A rabbi walked into a brick-making factory.
No, this isn’t a joke. It really happened, many decades ago when Jerusalem was still a quiet, provincial village. The rabbi watched as workmen filled up iron trays with moistened clay and slid them into large baking kilns, removing each tray to make room for the next.
“Tell me something,” the rabbi asked one of the workers. “The clay looks exactly the same coming out of the kiln as it does going in. What would happen if you didn’t put it into the fire?”
The worker laughed. “It may look the same,” he replied, “but without the mold holding the clay together it would disintegrate the moment it began to dry. You have to bake it in the fire if you want it to become a brick.”
The rabbi learned an important lesson from the brick-maker: Our schedules and responsibilities “hold us together,” keeping us productive and forcing us to be efficient. But what happens after work, on the weekends, or over vacation? Do we remain disciplined with our time and solid as a brick, or do we crumble like so much dust into idleness and fritter away our time?
For parents especially, summer vacation poses a challenge, with two months of unstructured time looming before their children.
On the one hand, children need free time to learn to create their own schedules and manage their own time. Too much structure deprives children of a critical component in their development.
But children shouldn’t be left entirely on their own, particularly in this generation when electronic toys provide limitless junk food for their growing minds.
As in all things, the best parents are consultants, gently but persistently helping their children to recognize the options in front of them and prodding them to make the choices that will serve them best.
And the best way to teach our children is by modeling the behaviors we want them to learn. Be a brick, and your children will be bricks, too.