"…Love your fellow [Israelite] as yourself."
These six simple words from Parashat K'doshim are as relevant today as they were to the Israelites thousands of years ago. Commonly referred to as the "Golden Rule," they offer a roadmap for how to live compassionately and lovingly with others.
One of the basic skill sets of learning to function as a member of society is learning to be kind, considerate, compassionate and thoughtful. This is a lifelong process that begins in early childhood, both at home and at school.
Normal growth and development occurs in a predictable pattern, although the rate at which it takes place varies from child to child. Learning to care about others and not always putting oneself first is something that takes place after a strong emotional foundation has been established. Learning to love oneself is the foundation for learning to love others.
It is vital that babies have consistent, warm and loving interactions with adults in their lives so that they can develop trust. When their needs are being met by a trusted adult, babies can begin to trust themselves. When this occurs, they can begin to explore safely their environments, coming back for "refueling" as necessary. This leads to the development of independence and self-esteem. Positive self-esteem contributes to the ability to value others and treat them respectfully.
Along with a newly developing sense of self, when children begin to develop language, they also begin to claim things. "That's my toy!" or "Mine!" are common sentiments heard. Naturally, it is difficult for children to understand things from another point of view. They can be impulsive and self-centered, but with time, guidance and healthy role models, children eventually learn that the world doesn't revolve solely around them. As their worldview grows outward, they begin to recognize that others have feelings and that their actions affect the feelings of others.
One of the best things you can do to support your children in this process is to model being compassionate, considerate and loving towards others. By doing so, you will teach them to walk the path of "derech eretz," a Hebrew phrase translated as "the way of the land," which can be understood as acting with kindness and consideration for others. By treating others with respect and dignity, you will be teaching your child to do the same. This can be demonstrated in even the smallest acts of kindness. For example, when you go to the grocery store, offer to help an elderly person put his or her groceries in the car. On Shabbat, visit the local Jewish nursing home and deliver flowers to the residents. Talk to your children about what you can do as a family to act lovingly towards others.
Even when you are upset with your children, there are opportunities to teach them about love and compassion. By speaking calmly albeit firmly, by not yelling nor allowing situations to get overheated, you show your children that you can set firm limits while maintaining respect for them. It doesn't mean that you can't punish your children when they've done something wrong. However, by remaining composed, it helps them learn how to deal with conflict in a healthy and productive manner.
By considering the welfare of others, you teach your children (and yourselves) how to live lovingly side by side with other people, how to care compassionately for your family and neighbors, how to consider the stranger in your midst (Remember we were once strangers in the land of Egypt!), and how to follow the wise six words from Parashat K'doshim that have been passed on from one generation to another, l'dor v'dor, for thousands of years.
Questions and Ideas for Parents:
- Is the Golden Rule a value that you were taught as a child?
- Does anyone stand out in your memory as having personified the Golden Rule?
- How do you demonstrate the Golden Rule in your life?
- Do you think it's hard to live day-to-day applying the Golden Rule?
- Can you think of a situation involving your children in which you would refer specifically to the Golden Rule?
Questions for Children:
- How do you show your parents that you love them?
- How do your parents show that they love you?
- What are some nice things you can do for other people?
- Can you think of something nice that a friend has done for you? How did you feel about that?
Pages 797-813 in The Torah: A Modern Commentary Revised Edition, by W. Gunther Plaut.