A Time to Laugh…

Those of you lucky enough to be a student of Rabbi Kurland in Sh’or Yoshuv yeshivah will know exactly what I’m referring to when I say that Rabbi Kurland’s style is one of a kind. It’s not just the humor he injects into every lesson—which, by the way, there’s a lot of. (There’s a reason why his book is called A Time to Laugh, A Time to Listen!) It’s also his amazing knack of being able to teach fundamental concepts  in a down-to-earth, concrete way that you’ll find both inspirational and enjoyable. Each gem of an article in this book begins with a good joke, which then leads into a powerful essay that connects pesukim, midrashim, and Gemaras from all over, in a breathtaking display of Rabbi Kurland’s unique manner of teaching.

Ready for a laugh? Want some inspiration? Go ahead; it’s all yours—A Time to Laugh, A Time to Listen.

Here’s a sample…

The Hebrew school teacher was projecting her own heretical views, when she asked her class if they really believed that Jonah was swallowed by a whale and survived. Little Sarah, unabashed, was brave enough to respond:

“Yes! I believe every word of it!”

“Well, how will you prove that it is true?” the dissident teacher asked.

Sarah, not hesitating for a moment, answered, “When I get to Heaven, I’m going to ask Jonah myself!”

“But how do you know that Jonah is in Heaven?” asked the teacher. “Maybe he’s in the other place.”

Sarah didn’t flinch. “Then you ask him!”

Children are bright, resourceful, and quite perceptive, very often putting us adults to shame. One thing is for sure: Any parent or teacher who thinks for a moment that he is “merely dealing with a child” underestimates and misunderstands the “absorbent sponge” and pure-minded phenomenon that stands before him. Everything we do and say will be soaked up by this precious child, either through his unusual sharp senses, or through the process of osmosis. We adults must always be on our best behavior, lest our children’s lasting impressions of us come back to haunt us one day!

1)CONDUCT: Ours! The way we act and conduct our lives will reflect immeasurably on our children and students. A father who sets aside time to learn Torah regularly, who makes sure to be ma’avir sedra, who makes his Shabbos table a memorable occasion, replete with words of Torah, heartzig zemiros, and, perhaps most important, warm and geshmak conversation with his children, will reap the rewards of his efforts. A mother who talks softly, even when things are tense, who is careful about her mode of dress and modesty, who opens her home to guests and involves herself in community needs, who showers her family with motherly tenderness, will find that her mark has been made on her children in the most unobtrusive and natural way. A couple who speak respectfully to one another even when in disagreement, whose shared love and devotion is apparent in word and in deed, whose relationship is built upon mutual respect, openhandedness, selflessness, and self-sacrifice, will merit to see children who build homes founded on shalom and tranquility. Children who are privileged to grow up in a home where shalosh seudos and melaveh malkah are not mere extras, where lashon hara is never an option, where a disparaging word about the Rabbi’s speech or the neighbor’s lawn is nonexistent, where the talk in the home is positive and upbeat, filled with praise and encouragement, where there is an outpouring of love and affection among family members, will sop up that atmosphere and have it infused into their blood forever.

Imagine the impression it makes upon children who see their parents bentch from a bentcher and answer their phone calls instead of instructing the one who picks up the phone to “tell them I’m not home;” their father running out late at night to catch a midnight minyan for Maariv; their a mother endeavoring to daven Shacharis and Minchah. How fortunate is the child who grows up in an environment of great enthusiasm for mitzvos, where tzedakah is given with joy and generosity, where the glory of the Ribono Shel Olam and the magnificent world He created is spoken about without inhibition, where the flaunting of an ostentatious and pretentious lifestyle is abhorred, no matter what one’s fiscal status. When our conduct will be on par, we will merit to see the diffusion of all that we hold dear, in our greatest treasure – our precious children.

2) COGNIZANCE: An awareness of the greatness of the gift of children is essential in the chinuch process. In a world that has decided that children are a hassle and interfere with its chosen self-serving or career-consuming lifestyle, we must be unequivocal about the priority we place on our progeny and their development. We are here to toil and to build our own small world, and our children and grandchildren are the pillar and backbone of that edifice. Every ounce of energy and resources that we invest into our children will enhance that structure and enable us to build that world. Chazal compare one who is not blessed with children r”l to a dead person, for one’s children are his life, his future, and the object of his purpose on this earth. Children allow us to fulfill our innate and natural inclination and yearning to give, as we give to that which we helped create, having been granted the privilege of collaborating with the Creator of all that exists, in a partnership for posterity. Children allow us the opportunity to imitate and emulate the Ribono Shel Olam, albeit in a miniscule way, in the manner in which He continuously sustains life. And it goes without saying that they are the source of our greatest nachas and joy, which fills our hearts with even more love for them. Each child is a precious gift from Hashem, for which we are eternally grateful.

3) CUDDLING: We must display our love for our children by showering them with tenderness. Our warm embrace, our demonstrative show of affection, encourages and secures a bond that is not easily broken. There is no limit to the amount of love and encouragement we can give our children. This should be our general demeanor, notwithstanding the importance of discipline, which is also a show of love. Compliments and the accentuation of the positive should be the creed of our interaction with our children. Criticism should be carefully lined in silk, and given only at the appropriate moment. We should remember that our children are always our “babies” who need the cuddling and the comfort contact of those who have nurtured their growth. As I think back to my own parents z”l, I realize that even as a fully grown middle-aged man, I so miss their warm hugs and kisses, the strength they constantly infused in me.

Our children must be told how much we love and cherish them, how each one is special and unique. Never should they doubt our belief in them, for they look to us for strength. We dare not disappoint them.

4) “CAVOD” (KAVOD) – honor: You may be thinking: Give honor to your kids? You must be kidding! Not in the least! Harav Avraham Pam zt”l, who was exemplary in the middah of giving honor to others, writes in his sefer, Atarah L’melech: “To embarrass a Jewish person is a violation of a Torah precept. This includes minors as well.” Although there surely are occasions that warrant discipline, for the sake of the chinuch of the child, one must be aware of the repercussions of his actions. Unfortunately, it is all too common for the damage caused by inappropriate disciplinary methods to exceed the benefits. “One could achieve much more by following the path of showing honor and gentleness.”

A child is a real person with real feelings that should be handled with utmost sensitivity. Although he more readily accepts his fate as a member of the “small” community, the build-up of incessantly being squashed and disrespected can take its toll. The teenager whose opinion is just pushed under the rug or written off as some uncontrollable hormonal whim, without discussion or explanation, will likely be heard saying, “My parents hate me.” This may very well mean, “My parents don’t respect me.”

There is no question that discipline and direction are crucial to every child’s development, but there is a major difference between imposed despotism that de-humanizes, and mutually respectful instruction that builds a person’s character. When dealing with students who are lax about their class attendance, I first tell them how much I missed them in their absence. Then I ask them to explain their non-attendance. The message is clear: “I’m concerned about your lapses, but I haven’t lost my love and respect for you.” Children must feel our respect for them, and this itself will teach them a tremendous lesson in kibbud av v’eim.

5) CONSOLATION: Our children need to know that they can turn to us for everything. We need to engage them in conversation and spend time shmoozing with them, in order to establish a rapport and create an open line of communication. The developing of trust between parent and child is essential to the level of impact a parent’s words might have upon his children. The Gemara encourages marrying off one’s children at a young age when they will still entertain their parents’ suggestions. As with any relationship, the degree to which a child will seek his parents’ council is directly linked to their level of mutual trust and respect. Although our children are not our peers, they should be made to feel the bond of our unlimited friendship and our listening ear. Children should find in their parents the comfort they seek to allay their fears and the solace needed to ease their tension. In the healthiest of parent-child relationships, the parent never ceases to be a parent, and remains that special source of consolation and strength to his children of any age.

6)CRISIS MANAGEMENT: At times we need to ride the storm and do our best at maintaining stability and equilibrium. No matter how many books one reads on chinuch, nobody is the perfect parent, and mistakes are inevitable. Certainly, the teenage years present the greatest challenge, with damage control often becoming the focus, more so than instruction and direction. At times of crisis, it is crucial that we keep the lines of communication open, and display our genuine love and concern overtly. We need to come to terms with the wisdom of losing the battle to win the war. Our objectives remain the same. Sometimes, though, it takes a little longer to get there.

7)“C”(S)IYATA DISHMAYA: We must daven. I will never forget the tears and heartfelt cries of my dear mother z”l as she bentched licht. We must daven that Hashem grant us the wisdom to say the right thing at the right time, and more importantly, not to say the wrong thing at the wrong time; that we control our anger; that we not allow our personal frustrations and moods to interfere with the commonsensical approach so crucial in chinuch habanim; that an atmosphere of shalom and simchah pervades our homes, providing the security and warmth to nurture our children’s optimal growth; that their hearts should be open to yiras Shamayim and love of Hashem; and that Hashem bestow upon our children all of His blessings.

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