By Laura Seymour
Since Adam and Eve, parents have been telling their children all sorts of things that may not make sense to kids, but for which there are usually deeper reasons. Marc Gellman wrote a wonderful little book giving us the reasons. “Always Wear Clean Underwear! And Other Ways Parents Say ‘I Love You’” is the name of the book (unfortunately, it is out of print). The first story tells about clean underwear and the big lesson. The famous line that most of us have heard is, “You should always wear clean underwear because if you ever get into an accident and an ambulance has to take you to the hospital and the doctors have to take your pants off, if they see that you’re wearing dirty underwear, they will think that you are a dirty person or worse.” (Plus, parents are afraid it reflects badly on them!)
So what does Rabbi Gellman say the “big deep reason” behind this is? He says, “The big reason for wearing clean underwear is to teach you this: What people don’t see about you should be just as good as what people do see about you. We all try to look good outside. The hard part is to look good inside.” A similar thing that parents say is, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” The sages said it yet another way. In Pirke Avot, Chapter 4:27, Rabbi Meir says: “Do not look at the jug, but at what is in it; there is a new jug filled with old wine, and an old jug that does not even contain new wine.” Rabbi Meir is telling us not to make judgments based on the outside of something. (There’s a lot more to it, so get “Pirke Avot, the Sayings of the Fathers,” to have on your Jewish bookshelf and study!) Talk about all these important messages together. And, remember, these conversations are not just for little kids!
Rabbi Gellman has many chapters in his book that you will recognize as things your parents said — or maybe that you say. Talk about these (and any favorites that may be unique to your family) and try to find the “big reason.”
*Don’t talk with your mouth full.
*Money doesn’t grow on trees.
*If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.
*I hope that when you grow up, you’ll have a kid just like you.
Keep thinking and keep talking — that is how we learn. In Pirke Avot, yet another rabbi said, “Who is wise? The one who learns from all people.”
Laura Seymour is director of camping services and Jewish life and learning at the Jewish Community Center of Dallas.
By Laura Seymour