Posted on | November 22, 2006 | By Guest Contributor | 9 Comments
Our children are doing worse than ever. Why?
By Rabbi Zvi Homnick
Part 1 can be found here.
This is the underlying cause of the educational crisis of today. It has nothing to do with if we have too much or not enough self-esteem. The whole problem is self-esteem. We have reached the point in history when we are supposed to teach our children how to have G-d-esteem, not self-esteem. G-d esteem includes the child’s own individual soul, and therefore the knowledge that everything that G-d expects of him or her, s/he can achieve.
Parents say you cannot expect that much from today’s kids, it’s not what it used to be, today you have to make more compromises, make it easier on the kids, because their selves are far more fragile. And it’s true that their selves are more fragile. But why are they more fragile? Because we are teaching them about a “self” that is not real. We are teaching our children to embrace a shallow, superficial, and skin-deep sense of self. The time has come when G-d is asking us to put the finishing touches on His “dwelling,” and the reason our selves are so fragile is because we are supposed to get rid of them. We are supposed to have G-dly souls, not egotistical selves. Our egos are so fragile because we are not supposed to have egos anymore.
But we’re still using the old system of: there’s me and my ego, G-d and his commandments, and how do I fit G-d and His commandments with me and my ego? How much of my ego do I give up for G-d and how of much of my ego do I not give up for Him? That has always been the struggle, but when Moshiach comes, there will not be a conflict between your ego and Hashem’s commandments, because it will be revealed that your own being is a manifestation of G-d in this world. There will not be any conflict because it will be obvious that nothing exists except for
G-d. You are one with G-d.
THE REAL SELF
In the sixties and seventies, everyone became concerned about finding themselves, and today people are still trying to find themselves. Even psychologists and so-called experts are walking out on families and marriages because they have to “go find themselves”. However, no one is succeeding in finding anything worthwhile, because there is nothing to find. They are looking for something that does not exist. The real self is G-d. That is your real self, who and what you are – a part of G-d. There is nothing else to find, nothing else to look for. Where do you get the tools to look for that? Torah, Kabala and Hassidism. These are the tools to find your real self.
So are we too little or too big? Do we have too much self-esteem or too little of it?
The answer is both. Because if we are for ourselves, then we will be big when we are supposed to be small, and little when we are supposed to be great. Yet, we are living in a time when we can no longer tolerate experiencing ourselves as separate from G-d. When we experience ourselves as separate from G-d, we fall apart physically, emotionally, and psychologically because the world is changing, becoming progressively more of a “dwelling” for G-d. G-d only dwells where the “self” does not get in the way. We are living in a time when “even little children will know these teachings,” as the Zohar puts it. Even a child, the classic example of a self-centered, self-absorbed being, is ready for the ultimate reality, one in which everyone and everything realizes that nothing exists outside of G-d.
So the whole problem is not too much or too little self-esteem, but that there is a concept of self-esteem altogether. The concept of self-esteem is a corruption because there is only G-d, and we are a manifestation of His Truth. If my entire existence is nothing else but a manifestation of G-d, then I can do anything. Because I am a divine being with a divine mission, and given divine powers, there is no question of “who am I and what am I.” It is only a question of if I think I am separate from G-d.
THE NEW MODEL OF EDUCATION
So instead of the old model of subjugating the ego to G-d’s will, educate children not to have an ego, for the only thing that exists is their identity as part of G-d. We are not supposed to be teaching children anymore how to get their egos to submit to G-d. We are supposed to teach that egos, on their truest and deepest level, are one with G-d. The detached ego is a thing of the past, history, irrelevant. There are no extraneous selves – there is only G-d. And that’s the ultimate self!
Our minds immediately reject this because we think it’s not practical. Yet, look at what is happening to people. We continue trying to appeal to the baser instincts of our children, through bribery and undeserved praise, because it is the only thing we know, that we are familiar with, so we keep doing it even though we know it’s impractical and it doesn’t work. Then they refuse to outgrow their self-absorption, fueling the newest phenomenon of “adult children.” We also discover at some point that they have problems with self-esteem and unhealthy egos. Would you like to hazard a guess whose fault the family shrink says it is?
In fact, there is no such thing as a healthy ego! It does not exist in the world today. If you ask the biggest experts to point out people with healthy egos, they cannot. Everybody is chasing the healthy ego, which nobody has, and there are all kinds of experts on how to have a healthy ego and they don’t have it either. They are sometimes crazier than everybody else. We must create a paradigm shift in our approach to education. This is the time of Moshiach, when we cannot tolerate living with our false selves anymore.
APPLICATION OF THE NEW MODEL
What this means in real-life terms is that when you communicate with your children, you are doing one of two things:
1) Teaching that the child is a separate existence from G-d, and the way you give that message is when you tell him to do something he doesn’t want to do, when you do anything unpleasant to him, and you blame it on G-d. That is how many parents do it – G-d only comes into the picture when you want to explain to the child why you are doing things to the child that he doesn’t appreciate. You say, “because you have to,” “because G-d said so.” It’s G-d’s fault.
Even if you do it in positive ways by saying G-d is so great and He does some great things for us, the message inherent in all those statements is that there is Him and there is us, and He does those nice things for us. It is part of our way of talking. We seem to set G-d aside where He occupies a separate realm in the heavens, conveying the sense that we are separate.
The message we have to absorb and then communicate to our children is:
2) We are approaching a time in which G-d’s reality will be manifest, and we have to start living that way now. The world we currently live in is one in which G-d is no longer in heaven as a separate and higher reality. Everybody gets to see with his/her own eyes that everything is G-d, and there is nothing else but Him. Do we actually perceive this yet with our own eyes? No. However, we can start preparing ourselves, and especially the children, who are far more receptive, to live with this reality now.
Try it. You may be surprised by the results. Do not underestimate your children. They are ready for truths that defy our exile-like imagination.
BUT, WHAT SHOULD I DO?
Ah, my favorite question. When it comes to talking about G-d to little children, all of a sudden, everybody is at a loss for words. People who can hold forth on just about any topic under the sun, whether they are informed or not, are rendered speechless. What do I say to my child? How do I say it? Can you give me some examples?
I suspect the problem has more to do with our own hang-ups and conflicts than the inability to formulate cogent verbal communication geared to young developing minds. We are uncomfortable with the substance of the message because we are not living up to it ourselves. Thus, we pass on to our children the burden of our exile mentalities.
I can only pass along what the message is – I can’t put words into anyone else’s mouth.
So to sum up, in brief:
1) Everything that exists is part of Hashem, including you and the rubber ducky.
2) Nothing exists besides Hashem, including you and the rubber ducky.
3) Everything Hashem made – exists only to do what He wants, including you and the rubber ducky.
4) We, including you and the rubber ducky, really only want what Hashem wants because we have no other existence outside of Hashem.
5) You, not the rubber ducky, have the ability to accomplish, in the service of Hashem, great things beyond even your own wildest imagination. This is because your existence is an extension of Hashem, and Hashem is all-powerful.
This message can be conveyed in just about any setting and in practically any situation, whether when doing a mitzvah or playing in the water with the aforementioned rubber ducky. Obviously, the message will only get through if our own behaviors, and the home environment we create, are as consistent as we can make them with what comes out of our mouths.
footnote #1 – Sicha, Selichos 5734
footnote #2 – Likkutei Sichos vol.1, p. 151
footnote #3 – Tanya, Shaar HaYichud VeHaEmuna, ch. 1-3
footnote #4 – Tanya, ch. 20
footnote #5 – ch. 23, 24
footnote #6 – Midrash Tanchuma, Naso 16
footnote #7 – Commentary on Mishna, introduction to Sanhedrin ch.10. Also, Mishne Torah, Hilchos Teshuva 10:5
footnote #8 – ibid 10:2
footnote #9 – Sicha, Simchas Torah 5752, Sefer HaSichos 5752, vol.1 p. 37-42
Rabbi Zvi Homnick, a renowned lecturer and educator, resides in New York. He was instrumental in creating the first youth-center for at-risk youth in the Orthodox community. He currently serves as an educational consultant to various learning institutions, and also offers private counseling. Rabbi Homnick can be reached at Rabbizvi@aol.com