James and Terrie dragged their son Joey in by the scruff of his neck to see me.
“Rabbi, you gotta talk some sense into him,” they shouted, “we found him smoking weed behind the shed.”
I was shocked. Joey was a good kid. Just two years ago, he’d done a brilliant job for his bar-mitzvah. How had this happened?
I asked them whether they had ever smoked marijuana. If they had, I thought, they might be able to impress upon their son the ill-effects of the drug. They asked Joey to leave the room and then admitted to me that they still smoked up on occasion with friends.
“And you expect him to be clean?!” I exclaimed incredulously.
“Yes, we do. We realize that we’re not perfect, but we hope that he’ll do better in life.”
When Rabbi Nachman was departing from Rabbi Isaac, he asked him for a blessing. He responded with a parable: A fellow was walking along in the desert and he was hungry, tired and thirsty, when he happens upon a tree. Its fruit were sweet, its shade was pleasant, and a stream of water passed below. He ate the fruit, drank the water and rested in the shade.
When the fellow was finally ready to depart, he exclaimed, “Tree, O tree, how shall I bless you? If I shall wish that your fruits be sweet, behold your fruits are already sweet! That your shade be pleasant – behold, your shade is already pleasant! That a stream of water may pass below you – behold a stream of water already passes below you! Rather, may it be G-d’s will that all shoots planted from you be just like you.”
“Similarly with you,” continued Rabbi Isaac to Rabbi Nachman, “how can I bless you? If I were to bless you with success in Torah scholarship, you are already a scholar! If I were to bless you with wealth, you are already wealthy! If with children, you already have children! Rather, may it be G-d’s will that your offspring be just like you.”
Many people want their kids to be better than themselves. You’re not perfect, but you want your kids to be perfect. You may not be a great Torah scholar yourself, but you want your kids to become successful in Torah. You smoke, but you don’t want your kids to ever touch a cigarette. You bludged around in school leading to a mediocre career but they’re never allowed to leave their desks.
Rabbi Isaac teaches that there’s no magic wand you can wave to bring out the best in your kids. They will model themselves after you. How you choose to act will determine what they do. If you want your kids to turn out awesome, then you better start striving to be awesome yourself!
Don’t want them watching TV? Start with curbing your own TV habits. Don’t want them drinking? Don’t go out drinking. Want them to watch their language? You’d better watch yours.
You know you’ve made it when the best blessing you can hope for is that your offspring be ‘chips off the old block.’ Imagine Rabbi Isaac could turn around to you when you would ask for a blessing and apologize that there’s not much he can offer because you’re doing excellently in every sphere of life.
When that day comes, you will be well on the way to ensuring that your kids too are excellent, or in the words of Rabbi Isaac “just like you!”