This week’s torah portion, Korah, really resonated with me. Basically, Korah, a Levite, was tired, hungry, and generally pissed about wandering through the dessert. He gathered together a few buddies (who were presumably also hungry and in desperate need of a shower) and they threw a collective tantrum at Moses–something along the lines of “Who died and made you God?!?”
Moses responded by falling on his face. Traditional commentators praise him for this, noting that rather than reacting by yelling something back (possibly along the lines of “God did, you giant douche! And he’s not even dead! So suck it!”), he took the time to reflect and collect himself. I love that idea, although I also like to think that Moses was feeling the same way I often do when the girls are whining at the end of a long day, when I barely have the energy to stand, much less engage with the latest round of whatever they’re all worked up about.
Either way, Moses managed to pull himself together and, rather than getting into a scream fest or physical fight with Korah, he basically told him to wait and see. “Come morning, God will make known who God is and who is holy.” Now, the story goes on from there, and eventually God got so fed up that He just went right ahead and opened up the Grand Canyon under Korah and his followers (the ultimate “time out,” I suppose). While I don’t condone throwing your children in a giant hole in the ground when they’re acting up, I do think there are a few parenting lessons to be learned from the interaction between Korah and Moses.
1. Our children will question our authority. This is a normal developmental (albeit annoying) process, and it’s our job to figure out how to deal with it. It’s useful if you happen to have some sort of deity in your back pocket that you can play good cop/bad cop with, but most of us don’t happen to be that lucky. (This is where Santa can come in awfully handy; unfortunately we Heebs are out of luck on that one.) Rather, we can follow Moses’ lead, pick ourselves up off the floor, and try to talk our children about what’s going on. (And they, in return, might respond as Korah’s crew did–they refused to come to the table. That’s ok. We just need to keep trying.) We can acknowledge the power differential and how frustrating it can be while not relinquishing our authority. Children need parents to be in charge just as the Israelites needed a strong leader, even if none of them wanted to admit it.
2. Do whatever you can to get a little breathing room and space so you can respond thoughtfully rather than react impulsively to your kids. I have to believe that Moses was annoyed by Korah’s challenge. He could have responded with the traditional Jewish mother guilt trip, “Are you kidding me? I just saved you from a lifetime of bitter slavery and now I get this from you??” but he didn’t take the bait. And although his response was likely fairly unsatisfying to Korah (just think about how happy your kids were the last time you responded to their freak out by telling them to wait until morning), it didn’t actually make things worse, from what I can tell. So, whether you need to fall on your face, take a few deep breaths, or do a silly dance to get the negative energy out of our body, do it. You might not come up with the best response ever, but it will likely be better than if you just explode all over your little ones.
3. Don’t forget to feed the kids (or yourselves). I forgot to do this the other day, and after several hours of running around with only a few bites of birthday party cake in her stomach, my generally flexible and happy kid had an epic tantrum that continued full force for over 30 minutes, and didn’t stop until she finally got some food. I was also hungry and tired at the time, and likely would have opened up the ground underneath my poor child had I been given the option. The reality is that none of us can function well when our basic needs haven’t been met, and carrying a snack with you can be a fairly easy way to head off or end tantrums. (I think we can all agree that Moses would have done well to stash a few snacks bars in his robes for times like these).
If all of that fails, you may want to consider installing a trap door in the floor. After all, if it worked for God…
To read the previous posts in our Torah MOMentary series, click here.