An Open Letter to Parents: Rav Mordechai Burg

Dear parents,

These are beyond difficult times. For everyone. For those living in Chutz La’aretz there is a real feeling of helplessness and wanting to do more as the threat in Eretz Yisrael continues to loom large (to say nothing of the demonstrable rise in antisemitism around the world). For those living in Eretz Yisrael, we live with the threat of a siren, the booms of the Iron Dome, the loved ones that have gone off to war, attending the funerals of those we have lost, the anxiety of what comes next. I hope you are doing as best as you can under the circumstances. I hope you are taking care of yourself and connecting with the people you love. 

Chazal teach us that all beginnings are difficult (1). It is hard to be new at things. Especially hard things. Generally speaking, we learn by doing. Trial and error and eventually we get good at it. But what happens when we have no relevant experience or expertise? There is a real feeling of uncertainty in the air these days. One senses the vulnerability everywhere we go. The fear of firsts can be very overwhelming. In times like these, we are called upon as parents to show up and learn. Only when we push ourselves to move through that awkward first stage of trial and error can we know what we don’t know. 

Here’s the bad news: This will probably not go well. How can it? We can’t draw from experience, we don’t have any. There is no playbook. We may know some general rules but that may not help in these very specific circumstances. I wish I could write, things won’t go as planned but who amongst us can say that they even have a plan that will go awry?

Here’s the good news: We don’t have to be perfect parents; we have to show up to the best of our ability. If we use these times to connect with our children, if we are willing to stay curious and own the fact that we don’t always know what to do, if we stay brave and are willing to change course when things are not working, we will be enough for our children. The name of the game here is to be nimble. Be brave enough to try, learn from our mistakes, and make the necessary adjustments on the fly.  

So, how can we pull this off? With so little in the tank for ourselves, how can we take care of others? Rav Shayale of Kerestir zy”a was the faithful shamash of the holy Tzadik, Reb Hershele of Liska zt”l. One of his responsibilities was to distribute bilkelach (rolls) to the throngs of people who flocked to Reb Hershele’s court for inspiration and advice. One time Reb Hershele was watching with amazement as Reb Shayale was giving out the bilkelach from a sack. When asked what he was watching the Rebbe responded, “Look at my Shayale distributing the bread. The sack is empty, but he continues to give….” Even long after the supply ran out, Reb Shayale mysteriously continued handing out fresh rolls. As parents we may have a similar experience. Long after our energy has run out and our emotional supply is completely depleted we still somehow reach into our sack and continue to give to our children. And also, as a good friend wrote to me recently, “You aren’t helping anyone by soldiering on.” It is important  for us to take care of ourselves so that we can take care of others. If we don’t stop to sharpen the ax, our capacity to chop down the trees in the forest will take significantly longer. For us to be the best parents we can be, we need to put the proverbial oxygen mask on ourselves first in order to take care of others. It’s ok if we don’t know what the balance between self care and reaching into Rav Shayale’s bag looks like. We are all learning what works best for us and our families. 

The Jewish people right now are experiencing a collective vulnerability. As we watch anti-Israel demonstrations on the street, people tearing down posters of the hostages, kids in college campuses barricaded in a library to protect themselves, soldiers going off to war, families from northern and southern Israel moving on to our blocks and into our homes because they have nowhere else to live… It makes sense to be scared. Scared tends to bring out either the best in people and the worst in people with very little in between. If our default is self protection we are likely to hurt people. Scared people can be really scary. If we lean into the discomfort of the vulnerability we can choose each other and in times like this choosing each other is the best choice that we can make. Our children are in the process of learning the most important lesson of all: a Jew is never alone. There is an entire nation that is braving their fears and courageously choosing love in a time of hate. Our children’s growth in these times can be exponential if we grab the opportunity we are being presented with.

Thank you for allowing me to share some of my thoughts and feelings. Somehow, though we may not know each other, it helps to write to you. 

With love and blessings for better days,

Mordechai Burg   

(1)  Rashi, Shemos 19:5 quoting the Mechilta

Rav Mordechai Burg is the Menahel of Mevaseret, Mashpia of NCSY Summer, Mashpia of Nitzotzos, author of Nitzotzos on Chumash and a senior Rebbe at Tomer Devorah and Bnot Torah Institute. His shiurim can be found on

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