s great. That’s a sign of real internal growth taking place. He is maturing. With God's help, we will see more to come.” Conversely, we would notice negative things brewing far before they are out in the open and thus be able to intervene and help earlier.

As parents and educators our focus should not be on producing fruit; our focus should be on nurturing the seed. If one manipulates the tree in an unhealthy way to produce fruit sooner than it is ready, its long term production and most often even its short term will suffer. We must focus on giving plenty of water and sunshine, and allow each child to blossom in his way and at his time.

Every display of love is another ray of sunlight. Every positive word is another drop of water. Every positive experience contributes to the realization of the seed’s potential. And conversely, every negative experience does damage.

We are certainly living in turbulent times. The storms around us are blowing stronger and stronger winds. While we should do our best to block whatever winds we can, the only real and long term solution is by developing a tree with deeper and stronger roots. We must do our best to implant each child with a great sense of self worth and love for Torah. If not, he is at risk to being blown away by the storms. He has no roots keeping him attached to the ground.

Parents and educators must firmly believe in the potency of every seed they were handed. They must be confident that if they give it everything it needs to flourish, it will ultimately blossom it a wondrous tree that will bear beautiful fruit, for it will. There may be a long winter stretch where nothing has broken the surface, but they must realize that their efforts are not in vain. They are cultivating growth. We should bear in mind that sometimes the most precious fruit take the longest to ripen.

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