The Day My Child Returned The Stolen Item by Gevura Davis
The Day My Child Returned The Stolen Item
I wasn’t surprised when my youngest child, at age 3, came home with his first stolen object. In fact, I was waiting for it. His four older siblings had each pulled off similar shenanigans in preschool.
When it happened with my first, I went crying to my parenting coach, concerned that I was raising a deranged lunatic who was already a thief, and thus confirming my nightmare that I was, in fact, the worst parent ever. Thankfully, she walked me off the ledge of perpetual parental guilt-and-failure syndrome and told me it was a normal developmental stage. She explained that, as their minds grow, children develop the ability to desire something and plan a way to acquire it. Our job, however, is to teach them the values of right and wrong and to guide them in returning the contraband and offering a sincere apology.
So I was shocked when, last week, right after I picked him up, he emptied his pocket and showed me what he had done. He said he felt bad, that he knew it wasn’t his for taking, but the shiny pink pony from his friend’s cubby looked so bright and fun. Even though, thanks to his older sisters, he has his own collection of sparkly painted ponies, the allure of this one got the better of him. Before we even arrived home, he wanted to go back and slip the pony back into the girl’s cubby.
Watching him go through the thought process, and imagining him wrestling with himself and his inner voice in school, and working up the courage to admit to me what he had done, brought such a sense of pride to me. Already, at such a tender age, he is discovering the hard work of life: the battle between the body and soul, the two opposing voices constantly at play in our minds. Cartoons often depict an angel and a devil in little clouds on a character’s shoulders. Although it may appear childish or fictional, we really experience this pull several times every day, albeit in more sophisticated forms:
- Eat the extra brownie or don’t eat it.
- Call back the friend who needs to talk or ignore the missed call and turn on the television.
- Write the check to the organization raising money for children with cancer or just throw the envelope in the trash with the rest of the junk mail.
- Smile at my co-worker and simply forgive her for smacking her gum too loudly or give her a piece of my mind on Monday morning.
- Take deep breaths and remind ourselves of our spouse’s humanity or yell at him for forgetting to take out the trash again.
- Agree to pick up an extra carpool shift for the parent who always seems to be behind in life or exert our righteous indignation at the injustice of it all.
It’s not that eating the extra brownie, turning on the TV, trashing the solicitation letter, etc., are devilish acts in or of themselves, or that we can never be lazy or relax or exert our desire to be right. It’s that each time we make a decision that we know will develop our higher selves, we are using our power of choice to make the world a better place, and thus transforming ourselves in the process.
Each of these seemingly small acts actually has the power to transform us into the kind, giving, righteous, disciplined, happy people we have the potential to be. In fact, Jewish wisdom tells us that we were put in this world for precisely this lofty purpose!
In this week’s Torah portion, Vayishlach, Jacob learns this very concept in a rather painful way. As he leaves behind a very difficult yet fruitful 20 years spent living near his father-in-law, Lavan, he sets out on a difficult journey where he grows into the father of the Jewish people, which is growing into a great nation. Along the way, he encounters a man – an angel, actually – who wrestles with him all night.
After a lengthy and arduous struggle, Jacob emerges victorious. Through blood, sweat, and tears, Jacob asks for a blessing, to which the angel responds: “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, rather Israel, for you have struggled with G-d and with man and you have been victorious.”
The Sages tell us that one understanding of this fight is that it represents the internal struggle between body and soul. The loud body, or devil in the cartoon depiction, screams that our friend’s pony is so pink and shiny, that the brownie tastes so good, that it is so much easier to yell to get our children to do what we want. Its opponent is the quiet whisper of the soul, begging us to listen to the voice of truth and do what is right, even though it is much harder.
This is why the Jewish people are called Israel, as a reminder of Jacob’s successful battle with himself. We have inherited this struggle. Through these daily and hourly battles to do what is right, we grow into the great people and the great nation we are destined to be. There is a beautiful quote circulating that explains this lofty concept well:
Watch your thoughts, they become your words.
Watch your words, they become your actions.
Watch your actions, they become your habits.
Watch your habits, they become your character.
Watch your character, it becomes your destiny.
Our forefather Jacob forged a great path of destiny for all of us.
That’s why I was elated when my son, on his own, decided to return the pony. I realized that he is already learning to listen to the quiet whisper of his soul. Though this is very difficult, we each posses the power to do what is right. Each of these little decisions helps us forge who we will become. It is not easy, of course. Sometimes we give in and don’t live up to our potential. But the beauty of life is that we always have new chances to listen to the voice of our soul and do what is right. We can always turn around and quietly put the pony back in our friend’s cubby. We can apologize. We can be more patient next time. We can write a check the time a letter comes in the mail. The diet can always start tomorrow.
Blessing each of us, dear sisters, with the amazing ability to win the small and great battles that help us grow into the cultivated human beings we each have the potential to be!
Gevura Davis is the Director of Women's Programming for Etz Chaim Philadelphia where she enjoys meeting and connecting to Jewish women of all ages and backgrounds.