There is a mishna in Pirkei Avot that scared me as a young boy. The mishna states that, “ayin ro-ah, v-ozen sho-ma-at v’chol ma-asecha ba-sefer nichtavin.” There is an eye that sees, an ear that hears and all of our deeds are written in a book. God is watching everything we do. We constantly live under a microscope. This thought can be so frightening and paralyzing that we may tend to ignore it. But sometimes we are reminded that we are being watched, not by God, but by our children. Very often, we don’t even realize how the smallest things that we do as parents can be so impactful on our children.
I meet with bar and bat mitzvah children in my community shortly before they reach their milestone, and I recently met a bat mitzvah girl and asked her what her favorite mitzvah was. She told me that it was tzedakah. I asked her why and she told me that she was in Manhattan with her family a few years ago and they saw a homeless person. Apparently, the family had a loaf of bread for some reason, so they gave the loaf of bread to the homeless person. This story made such an impact on this girl that she told me that helping the poor and the needy was her favorite mitzvah. She also told me that when she reminded her mother of the story, her mother didn’t remember it. Yes, her mother didn’t remember the story, but importantly, her daughter did and it made such an impression that years later she told me that the mitzvah of tzedakah is her favorite mitzvah because of this story.
I recently was talking to a woman whose mother just passed away. I told her that I noticed how beautifully she practiced the mitzvah of “kibbud aim,” of honoring her mother, in shouldering the burden to take care of her mother at the end of her life with dignity and respect. I also told her something that Rabbi Moshe Gottesman told me years ago. The mitzvah of kibbud av va’aim is a unique mitzvah that yields a pragmatic benefit to the one who performs the mitzvah. When our children see the way that we perform this mitzvah, we will become the beneficiaries of the mitzvah in the way that they treat us. Our children are always watching.
The bat mitzvah girl also told me that she truly appreciates her parents because she feels that they truly believe in her. They want her to try her best, for example in school, and that’s all that matters to them, even if once in a while she may not receive a top grade on an assessment. Simple thing to believe in your children and encourage them, right? Simple thing to make sure your children feel supported, right? It seems like a simple thing to do, but many parents express frustration at their children by making them feel that they are not good enough and that they are disappointed in their children as a whole. It is understandable why parents may express feelings of negativity if their children are not living up to their potential, but imagine if you grew up in a home where you constantly felt supported, where you truly felt that your parent believed in you. Imagine how much you could achieve.
The Mishna in Pirkei Avot (1:6) states that we should judge others favorably. Rav Nachman of Breslov explained that included in this expectation is to try find the good in everyone, even those who generally do not practice good behavior. By focusing on the good in a person, you create an expectation that that person will engage in good behavior. This expectation will likely encourage the person to engage in better behavior. In other words, Rav Nachman of Breslov believes that judging others favorably creates a self-fulfilling prophecy to encourage others to be their best selves.
These are small things, easy things, that a parent can do for his or her children. Small acts of chesed. The way we treat our parents. The confidence that we give our children that, yes, we believe in you. It is true that the mishna in Pirkei Avot states that God, as it were, is always watching and listening and writing down our behaviors in a book, but do you know who else is watching? Our children.