The First Commandment of Parenting
By Rabbi Label Lam
And these words that I command you today should be upon your heart and
you should teach them to your children. (Devarim 6:6)
And teach them to your children to speak in them with your sitting in
house and with your going on the way and with your lying down and your
rising up… (Devarim 11:19)
A Rabbi asked a young lady in the audience, “What is your parents’
greatest source of pleasure?” The young lady smiled proudly and
answered, “Me!” Then he followed up with a 2nd question. “What is your
parents’ greatest source of pain?” A gloomy expression overtook her
countenance and she somberly replied, “My sister!” Children often hold
the key to both our happiness and our anguish. Why is that so?
Let’s try an experiment. Slump your shoulders, put a scowl on your face
and dull the tone of your voice. Now recite lifelessly, “I’m so happy!
This is the best day of my life!” Will anyone be convinced by your words?
Now throw your shoulders back. Put on a winning smile and shout with
enthusiasm, “I am so miserable! This is the worst day of my life!” Which
is more credible, your words or your posture? I believe that this test
demonstrates that actions trump words and tone trumps text.
Johnny’s father received a call from the principal. The principal told
him, “We have to talk about your son’s behavior!” The father insisted on
knowing what he had done. “When the principal informed him, “Your son is
stealing pencils from the other kids in school.” The father shot back
defensively, “I don’t know why he should need to steal pencils from the
other kids in school. I bring home all the pencils he needs from the
A fellow I had learned with decided to put on Tefillin as his son’s Bar
Mitzvah approached. His son told him, “Dad, I want to do just like you.
When I’m 47 years old I too am going to start to put on Tefillin!”
A student I had in Hebrew Day School many years ago was a chronic
complainer to the point of being a nuisance and distraction to the class.
His every move was accompanied by some exaggerated exclamation, “You
almost banged my whole head off!” It was puzzling. Where were all these
statements coming from? Then one day I saw his mother getting out of the
car in front of the school. When she slammed shut the car door she
exclaimed emphatically, “The door almost tore my whole arm off!” She
continued her melodramatic monologue all the way into the school. Aha!
A great woman and mother of a remarkably successful family shared with me
three keys to her having raised such a wonderfully functional Torah
family. 1) She spent personal time with each child. 2) She made sure to
find out what they were up to and with whom. 3) Her husband always had a
Sefer – a Torah book in his hand!
The Chasam Sofer learns this verse which is scribed and scrolled and
affixed to door after door throughout our homes, “And you should teach
your children to speak in them” as an instruction in “how to”- accomplish
that parental task. Children will learn mostly through observing the
manner in which you sit in your house, go on your way, lie down and rise
up. Those actions will speak volumes in volume. As one child told his
parents, “Your actions are so loud I cannot hear what you are saying!”
When speech and action are congruous though then there can be a lasting
The first paragraph of Shema reads, “You should place these words upon
your heart and (then) teach them to your children…” Why? Children read the
heart. They know all too well by tone and by deed what we hold sacred.
Parents announce with perfect articulation, “This is who I am and this is
what I do.” Similarly at Mt Sinai we heard, “I Am HASHEM… that took you
out of Egypt”, effectively stating, “This is who I am and this is what I
do!” And so it is today the First Commandment of Parenting.
Text Copyright © 2006 by Rabbi Label Lam and Torah.org.