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Judgment Day

Sarah Chana Radcliffe

Healthy approach to teshuvah starts with kind parenting

Wednesday, September 05, 2018

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here was a lot of criticism in my home. I always felt like I was wrong, bad, failing. It’s taken years of therapy to help me have some good thoughts about myself, and I have to work really hard to stop myself from sliding backward — which is why Rosh Hashanah is always hard for me. Too often, my mother’s voice gets superimposed in my mind over Hashem’s ‘voice’: faultfinding, disapproving, and rejecting. It’s easier for me to just concentrate on menu-planning.” 
Reactions to Judgment 
Rosh Hashanah is an opportunity for us to take stock. Ideally, we should reflect throughout the year, and especially as the Days of Awe approach. But Rosh Hashanah is the day of our annual review, carried out by the King Himself. Everyone is a bit on edge, realizing that the stakes are high. Our performance during the previous year will determine our fate for the upcoming year. Of course we’re worried. 
However, we don’t all share the same degree of worry. Suppose a student is about to face an oral licensing exam. Throughout the decades of her academic career, she has been an A+ student. Since this exam is so important, she’s worried, but she encourages herself, knowing that she’s an academic star. 
Not so her fellow student, who’s had a rough time throughout school, failing the occasional course and receiving middling grades on others. This student has reason to worry about this final exam, and her head is full of self-recrimination. “I’m in trouble. I’m going to fail.” Her fear will negatively affect her performance. 
And then there’s the student who gave up long before the exam, who experienced setback after setback and then despaired, withdrawing from the program. 
Although none of us can ever rest on our laurels and feel assured of a positive judgment on Rosh Hashanah, those who are able to feel Hashem’s love and goodness, who feel like A+ students, can use the day as an opportunity to draw even closer to their Creator. They will take time for self-assessment and look for ways to improve themselves and their service. 
On the other hand, those who hear constant judgment in their heads, who feel like they’ve already failed in some ways and are mediocre in so many other ways, worry more about the judgment about to take place. The day may be heavy and sad for them. Weighed down by negative self-talk, these people may find it difficult to maximize the day’s opportunities. 
And those who are self-pronounced failures (whether because of their own assessment or because of messages they’ve internalized from others), may not even “show up” to hear their verdict. The voice they hear inside their head tells them that they are a lost cause. There’s no point in trying.
 
Preparing Children for Judgment 
As parents, we can help children have a healthy relationship to Hashem and to the process of judgment when we employ a gentle approach to education. When parents notice what’s right and praise desirable behaviors, their child develops a positive, encouraging voice in her head (“Your good deeds are noticed! Your parents are pleased.”). 
Offering corrections only occasionally and always kindly leaves a child feeling comfortable with self-examination and the personal improvement process called teshuvah. (“It’s okay sweetie — everyone makes mistakes. I’m sure you’ll do better next time.”) 
If your own parents didn’t use that approach, you can employ it for yourself now. Shower love and compassion upon yourself (just as Hashem is doing) as you search for ways to improve and grow (“You’re a good person. Hashem sees all you do and is proud of you. You can continue to learn and do even better!”). 
We can all enter the day of judgment knowing that we are stars in Hashem’s eyes. All He wants is for us to straighten out our crooked bits. Our loving King, Who shows us right from wrong, Who supports us on our journey, and Who only wants to bring out the best in us, is the ideal parent. 
To help children grow up with the right attitude toward Rosh Hashanah and teshuvah, parents need to remember that they represent Hashem to their children. Acknowledging and showing faith in our children’s goodness helps them be able to face themselves and Hashem annually. It helps them have the strength to overcome their weaknesses. (Originally featured in Family First, Issue 608)

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