In the 1990s film classic, Austin Powers, Dr. Evil has a clone who he calls “Mini-me.” The mini-me looks just like Dr. Evil except he is one eighth his size. When my first son was younger I had a secret hope that he would be my mini-me. He would love playing soccer and studying Torah. He would be active politically in his elementary school and of course be an avid reader. If I let myself indulge this fantasy, I wanted him to be exactly like I was as a young person! A Mini-me.
Of course, our children are not mini-me’s. But really accepting this fact is harder than it seems. My son is a fun, wonderful, delicious boy. He is a late reader and likes baseball instead of soccer. He likes science and math and is a kinesthetic learner. He is not particularly fond of learning Torah. These differences cause me more pain than I like to admit.
In our Arlington Parenting Through a Jewish Lens class we just studied the great Reb Zusia story. The Hassidic master Reb Zusia is lying on his deathbed crying. His students ask him why he is crying since he has been such a faithful Jew his whole life. He responds, “when I get to heaven they won’t ask me why weren’t you more like Moses. They will ask me, why weren’t you more like Zusia. Then what will I say?”
This brief, powerful story cuts right to one of life’s central tasks – to be our true selves. As adults we all know how challenging that can be given the myriad of expectations put on us by parents, colleagues, friends, spouses and others.
Teaching this story the other day it struck me how central this idea is for us as parents. While I may want a mini-me, this is not my job as a parent. My job is to help my son know who he is, on his own terms. I need to stop using my own life as a measuring stick by which to evaluate my son. Really seeing him and his unique Neshama/soul and reflecting what I see back to him is a great gift. We all needed our parents to do that for us. Now we get the chance to offer this gift to our children, this gift of themselves.
Rabbi David Jaffe is the school chaplain at Gann Academy: The New Jewish High School and the founder and dean of The Kirva Institute for Torah and Spiritual Practice. A graduate of the Columbia University School of Social Work and the Jewish Theological Seminary Communal Service program, Jaffe received his rabbinic ordination from the Bat Ayin Yeshiva in Israel. He is a veteran Parenting Through a Jewish Lens instructor and has taught widely throughout the Boston community.