Bal Tashchit, in Hebrew, referring to the mitzvah of not destroying. Most of us naturally will think of our environment. Instead, I am referring to our souls. I have always regarded myself as a lucky person—for countless reasons, one of which is my roots. And by roots, I mean my parents’ influence on my life. I acknowledge the treasure they gifted me now more than ever! I grew up in a family that wrapped us with love. Love in abundance! This does NOT mean that there were no fights in my family. Can you imagine the fights of five siblings??!! Whose turn to do the dishes? Clean? Take the garbage out? With whom am I willing to share my clothes? And yet, looking back at my childhood, I realize that my roots are healthy. My “roots” were watered constantly with just the amount of water needed in that moment. No drought nor flooding. My “roots” received their nourishment in the right quantities. When my parents were upset, disapproved of my actions, or just simply confused they showed it—but in a healthy way. Not everything I did or said was perfect. I made plenty of mistakes and I am far from being perfect (yes, I can envision some of you nodding your heads with agreement…don’t rub it in J). But I never got the feeling that my parents did not approve of me during those times—just my actions. I never felt unloved. The thought that comes to my mind instantly is my decision to come to the Unites States. I am the only person, not only in my immediate family but also in my extended family, that chose to live outside of the State of Israel. I know my parents preferred that I would live by them (like the rest of my siblings). They wanted to be a part of my daily living. They wanted to see my children more often than once a year. But they never made me feel guilty for making a choice that they would not have made. They trusted me. When I told them I wanted to marry my husband, they could’ve said “maybe find someone who speaks Hebrew fluently? Someone with whom we can converse? But instead, they opened their arms with love to my partner, to my choice. They believed in me to trust that what I decide will work for me. And therefore, honoring my parents was an easy and natural step for me as I grew older. I treasure it and want to pass it on to my children.
Recently I have seen people close to my heart receiving the opposite treatment from their parents. The frowning, shouting, disapproving, and ultimatums given to an adult child. In other words, the conditional love. “Do what I want and then I love you. So, do what I want.” My heart breaks when I see an adult, who wants to do good in the world, attached to his past with cables that are unseen to the rest of the world. But to them, these cables are like shackles, holding them tight, pulling them down. But they feel guilty making the change, shifting the conversation.
How far does a person need to go until they acknowledge that their roots are not only less than perfect but even on the verge of being rotten? When does an adult realize that the interactions, they have with those whom they regard as their roots don’t provide them with the nutrients for their soul, for their self-confidence, and for their emotional health? What are the steps to take so a person with “rotten roots” can grow tall and secure and can plant his or her own roots to help raise the next generation?
For one, I believe we all deserve to be respected! Regardless of our role as parents or children. I also believe that respect is earned, not entitled. And it earned through actions, shown daily, weekly, monthly. Next, I believe every adult should have their boundary and set parameters. What can we say, and what can we not say within our roles? Will our words benefit or destroy the reality we want to create?
Third, realize that “rotten roots” are not a reflection on us. You are not your roots! I remember a teacher who used to work with me over 20 years ago told me how much she disliked her mother, and how mean her mother was. That teacher vowed to never be like the mother. I recall her telling me “when I had to make a choice, I always made the choice I knew my mother wouldn’t make, because I wanted to be different.”
And last, stop feeling guilty. Guilty about what others will say; guilty for distancing ourselves from our roots; guilty for not honoring that which we are commanded to honor (commandment #5, guys). Instead- take care of your own soul, of your own relationships that you try to nourish. Value and treasure what’s in front of you, and not what is in the past. The Mitzvah of Ba-al Tashchit, do not destroy also counts for the health of your soul, not only your body! So, go to therapy. Don’t feel bad taking care of yourself! Look at the reality without the rose glasses of what you wish the reality was. Be real and true. Seek help so you don’t nourish the problem yourself. Because let’s face it—if you don’t like your reality—you are the only one who can change it. No one else can. And the rewards will feed you and your soul for the rest of your life!
One good answer to “Rotten Roots” is to turn your unhappiness into helping other people – either an individual or to volunteer where it is not easy to help such as working to create new services for a forgotten group you have perceived – for example, long-term room-and-board-housed mentally ill adults. Sometimes helping another individual becomes your moment of the heart. Recently, a middle-aged woman who spent time in my home when she was a child told me what that meant to her then and for her future. That, I can tell you – the knowledge that someone benefited form something I could do – remains a joy to experience.
Dear RMR, You are absolutely correct! When we want to feel better and to grow as individuals, we have to turn outward and help others! You have not only benefited from it yourself, but you have helped save another person, which is similar to saving the world. Beautifully said!
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