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Rabbi's Message

Weekly Thought from Rabbi Enan Francis

Kosis: The Blessing of a Wounded Knee

In a sense, schools are incubators of society. In their youngest years, our children remain in the cocoon of our homes, sheltered from the pressures of social hierarchies and the drive to conform.

Then the long-awaited first day of school comes, filled with possibilities and dreams for parents and children alike. It is the entry point to our academic careers and to the world of rules, regulations, and independence. Many children successfully navigate the chutes and ladders of social integration, while other have terrible difficulty developing their emotional skills, social connections, and sense of self.

Then the fateful day that every parent dreads presents itself. Your child comes to carpool with tears in her eyes. You gasp, and flutter through an array of emotions. Fear, anger, disbelief, and disappointment.

You lower yourself to your child’s eye level and ask, in the kind of emotive voice that only a parent can muster, “What happened?”

The answer: “Someone hurt my feelings.” (For whatever reason. The reason why doesn’t really matter.)

You think to yourself, “Should I speak to the teacher? Perhaps the parents of the offending child? The principal, the president? What should I do, I need to protect my child!”

All parents desperately want to protect their children. This natural desire may take the form of protecting children from any form of discomfort, whether it be social, intellectual, or psychological. Homework, a lost temper, an unshared toy, a personality difference, or you name it: if the child feels stress, healthy or not, the objective of the parent is to relieve the child. Look out below, the stereotypical helicopter parent is making a landing.

Other parents view stressful situations differently. They perceive the challenges in their child’s life as opportunities for growth and accountability. Rather than protecting their precious child from stress, they build up their child’s abilities though positive support, reframing stressful situations, and teaching how to learn from failures, mistakes, and tough times.

These parents believe in Kosis.

So what’s that?

In this week’s parsha we read:

אַתָּה תְּצַוֶּה אֶת-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, וְיִקְחוּ אֵלֶיךָ שֶׁמֶן זַיִת זָךְ כָּתִיתַ למָּאוֹר

“And you shall command the children of Israel, and they shall take to you pure olive oil, crushed for lighting, to kindle the lamps continually.”

Here, the process of making olive oil is linked with its purpose. Olives are not merely crushed, but crushed for lighting. Even while the olives are growing, their grower knows that they must be crushed to bring out the purity of their essence. Avoiding the crushing removes the chance to create light.

Parent who believe in Kosis are parents who know that their children will face difficulties, and will need to overcome those challenges if their gifts are to shine in this world. These parents protect their children by strengthening them to deal with adversity. The insight of Kosis is that being crushed is not the end. It may even be the beginning. 

Naturally, children need to be strengthened and they need to be shielded. But how well have we protected our children if we have not helped them develop the capacity to deal with the difficult things that come their way? Incrementally, increasingly, we must build their strength and lessen their need for our direct intervention. When the time comes that our children have to find the way for themselves, it is specifically the character built that ultimately serve the day.

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