Conversations



While Toras Imecha recordings are focused on the weekly Parshah and upcoming holidays, this “Conversation” page gives us a chance to share and connect with each other over different aspects of our mothering journey. I plan to post discussion questions regularly for your participation. I invite you to please share your perspective and experience with all of us. I can't wait to learn from you!








Vayeshev - To Mourn and Become Comforted

2021-11-24

Rebecca Masinter


After Mechiras Yosef when Yaakov was told that Yosef was gone he mourned deeply. We’re told: וַיִּתְאַבֵּ֥ל עַל־בְּנ֖וֹ יָמִ֥ים רַבִּֽים He mourned for his son for many days. Over time, his children tried to comfort him. וַיָּקֻמוּ֩ כָל־בָּנָ֨יו וְכָל־בְּנֹתָ֜יו לְנַחֲמ֗וֹ וַיְמָאֵן֙ לְהִתְנַחֵ֔ם All his sons and daughters sought to comfort him; but he refused to be comforted. Rav Hirsch points out that the word to be comforted is in hispael or reflexive form, “l’hisnachem”. Hispael verbs are ones where the subject does it to himself. So “hislabashti” means I got dressed, but that is not the form we would use to describe dressing someone else. So when Yaakov refused “l’hisnachem”, Rav Hirsch notes, he was refusing to console himself. What does that mean? Additionally, the word used for “and he mourned” is also reflexive or hispael. וַיִּתְאַבֵּ֥ל עַל־בְּנ֖וֹ יָמִ֥ים רַבִּֽים Lashon HaKodesh reflects the reality that both mourning and comforting are processes, or two points along the same process that an individual must go through within oneself. Mourning and becoming comforted is an intensely personal process of reorienting oneself to one’s new reality, whether it’s a world without a loved one, a dream that won’t come true or a goal that can’t be achieved - there are many events in a person’s life that lead to mourning and ultimately comfort - feeling sadness over what was lost and learning to accept a new reality and live with it. In today’s world there is great discomfort with grief. It is especially difficult for parents to watch their children grieving. We sometimes wonder what our role is when our son or daughter is saddened over a disappointment or loss. The Torah teaches us here that accepting and recovering from a loss, including any disappointment, is a process each person has to be allowed to go through until they come out the other side. We may be tempted to distract our child, explain to them why their disappointment really isn’t so bad, or maybe even for the good. Maybe we want to draw their attention to all the blessings in their lives, but when someone is grieving, they need to feel that sadness. The only way to the other side is straight through it, as messy and uncomfortable as it may be. Just like Yaakov’s sons and daughters rose up to comfort him, our role is to be present with our child, to make room for the sadness, to allow it to be felt, but ultimately we have to allow our child to go through the process until they achieve comfort themselves by coming out the other side of grief with acceptance and resilience. Sadness feels uncomfortable and many of us try to avoid it, but it is truly a gift from Hashem that allows us to adapt to life’s realities with resilience. Parents can give their children a gift by allowing them to feel sadness and by making it safe and okay to feel sad. Parents can sit with children in their sadness, and allow them to move through the process from availus to nechama. Just as with Yaakov Avinu, no one else can do it for them - it’s a “hispael” journey which each of us does within ourselves.



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Vayeshev - The Danger of Comparisons

2021-11-24

Rebecca Masinter


וַיָּבֵ֥א יוֹסֵ֛ף אֶת־דִּבָּתָ֥ם רָעָ֖ה אֶל־אֲבִיהֶֽם׃ And Yosef brought bad reports about his brothers to their father. Rashi explains this as you would expect - Yosef spoke badly about his brothers to his fathers. However, the Rav MiVorka has a unique approach. His premise is that Yosef HaTzadik couldn’t have actually spoken badly about his brothers – that doesn’t fit with his greatness. Instead, he suggests a novel idea. Through Yosef being a Tzaddik and through his inherent greatness, his brothers showed up as comparatively less impressive to their father. When a parent has multiple children and one of them is outstandingly excellent or mature, it can lead the parents to subconsciously judge their other children by the standard of the exceptional child and to be critical of them for not being equal to their outstanding sibling. This, he says, is what the Passuk means that Yosef brought bad reports of his brothers. By being who he was, Yosef HaTzadik, he caused his father to be more critical of the other shevatim. Yosef’s fault here, according to the Rav MiVorka, is that Yosef should have hidden his unusual qualities, and exhibited more tznius to the point that even his father wouldn’t have specially noticed him. It’s an unusual interpretation, but I think it's relevant as an insight into human nature. Have you ever seen a child who physically looks much more mature than his or her peers? Some of my friends have children who look 2-3 years older than they are, and one of the challenges they face is that teachers and other adults expect more maturity from them than from their peers. Intellectually, I’m sure those teachers recognize that the big, tall girl is still only three and should be treated like a three-year-old, but despite that knowledge, they may still be more critical of that child for acting like a three-year-old! That is a reality and I think we are all affected by it. In today’s society, we are driven by data and measurement. It’s inevitable that our children will be compared to the others around them instead of being evaluated solely on where they are on their own life’s curve. Sometimes we do it, sometimes we allow others to do it, and sometimes it’s important or inevitable. It’s human nature! However, we can rise above human nature, and we can work on being aware that each child is a world in and of themselves. Just because one of our children reached a milestone, whether it’s physical, emotional, or academic early, doesn’t mean our other children are delayed. Just because one child is an eager helper doesn’t mean the others should help more. Each one is unique and as parents we need to look at each child alone and individually, evaluating where they are relative to their potential, no one else’s.



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Vayeshev - Did You Hear That?

2021-11-24

Rebecca Masinter


At the end of Moshe Rabeinu’s life, he designated three arei miklat, cities of refuge, where a Jew who killed accidentally could flee for protection. The first one set aside by Moshe was in Reuven’s portion of Israel. The Gemara in Makkos asks why Reuven merited to have his city of refuge mentioned first in the Torah, and the answer is that in Parshas Vayeishev Reuven was the first to try and save Yosef. The Passuk (37:21) says: וַיִּשְׁמַ֣ע רְאוּבֵ֔ן וַיַּצִּלֵ֖הוּ מִיָּדָ֑ם Reuven heard, and he saved him from their hands. Reuven tried to rescue Yosef by suggesting that instead of killing him, the brothers should throw him in a pit. His intent was to return later once everyone had calmed down, and bring Yosef safely home to his father. The question is, why did Reuven try to save Yosef? The brothers weren’t acting out of spite, they were halachically convinced that Yosef deserved the death sentence - what made Reuven see it differently? The Medrash answers the following: When Yosef told his brothers his dreams he reported that he saw eleven stars bowing down to him. Nine of the brothers heard the dream and were angry, but Reuven heard it and was relieved. Why was Reuven relieved? In Parshas Vayishlach Reuven sinned against his father - he had interfered in his father’s relationship with Bilha. Reuven’s deep fear was that he would be cast aside as one of the shevatim forever. That’s why when he heard that Yosef had included him equivalently with the other brothers in his dream, he was filled with gratitude and made efforts to rescue him, which caused him to merit the first ir miklat. Rav Avraham Pam points out a crucial insight here. Two people can hear the exact same words from the exact same person, and they will each hear something completely different. Nine brothers heard Yosef trying to rule over them and were infuriated, but one brother heard something different and felt relief and joy. The message for us mothers is two-fold. Firstly, when we listen to others, and, specifically when we listen to our children, we want to train ourselves to listen to the good, the underlying message positively. When a child cries, “You never listen to me”, or “You never spend time with me”, we can choose to hear the accusation and get defensive, or we can choose to listen to the love and longing behind those words - a child saying, “I love you and need you and want to be close with you.” It’s our choice to choose what we hear. The second message to mothers is to be aware that our children are each hearing us differently and may need us to fine tune the way we speak to each of them. Some children are more sensitive than others, and they may interpret our frustration or tension as “Mommy’s angry at me”, whereas a different child hears us and thinks, “Mommy’s upset that we’re running late. She’ll be fine once we’re in the car.” Different people have very different filters, and it’s wise for us to tune into each of our children every now and then to check in with what they think they are hearing when we think we’re communicating. Both of these messages are invaluable in life and in parenting. I’d like to suggest that we focus on hearing the positive content in others’ speech, and being attuned to how our listeners may be interpreting us so we can help them hear us positively as well.



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Vayishlach - Take Your Time

2021-11-18

Rebecca Masinter


The passuk in Vayishlach says: וְיַעֲקֹ֣ב שָׁמַ֗ע כִּ֤י טִמֵּא֙ אֶת־דִּינָ֣ה בִתּ֔וֹ וּבָנָ֛יו הָי֥וּ אֶת־מִקְנֵ֖הוּ בַּשָּׂדֶ֑ה וְהֶחֱרִ֥שׁ יַעֲקֹ֖ב עַד־בֹּאָֽם׃ And Yaakov heard that he had defiled Dina while his sons were in the field, and Yaakov was silent until they came. Yaakov didn’t rush to respond, but kept his counsel and waited. Even after the whole story was over Yaakov didn't rush to press his opinion on his children. It's true that he told Shimon and Levi a short rebuke "עֲכַרְתֶּ֣ם אֹתִי֒ לְהַבְאִישֵׁ֙נִי֙", but Shimon and Levi answered him back and they actually have the final word in this perek. Yaakov didn't respond to them. He bided his time and held his tongue until the very end of his life in Parshas Vayechi when he finally addressed their role in this story. Similarly when Reuvein moved Yaakov’s bed to his mother Leah’s tent, the passuk says "וַיִּשְׁמַ֖ע יִשְׂרָאֵ֑͏ֽל", “and Yisrael heard”. Yaakov noticed what happened but he waited and didn’t respond immediately. Here too, he waited until Vayechi, his final blessing to Reuvein to rebuke him for this action. What can we learn from this? We, mothers, can be strongly tempted to address problems with our children right away. We want to rebuke chutzpah in the moment, to explain ourselves to an argumentative child or to defend ourselves from a confrontational child. While certainly, particularly with young children and little issues it is important to correct them promptly and give them feedback quickly, parents of older children with bigger challenges can learn from Yaakov Avinu here. If we criticize our children immediately, in the moment, their natural defensive feelings are sky high, and like Shimon and Levi, they will probably want to justify themselves instead of hearing our concerns. If they’re feeling angry or riled up, they won’t be in a receptive mode to internalize our view. We may feel momentarily better by getting it off our chest, but we won’t have reached our children’s hearts or been mechanech. When we wait to respond and take the time to let our emotions calm down and clarify our thoughts, we are doing more than speaking to deaf ears, we are waiting to speak in a time and manner that our child can hear us. That is high level parenting! Sometimes we may be concerned that if we don’t immediately tell our children what we think or condemn their behavior, our kids may think that we condone or agree with them. I’d like to suggest that isn’t so. Our children watch us all the time, they hear us all the time and they know what our values are. They know what we believe and they know what we think. They are aware of our opinions of their actions even when we withhold comment. By waiting to discuss issues that arise until the time is right, our children don’t think we don’t care. On the contrary, they learn that we care so much that we will treat them and us with dignity to have a real conversation at the right time and not just blow up because we’re frustrated. Parshas Vayishlach reminds us of the value of waiting to speak until we can be heard - responding not for the sake of venting, but for our children's benefit.



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Vayeitzei - Children as Partners

2021-11-10

Rebecca Masinter


Parshas Vayeitzei includes the birth of 11 shvatim and ends with Yaakov’s family leaving Charan and returning to Eretz Yisrael. After they left, Lavan pursued Yaakov which led to a non-aggression pact formed over a mound of stones, a “gal”. The passuk says: וַיֹּ֨אמֶר יַעֲקֹ֤ב לְאֶחָיו֙ לִקְט֣וּ אֲבָנִ֔ים וַיִּקְח֥וּ אֲבָנִ֖ים וַיַּֽעֲשׂוּ־גָ֑ל Yaakov said to his brothers, “Gather stones”, and they gathered stones and made a mound. What does the Torah mean by saying Yaakov spoke to his brothers? What brothers did he have there? Rashi tells us, הֵם בָּנָיו, these were his sons who were his partners, joining with him in times of trouble and hostility. Isn’t that interesting? Yaakov’s children became like brothers who came to his aid. Children, like everyone, need to feel valuable and important. One way they do so is by partnering with parents in contributing to the home. While it is possible to have unhealthy dynamics when a parent relies on a child’s help too heavily or uses a child as an emotional or physical crutch, this pasuk is a good reminder to us that it is important for our children to be partners with us. Helping out at home not only gives a child important opportunities to build life skills and confidence, but it also makes them feel significant to their family. The documentary "Screenagers: The Next Chapter" discusses adolescence, technology, and mental health. They reported a study where researchers put mothers and their children alone in a room and gave each child a puzzle to solve which was too hard for them. The researchers effectively forced failure in the child in front of the mother. The mothers were instructed not to interfere or help their child with the puzzle, but inevitably, the mothers stepped in and helped their kids with the challenge. Here’s the fascinating piece. When the mothers stepped in to help, their own stress levels (heart rate, cortisol level, etc.) went down, but their children’s stress levels went up! By taking away their children’s opportunity to work through a difficult challenge on their own, and stepping in to take control of the situation, the mothers felt better, but their kids felt worse. Our children need to have opportunities to tackle big jobs, they need a chance to be our brothers and partners, helping us with cooking, yard maintenance, cleaning, and many other areas where we can allow them the opportunity to stretch, grow, and be in partnership with us.



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Vayeitzei - Angelic Encounters

2021-11-10

Rebecca Masinter


Yaakov Avinu was the first to describe Hashem within the context of a home, a family. Parshas Vayeitzei begins with Yaakov’s famous dream of the ladder ascending to Heaven, and when he woke up he said: אֵ֣ין זֶ֗ה כִּ֚י אִם־בֵּ֣ית אֱלֹקים This is none other than the House of God! We know that “bayis” doesn’t mean simply a physical house, but “bayis” is a home, a family. Over the course of the Parshah, Yaakov built “Beis Yaakov”, his family, and the last scene of the Parsha occurs after Yaakov, his wives and children left Lavan’s house, after they finished their final encounter with Lavan on Har HaGilad, and when Yaakov’s family is intact and alone, traveling back to Eretz Yisrael. Interestingly, just as the Parshah began with an encounter with angels, so it ends with one too. וְיַעֲקֹ֖ב הָלַ֣ךְ לְדַרְכּ֑וֹ וַיִּפְגְּעוּ־ב֖וֹ מַלְאֲכֵ֥י אֱלקים׃ Yaakov went on his way and angels of God encountered him. Rav Hirsch draws our attention to the beautiful symmetry here. When Yaakov encountered Hashem at the beginning of the Parshah, the Torah says, וַיִּפְגַּ֨ע בַּמָּק֜וֹם,“and he encountered the place”. The Makom can of course also refer to the Divine, which is exactly what he encountered there. Yaakov had a momentous experience at that holy site. At the moment when he woke up from his dream he knew what his life’s mission was and he immediately dedicated his life to it. His encountering of the angels in his dream and the holiness of that place was a life-altering moment for him, hence the word “Vayifga” and he encountered, meaning he encountered in a momentous way. At the end of the Parshah, the Torah uses the same word, “Vayifga” for a momentous, life altering encounter, but here Yaakov isn’t the one doing the encountering, it’s the angels who encounter him. וַיִּפְגְּעוּ־ב֖וֹ מַלְאֲכֵ֥י אֱלקים, “the angels of Hashem encountered him”. Now that Yaakov has built the first completely Jewish home in history, the angels view his coming as an incredible experience for them. They can’t believe their eyes as they see a Jewish family reflecting Hashem’s glory just through their being a family, a home. And so this time, the angels view this encounter as a momentous experience, but for Yaakov it isn’t a “pgiah”, an encounter, he’s blissfully unaware of his household’s Godliness and the impact they’re making on the angels. This thought resonated with me and I wanted to share it with you because we all have days or weeks that we just seem to be scrambling, running hard but staying in place. And in those times we’re not always aware of just how special we are, and just how incredible the family that we’re building has become. It takes a band of angels to see the truth when they encounter a Jewish family, because too often we don’t even notice how absolutely magnificent and holy the work we are doing is, and we don’t always appreciate the Bais Elokim that we are building. This Parshah comes as a reminder to us. Our mission, like Yaakov, is to build a family home within which Hashem dwells. And as we go about our days doing this, we feel ordinary, normal, and perhaps inadequate, but from a Heavenly perspective, our homes are momentous, something that even the angels encounter with astonishment.



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Todos - Yaakov and Eisav: Personal Chinuch

2021-11-04

Rebecca Masinter


Thank you for joining me! Let's look at a parenting lesson from Yitzchak and Rivka, through the eyes of Rav Shamshon Refael Hirsch. The passuk tell us: וַֽיִּגְדְּלוּ֙ הַנְּעָרִ֔ים וַיְהִ֣י עֵשָׂ֗ו אִ֛ישׁ יֹדֵ֥עַ צַ֖יִד אִ֣ישׁ שָׂדֶ֑ה וְיַעֲקֹב֙ אִ֣ישׁ תָּ֔ם יֹשֵׁ֖ב אֹהָלִֽים׃ The lads grew up and Eisav was a man who understood hunting, a man of the field, and Yaakov was a single-minded man, living in tents. Rav Hirsch notes that the Torah says, “Vayigdlu hanearim”, the lads grew up as one unit – they grew together and undifferentiated. In fact we know that it was only after they grew that their differences were noticed. Only after they were adolescents does the Torah say that Eisav was a man of the field and Yaakov a man of tents. What about when they were little? As children, there weren’t discernible differences in their behavior – they were raised together, “the lads grew up”. Rav Hirsch points out that the basic tenet of education is “chanoch lenaar al pi darko”, each child should be educated according to his inner tendencies and individuality. Eisav and Yaakov didn’t belong in the same school, they shouldn’t have had the same routines, schedules, or activities. Rav Hirsch says that if only Yitzchak and Rivka had studied Eisav’s nature and tried to develop his strength and skills in a way fitting for him, he would have become a “Gibor lifnei Hashem” a mighty man before God, not a Gibor Tzayid, a mighty hunter. This is a fundamental lesson that I believe we all know, and it is still a worthy message to remind ourselves of and take to our hearts. It isn’t enough to think about our family as a whole, and define our values and routines, but also to think through each child individually. What are this child’s strengths? Natural inclinations? Personality? Temperament? What education does this child need? What schedule? What waking time, what bedtime? What extracurricular activities? What chores and contributions should he make? What unique support does he need from us? We all know that it is challenging to tailor a unique approach of chinuch to each child. It requires time and energy to think deeply and research options, let alone put them into practice. I also know that it can be difficult within the framework of traditional schools to work with a school to make changes for an individual child in their school day. It isn’t easy, but it is the most basic principle of chinuch – it’s our job to understand each child as a unique individual and work to tailor their upbringing appropriately. As a side note, I have found that when parents make decisions based on what is best for each individual child, the children respect the differences and don’t complain, “it’s not fair”. I think it’s valuable for our children to know that we don’t all need the same things and we don’t all get the same things, as long as they also know that we are committed to each and every one of them to give them what they uniquely need for their growth and development. I want to end here by acknowledging all of you, mothers who do this day in and day out. I am always inspired when I occasionally have the privilege of hearing from you about your chinuch decisions. Mothers who invest effort into understanding their children and doing what is best for them are true heroes. I know you don’t get awards and accolades, so I want to end with a huge yasher kochachen. You are truly goborei koach and Hashem should bless all of us with the wisdom and strength to continue our path of chinuch, one child at a time.



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