Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

6 Teves 5763 - December 11, 2002 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network











Home and Family

Finish the Job
by R. Chadshai

Discordant Notes

Ahuva begged her parents to let her take music lessons. She wanted to play the keyboard. The girl was not particularly musical, yet on the other hand, maybe just because of that they ought to encourage her. There was the thought of the financial outlay. The lessons were cheaper, as they were arranged by the school, but the entire term's lessons would have to be paid for in advance. The keyboard would also be quite expensive. In the end, they capitulated and bought the instrument, to be paid for in installments. Ahuva, whose joy knew no bounds, joined the 'music club.' She started lessons eagerly and worked hard. After three months the novelty wore off, as did her enthusiasm. Ahuva stopped practicing at home and went to lessons with great reluctance. Her frustrated parents did not know what to do about it. They were annoyed but sorry for a girl who did not want these extracurricular lessons.

Where's our Leader

It was Naomi's ambition to be chosen as a Shabbos group leader. She canvassed all her older friends and anyone else she thought could help her achieve her objective. Some of her classmates were competing for this honor, but in the end, Naomi was chosen. Greatly excited she told all and sundry about her new 'position.' For the first few weeks she prepared all the activities and she and her charges had a good time together. Then it was pre-examination time. The onus of exams looming over her left little time for preparation. She did the minimum, cancelled meetings and avoided the girls. One Shabbos she had not notified the girls but decided to go to sleep all the same. The disappointed girls waited and waited, then trooped to Naomi's house to find out why she hadn't come.

Surprise Surprise

"I decided to give you a surprise Mummy and clean up the whole kitchen," announced eleven-year-old Tamar. Her mother, who had just come in, saw the child standing in a deep pool of water, mop in hand, obviously at a loss. With mixed feelings Mother smiled at her and wished her success. From past experience, Mother knew that Tamar was one who always began with good intentions but needed someone constantly breathing down her neck to make her finish. Nevertheless, she thought, maybe just this time Tamar would really surprise her and do a good job in the kitchen? An hour later, when there was an ominous silence coming from the kitchen, Mother went to investigate. She discovered the pools of water, and Tamar in bed, sleeping the sleep of the just.

We have all met people who belong to the 'beginners' category. They begin a task with great fanfare and a lot of enthusiasm. Somewhere along the line the job gets left and is never completed. Whether it is a girl who starts a piece of tapestry which is then left to molder in the back of a cupboard somewhere, or a yeshiva bochur who promises to decorate the whole flat in bein hazemanim and, after giving an undercoat to two walls of the kitchen, tires of the enterprise. Two girls want to earn some money and plan a day camp for children in the summer holidays, They enroll children and buy a few essentials. At first things go very well, but after a week the two are tired. They are impatient with the children (who are astute enough to know their feelings, and behave accordingly) and things begin to get out of hand. The reader can no doubt supply the end of the story.

Analyzing the Problem

Parents are terribly worried about children who start, but never finish their jobs. If they run away from small tasks, what will they do later on in life when they are confronted by complicated situations? This is why one shouldn't just close an eye to these episodes. We have to analyze the reason why the child failed to complete his assignment and try to find ways to help him.

One reason for the child's failure is that he has too little information. He thinks that all successful people have always been that way. In fact successful people have all had failures and disappointments but have persisted. One of the Gedolei Yisroel, when speaking about the positive side of stubbornness, said "stubborn people succeed." They will ignore all the failures and pitfalls and carry out their aim come what may. They will not give in. Those who succumb to fatigue or boredom or just lack of enthusiasm cause themselves irreparable harm. Instead of the satisfaction of a job well done, they have an inner void, a low self image and may even go into depression, chas veshalom.

Getting the Child to Complete the Task

Children have to be told that difficulties are usually part of the job. They may not have tackled the job correctly and have to learn from their mistakes. As long as a child knows that someone else is going to finish the job for him, he will imagine that he is incapable of finishing it. Each time he is encouraged (and it needs a lot of encouragement!) to finish something, he will improve at it. If a child feels that you are honestly trying to help him, and are not just criticizing or talking in frustration, he is more likely to listen.

For example, "I notice that you have stopped practicing your music at home, and that you don't like going to lessons any more. Is it too hard for you?" Empathy and understanding will not solve the problem, so if the daughter agrees, you should continue, "Is it because you have no time, or because you don't want to practice any more? What do you think we could do about it?" "It seems that these groups have become a burden on you. Do you have discipline problems? Can you not manage all the work for the group and also for school? Etc." "You thought painting and decorating was a piece of cake. Right? It's harder than it looks, isn't it? I tell you what. You can't leave the walls half done like that. Leave it for today, as you're tired, and tomorrow I would like you to finish them. We will leave the rest of the room and the flat till I can get a painter in." "Day camp is really hard work. You can ask all your friends. But you promised the parents three weeks, so you have to stick to it. Let's plan some more activities and interesting things for you to do for the rest of the time." The child has to be convinced that you are not punishing him in any way, but that you are just trying to help him cope with his self-imposed task so that he can finish it somehow.

Sometimes, of course, the actual start was a mistake and there is no point in trying to help the child to persevere. The child who begged for music lessons only did so because her friends were going. It is useless to force a child to practice something which is obviously not her line. It will not help to rub salt into the wounds by saying, "You asked for those lessons and look how much we have spent on you. Don't you ever ask to join any other club." Instead, try to get her to salvage what she can. "Go to the secretary tomorrow, explain the problem, and ask if you could possibly join another club, maybe cookery or art, whatever you think you will enjoy, for the rest the year. At least then we won't have wasted the tuition fee."

We are told that the job belongs to the one who finished it not the one who started. Yiddishkeit is not for 'starters.' Even if we have attained a certain spiritual height, we are never allowed to rest on our laurels. The angels are called "omdim." They are on a very high level, but can rise no further. Man, on the other hand, is a "mehalech," one who makes strides. This is his uniqueness, and this is his task: to continue to strive and progress.


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