Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman, LMHC
One of the lessons Ben Azzai teaches us in Pirkei Avos is al t'hi maflig l'chol davar, which means there is potential value in everything in Hashem's world (Tiferes Yisrael on Avos 4:3). Maybe we can even derive a musar haskal from professional sports.
What is the most impressive sports accomplishment? How would you decide which trophy is the hardest to win? Would you base your judgment on the number of teams in the league, the number of games played during the season, the challenge of a team that is a dynasty or an exceptional superstar player? All of those criteria are subjective, and therefore subject to disagreement. What objective criterion could there be?
In most sports, there is a champion every year. Every year, someone wins the Davis Cup, the Stanley Cup, the Superbowl, and the World Series. How would you determine which of those is the most impressive achievement? I would not attempt to.
The most difficult title to win, perhaps, is the one that no one wins, year after year. Not since Affirmed in 1978 has the Triple Crown of Racing been awarded. A victory so seldom achieved is an impressive achievement. And I think there's a musar haskal for each of us, particularly as parents.
Rabbi Shimon taught: There are three crowns: the crown of Torah, the crown of kehuna, and the crown of malchus. (Avos 4:13) There is a triple crown for each of us to aspire to.
How can each of us aspire to all three crowns? How many of us are descendants of Dovid Hamelech? How many of us are kohanim? And if we can only aspire to the crown of Torah, what is the lesson for us in knowing that there are 2 other crowns?
According to Rabi Yitzchak Izaak Chaver, each of the three of the crowns bears significance for every one of us. The crown of kahuna alludes to service, the positive mitzvos. The crown of malchus alludes to self-restraint, the negative mitzvos. The crown of Torah alludes to knowledge, to learn for the sake of Torah. (Ohr Torah, cited by Misivta Avos, kaftor v'ferach page 62)
The Ben Ish Chai sees in these three crowns the antidotes to the three threats to our wellbeing cited in Avos 4:21: Rabi Eliezer hakapar says: jealousy, desire, and [the pursuit of] honor remove a person from the world.
The Ben Ish Chai explains:
These three crowns nullify the three harmful attributes, jealousy, desire, and honor. The crown of Torah, of which it is said, "jealousy of scholarship increases wisdom" nullifies inappropriate jealousy. The crown of malchus which requires self-restraint against material desires, as it says, "he shall not take many wives and he shall not acquire many horses" nullifies inappropriate desire. The crown of kehuna, about which is written "honor" as it says, "and you shall make holy vestments for Aharon your brother for honor and glory" nullifies inappropriate pursuit of honor. (Chasdai Avos, 4:13) Clearly, these dangers and their antidotes apply to every Jew, king or commoner, Kohen, Levi, and Yisrael.
How do these concerns apply to your children? What are the positive mitzvos, the negative mitzvos, and the Torah in which your child seeks the crowns of achievement?
There are three areas of achievement for a child: social, behavioral, and academic. You want your child to have friends, to cooperate with teachers, and to master the lessons that she is taught. You want your pre-schooler to play nicely with other children, to sit in the circle when the moreh says it is circle time, and to learn shapes, colors, numbers, and the aleph-bais. Learning appropriate social skills incorporates positive mitzvahs such as v'ahavta l'reiacha kamocha and b'tzedek tishpote amisecha. Cooperation with teachers includes the negative mitzvo of al tasur. Torah encompasses all of the above as well as the study of Torah itself.
You want your child to achieve the crown of kahuna, to form friendships by expressing kindness, patience, and generosity, thus earning honor rather than pursuing it. You want your child to attain the crown of malchus, to learn self-restraint, to reign in impulsive behaviors and desires. You hope your child will acquire the crown of Torah, that he will be jealous of the knowledge and joy of Torah he sees in others, and strive to gain it for himself.
You want your child to win the triple crown. Sometimes, I hope, he will. When he falls short in one or two areas, be concerned; don't be discouraged.
How do you express concern? How do you help your child when she is struggling in one of these areas?
First, slow down. Think about what it is that you would like to express to her. Are you concerned that she seems to be failing socially and struggling with loneliness? Does she spend "too much time" by herself? Are you sure it is a struggle for her, that she wishes she could spend more time with friends; or is it that you wish she would spend more time with friends? Some children are more gregarious than others; some enjoy solitude that looks to you like loneliness. Tell her what you see, tell her that you are concerned, and ask her what it is like for her.
Miri, you spend a lot of time on Shabbos afternoon reading. I'm concerned that you seem lonely.
Ta, I am so busy with my friends all week, and I love them and enjoy them, but on Shabbos I really like having quiet time to myself.
Are you concerned that you son flaunts rules and doesn't care that he gets in trouble? Slow down. Tell him that you want him to comply more consistently with the rebbe's expectations and ask him what would help him to do better.
Dror, I don't want your rebbe to call me again to tell me that you were talking during class. What happens that you can't sit quietly?
Mom, I lose the place and when I ask the boy near me where rebbe is up to, I get in trouble.
I would like you to explain this to your rebbe during recess, and ask your rebbe what you should do when you need to find out the place because you lost it.
If your child sometimes struggles academically, ask her what she thinks might help her, and with whom she wishes she could work to do better. Slow down, and give her a day or two to think about it.
And most important of all:
Notice when your child is succeeding socially, behaviorally, and academically. Tell them they're doing something incredible, they're winning a triple crown.
Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel
Ackerman is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor with specialties in marriage,
relationships, and parenting. He works with parents and educators, and
conducts parenting seminars for shuls and organizations. He can be reached at 718-344-6575.