By Rivki Silver
Recently, I was reading to one of my children from the book ‘Bedtime Stories of Jewish Values’, hoping that this would ensure that he would actually fall asleep at a reasonable time.
Sometimes the stories are less well-known to me, but this one, illustrating the importance of compassion, was a classic. It recalled the instance where Moshe Rabbeinu, in the years he was shepherding, noticed that a little sheep was lost. He set out to find it, searching all over the mountains and the desert, and finally found it drinking from a pond.
His reaction was to look beyond the fact that the sheep ran away and to look for the reason behind the action, realizing that the sheep must have been very thirsty. He carried the sheep back on his shoulders, and from this whole event, we are told that when Hashem saw how kind Moshe was to this little lamb, He decided that he should be the one to take the Jewish people out of Egypt.
Okay, beautiful. And of course the takeaway is that if this is how we’re supposed to behave with animals, how much more so should we have compassion and be kind to people. Naturally! Of course we’re all behind this idea, in theory.
Yet when I think about how I might respond to a sheep who wandered off from the pack (or, let’s say, a child who decided to go to a friend’s house to play without remembering to tell his mother), I imagine the worry, anxiety, anger and fear I might experience . And to add to that the exhaustion of schlepping around (through mountains and desert? That sounds like a lot of physical exertion) trying to find said child (sheep, whatever).
I’m sure Moshe was probably worried, thirsty, tired and hot. If I were in that situation, my first reaction would probably not be in the ballpark of compassion. Would I have the presence of mind to go beyond the details of the situation and try to imagine what would lead a sheep (child) to behave this way? I’m not sure.
Obviously, I’m not comparing myself to Moshe Rabbeinu, but in heightened emotional situations, there can often be a gap between the behavior we want to exhibit and what we are capable of doing. Of course, we want to remain calm when we’re trying to get to an appointment on time, but a child is having a meltdown about not having the right shoes or their hair feeling weird, or whatever it is that is preventing you from getting out the door.
At times like these, sometimes we are just not where we’d want to be, and we find ourselves needing to do damage control. It is so easy to be hard on ourselves for falling short of our ideals, especially in this day and age when we understand so much more the importance of emotional support, and with the plethora of parenting courses and teachers helping us be the best we can be.
In our recent interview on the DMC Podcast with Blimie Heller, parent coach and huge proponent of empathy and compassion, she touched on this topic (among many other nuggets of parenting wisdom).
“I really, really believe that growth, integrated, lasting growth, stands on the back of self-compassion,” Blimie shared. If this isn’t something that comes naturally to us, how do we develop this skill? She went on to say, “We can have compassion for ourselves when someone holds us with compassion.”
After a parenting failure, we can feel very low. If we pick up the phone and call a friend, bravely choosing to risk the potential judgment and sharing what just happened, and if that friend has compassion for us and responds along the lines of, ‘I imagine you were just trying to get cooperation, that must be so frustrating, and I also see how much regret you have,’ that helps us relax and have self-compassion.
Blimie noted that “when someone else doesn’t judge you, really sees your intention but also really sees your sadness over what you did, and sees that you want to change, I think that is the point when we start being able to hold ourselves more with compassion.”
She tries to provide this compassion for parents who are working with her, but it’s also something we can learn to do. This is a way we can choose to be kind, both to our friends and to ourselves. And in modeling this compassion and kindness, we will be teaching our children a crucial skill that they will be able to take into their lives.
Rivki Silver is co-host of the Deep Meaningful Conversations podcast, a Meaningful Minute Podcast. She is a regular contributor to Family First Magazine and also plays music for all the local day schools in Cleveland, where she lives with her family.