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Friday, 23 May 2014

Hands-On or Hands-Off Parenting?


Rosh Hashanah 15

Today's Life Yomi has been dedicated by Justice Eric Macklin in memory of his father Yaakov ben Zev hakohen z"l.  

What’s the best way to raise your kids?

Contemporary parenting books offer all sorts of opinions ranging from totally hands-off to nurturing them to a degree that most would call smothering!    Should you be active as a parent, on top of your kids’ homework, meeting with their teachers, choosing their friends?  Or should you take a step back and let them grow unimpeded? 

In each year of the seven-year agricultural cycle, one must separate tithes for the Kohen and Levite.  In addition, on the 1st, 2nd, 4th and 5th years, one must eat a special tithe in Jerusalem.  On the 3rd and 6th years, this tithe is given instead to the poor. 

Concerning vegetables, the Beraisa teaches: “If one picked vegetables the day before Rosh Hashanah before sundown and then once again after sundown . . . if it was the end of the 2nd year and beginning of the 3rd, the first vegetables picked are subject to regular tithes and Jerusalem tithes, but the second lot are subject to regular tithes and poor-man’s tithes.”

By contrast, concerning an etrog, the Beraisa teaches: “If one picked an etrog the day before Tu BiShvat before sundown and then once again after sundown . . . if it was the end of the 3rd year and beginning of the 4th, the first etrog picked is subject to regular tithes and poor-man’s tithes, but the second is subject to regular tithes and Jerusalem tithes.”

The discrepancy between the time of year when these two cases take place is due to the fact that vegetables have their New Year on the 1st Tishrei while fruit have theirs on the 15th Shvat.  Each of those dates is the cut-off point to determine what crop belongs to the old year and what crop is the part of the new year. 

But why does the first Beraisa use the transition between years 2 and 3, while the second Beraisa switches to years 3 and 4?   The first time we encounter a difference in tithing duties is between the 2nd and 3rd years and so the second Beraisa should not have waited the extra year!

The Gemara answers that our Sages are teaching us about the tenderness of the etrog tree. During the sabbatical year when the field is a free-for-all, everyone comes in and touches the tree.   All this touching negatively impacts the tree’s ability to bear fruit and consequently it doesn’t produce any new fruit for the next three years. 

The Talmud is teaching us that as much as one touches the vegetable plants, there’s no damaging effect, but not so the etrog tree.  If nobody would touch the etrog tree, it would bear fruit immediately.  Instead people ruin its abilitiy to grow and bear fruit by their excessive handling.

King Solomon writes in Proverbs “Educate each child according to his way.”  In G-d’s parenting book, there is no one perfect way to raise children.  Some are little veges, which must be nurtured and constantly watched.  Veges are the kind of kids that you must ask whether or not they’ve done their homework, who their friends are, and what time they’re coming home.

Other kids are like the etrog tree.  Too much handling and the kid will not succeed.  Excessive attention and the tree won’t bear fruit.  These kids need their space and they will produce the most beautiful fruit of the field.

The art of parenting is taking the time to figure out the nature of each of your kids, and not parenting according to your own personal style, but according to what’s best for each of your children individually.

Remember, G-d entrusted you with His children, because He knows that you have the skill to raise them all exceptionally!  Tune in to what each child needs and your kids will turn out incredible human beings! 


Life Yomi dedications don’t cost a penny!  To dedicate a day of learning in honour of a birthday, anniversary or yortzeit, all you need to do is commit to sending the Life Yomi of the day (or another Life Yomi teaching of your choice) to 18 (chai) people!  You needn’t provide us with the names of recipients; all we need is the honouree’s name and occasion.  For more details, please email rabbi@familyshul.org