A Parenting Mishna

I recently received this request:

“I would like to read your thoughts on ase lecha Rav and how you’ve seen this benefit those who take this Mishna seriously.”

I appreciated this request partially because it gave me an opportunity to gather some thoughts on that Mishna and because it allowed me to learn that there are various ways to take the Mishna seriously depending upon how you interpret it.

One interpretation of this Mishna is to find for yourself a Rav from whom to learn rather than relying on your own reasoning (Rashi, Avos 1:6).

A second interpretation is to translate the Mishna as “make yourself into a Rav.”  This may mean to take on the responsibility to correct others when necessary. (Chidah, cited in Avos, Mesivta edition, Yalkot Biurim, page 52)

Or “make yourself into a Rav” can be understood to mean to proactively teach Torah to others before they seek you out as a Rebbe. “It appears that this can be explained, b’siyyata d’Shmaya, that one who has the ability to teach students should not wait until they seek from him to be taught.  Rather, he should do what is necessary to pursue them to bring them to him so he can teach them, as Rabbi Akiva said to Rabban Shimon bar Yohai ‘more than the calf wants to nurse, the cow wants to give the nursing.’ This is [what the Mishna means ‘by making yourself a Rav,’] doing the strategies and effort it takes for you to become a Rav, to teach Torah to others. Nonetheless do not be arrogant over your student to whom you are teaching Torah.  Rather see him in your mind as though he were a colleague to you and not a student and conduct yourself towards him the way you would honor a friend.” (Ben Ish Chai in Chasdei Avos, 1:6).

A third interpretation is to see yourself as a Rav. “The Tanna comes to teach that if a sin or something inappropriate becomes available to a person, he should see himself as a Rav and say Verily, I am a Rav and an exalted person! How could I do such a thing?” (Mussar Avos, in Avos, Mesivta ed. Ibid).  In a similar vein, the Sfas Emes writes that you should be a Rav over yourself and control your behaviors. (MiMayanos HaNetzach, Avos, Page 40)

Another way to see yourself as a Rav is to judge yourself the way you judge others. “Nothing is as difficult as seeing your own faults.  A person sees everyone’s faults but his own, as taught in Negaim 2:5.  Nothing is easier than seeing someone else’s faults.  The way to correct this is to reverse yourself.  When you do something, think about your reaction if someone else had done it to you.  And when someone does something to you, think about how you’d see it if you had done it to someone else…This is the implication of ase lecha, those things that you do, be a Rav about them the way you judge the actions of others.  And k’nai lecha, take as though you had done, chaver, the actions of another towards you.  The result will be v’hevai dan es kal ha’adam l’kaf zchut, just like you judge yourself.” (Oros Pele page 33; by the author of Pele Yo’aitz from a manuscript titled Dan Yadin)

How can each of these interpretations benefit you as a parent?

The first interpretation was to find for yourself someone to turn to for guidance.  Rather than making independent decisions when you are unsure, consult with someone you trust.  Arrange for your child to see you consulting with your spouse and others when you are forming decisions. Seek guidance from your spouse when your child raises concerns. Encourage your child to reach out to you and your spouse when something is on his mind.

You will be modeling for your child that sometimes it’s important to make your own decisions and sometimes it’s important to accept someone else’s guidance and to seek counsel from someone else before making a decision. You model both self-reliance and humility, and show your child that they are not mutually exclusive.

The second interpretation of asei lecha Rav, correcting and teaching your child, represents the two basic functions of a parent, setting expectations for your child and helping your child meet those expectations.  The rules for setting expectations follow the mnemonic CPR.  Each expectation has to be Concrete, Positive, and Realistic.  Helping your child meet an expectation works best when you begin by asking, “what’s hard for you?” or “what could I do to help you?”

The third interpretation of asei lecha Rav is to be a Rav over yourself. You can teach your child self-discipline when you speak out your self-control in various situations.  Not during the situation, but sometime later, tell your child what your initial impulse had been and how you were able to restrain yourself and respond in an appropriate way.

When your child does something unpleasant to someone, avoid asking, “Would you like it if he had done that to you?”  Instead ask, “If he had done that to you, what would you think of it?”  If he says he wouldn’t like it, do not say, “Then why did you do it to him?”  That will put your child on the defensive and end the conversation.  Say, “Okay, so what you could you do next time instead of what you did this time?”

If he says he wouldn’t care if someone did it to him, tell him you still don’t want him to do it to anyone else, and ask him what he could do instead the next time he’s in a similar situation. Your role as a rav here is not to offer him alternatives but to teach him that you expect him to behave differently and to allow him to identify alternative behaviors.

The benefits of taking all of the nuances of this Mishna seriously are increased success for your child and nachas for you.

Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor with specialties in marriage, relationships, and parenting.