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Friday, 31 July 2015

How to get your kids to pull their weight

Daf Yomi Nedarim 68


“Clean up that mess on the floor!”
“But I didn’t make the mess!”
“Please clear the table!”
“But I already cleared my plate!”

Do these exchanges with your kids sound familiar?  How do you get them to understand that it’s not just about taking care of themselves? Inevitably you resort to the response that if we parents had that attitude, we would just be feeding and clothing ourselves.  Why should we cook for anyone else?  Why should we do their laundry?  It’s not our mess!  And we hope that eventually they’ll begin to understand what it means to be part of a family and not just look out for themselves.

Mishnah: If a young girl was betrothed, her father and groom have the power to annul her vows together.  If the father annulled but the groom did not, or the groom annulled but the father did not, the vow is not annulled. 
Gemara: If only the husband annulled, has he cut the vow in half or has he weakened it?  What does that mean?  Let’s say she vowed to abstain from two olives and her groom heard and annulled it.  When she subsequently eats, if we say that it is cut in half, she would be liable for punishment (for consuming the other olive).  But if we say that the vow is weakened, it would only constitute an unpunishable prohibition. 
The Ran explains: Does the husband have power over his half of the vow and not the other half, or does he have half the power over the entire vow, over which they have joint jurisdiction in partnership?

The question of the Gemara is when things are owned in partnership, how do we view that ownership?  Are the partners like individual shareholders, with each owning a specific piece of the company that is exchangeable on its own?  Or are the partners joint owners in the whole entity without the ability to break it down into smaller units? 

We begin life seeing ourselves as individual shareholders.  With time, the hope is that we begin to become more communal and societal creatures.  When we are born, we view our place in the universe as Adam did when he was created.   He looked around at all the beautiful creations and exclaimed, “The world was created for me.”  It was all about himself.  Until, of course, G-d demonstrated to him that if he desired companionship, it would entail giving up a part of himself, literally and figuratively.

Consequently, our natural born tendency is to break down matters of ownership and say ‘what’s mine is mine and what’s yours is yours.’  But like Pirkei Avos explains, that was the attitude in Sodom.  As we mature, the goal is to cease constantly thinking about number one and contribute more and more to others.

How do you do that?   By asking yourself ‘how can I make this company great?’  The best employees are the ones who aren’t thinking about how they can excel in their personal careers and rise through the ranks.  They think of the company in terms of ‘we’ and strive to make the company shine.  When that’s your attitude, you suddenly find yourself getting promoted without ever having sought it! 

And that should be your attitude to family life, to communal life and ultimately to societal life.  It’s not about you.  It’s about ‘how do I make this household awesome?’  Ask your kids: do they want to live in a pig-sty or do they want to live in a home that is outstandingly beautiful?  Are they proud of their family?  Do they want our family to shine? 

When I see a candy wrapper on the floor in shul, I immediately pick it up.  I want to be part of a shul that looks impeccable.  Is that the kind of shul you want to own?  Or do you say to yourself ‘I didn’t make the mess; I don’t have to clean it up’?   It doesn’t matter who made the mess – you are not an individual shareholder, you are a joint owner of the whole entity!  You want your shul to be awesome!


Imagine we lived in a society where everyone picked up the trash from the street because they felt it detracted from who they are.  That may sound utopian, but you can begin at home, you can begin in shul.  May you forever consider yourself a partner in the entire entity and take responsibility and ownership in making your collective incredible!