How do I balance giving my son rebuke and elevating his self-esteem?

20 02 2012

Excerpted from Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller’s Question and Answer series on


My eight year old son often hurts his friends with words. I know he’s clearly acting out when he feels bad about himself. How do I balance giving rebuke and elevating his self-esteem?




There are a few concrete things you can do.


Talk to him before or after he’s in the act, but not while he is acting out. Catch him when he’s available emotionally and tell him a thematic story. It could be about the animals in the barnyard who put down the weak horse or the new Russian boy in cheder who was excluded. You should convey the point that the good guy is the one who saves the persecuted ones.


Once he identifies with the good guy, then you can say, “I wish sometimes that I was like that.” Many times when I read about heroes in the Holocaust who saved hundreds of people I wish I could be like them, but of course we can only do what we can. At least we should never hurt anyone or call them stupid or clumsy. Then list all the words he says without him knowing that you are talking about him. It may not work right away, but it’s sure to enter his heart, even if he doesn’t give you any signs.


If you catch him stumbling again, you could tell him, “These are things we don’t say. They hurt people’s feelings.” He already knows from your stories that that’s what the bad guys do.   He may say, “Yes, but he really is stupid.” You could then respond, “That may be true, but how do your words make him feel? You’re supposed to try to make him feel good. This upsets him.”


If you’ve done the preliminary work, he’ll get the message.

How Can I Make Tefillah Meaningful For My Daughter?

17 01 2012

Rebbetzin’s Perspective I: Class#7

Excerpted from Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller’s Question and Answer series on

Rebbetzin's Perspective


My ten year old daughter finds davening boring. I can’t think of ways to inspire her except to tell her that Hashem is waiting to listen to her tefilot (prayers)and that she can ask for anything she wants, like new shoes or clothes. Can you help me with more ideas?



If your daughter is not extraordinarily spiritual, like most ten year olds, she will not like davening. Accept this as appropriate for her stage of development.


Babies start out completely materialistic and as their spirits grow, they become more spiritually attuned. It’ll take a good two years for her to become more sensitized to prayer. All you can do during this time is make davening more appealing and inspiring by teaching her the tunes to some of the tefilot and helping her understand what the words mean. Sometimes communal davening with other people helps too.


Obviously she’ll need a lot of affirmation and appreciation, but ten year olds in general don’t daven with kavanah (intention), so don’t have unrealistic expectations.

What role does a close and supportive family play in Judaism?

14 12 2011

Excerpted from Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller’s Question and Answer series on

Achieving Balance: Class#2


What role does a close and supportive family play in Judaism? Is it in the spirit of Torah for a child to settle in Eretz Yisrael if the parents who stay behind will feel resentful and unappreciated?




Family is unquestionably a Jewish value. The whole concept of Am Yisrael developing into a nation only began when there were families. When Yaakov and his children descended to Egypt, the Torah describes them as, “Ish u’veito,” man and his household. From that point on, the Jewish people were counted as families. There were no more individual censuses.


Rav Hirsch explains that different family roles are designed by Hashem to bring tikun (rectification) to each family member. A man gains more by being a father, husband, son, brother, and grandchild, than he would ever gain by just being an individual. Therefore, family is very important. Even people who cannot put this into words know this intuitively. The low assimilation rate in observant communities is the direct result of our emphasis on family. In other communities, the assimilation rate is high, because people develop a sense of wanting to belong somewhere in order to gain that feeling of connection that family should provide.


Family is a means for tikun, not a substitute. Therefore, if tikun can be achieved by moving away from family, that is what the person should do. Our tikun is defined by the Torah. While family closeness is more of a hashkafic value, settling in Eretz Yisrael is a mitzvah that outweighs it.   

Ask the Rebbetzin: Is This The World Hashem Envisioned?

16 10 2011

Rebbetzins Perspective: Class#4

Excerpted from Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller’s Question and Answer series on

Rebbetzin's Perspective #4


I feel empty and alone and very far from Hashem whenever I am in a crowd or in traffic or waiting on line. I can’t comprehend how this unpleasant, noisy, world, with all of these people, could possibly be the world Hashem envisioned.  The last time this was bothering me, I looked up and the bumper sticker on the car in front of me said “One human family.”  Is this my answer?  Should I look at everyone like he or she is part of me?  Should I look at them like they belong here as much as I sometimes think that I do too?



Every person is as important, real, and purposeful, as you are. The Gemara tells us, “Great is the king who mints many coins, each unique in its own way.” There is no such thing as optional people. Every single person is absolutely special. When people mention faceless hordes, it is usually in a racist context. The more you adapt yourself to seeing people as individuals, the easier it will be for you to bear crowds.

Did you ever wonder why Hashem chose Yerushalayim, a city teeming with people, as the holiest spot on earth? I would have chosen a majestic mountain or a breathtaking valley, because I sometimes tend to think like you. Although we view nature as beautiful and people as passé, Hashem sees people as His most magnificent creations. The profound depth of the human mind, the capacity to feel, the desire to create and build, the ability to make moral choices, are expressions of the soul and a reflection of the Divine Image.

Every person you see is an entire universe with enormous context and beauty of purpose. I would suggest you get past your difficulties of viewing people by finding ways to reach out to strangers. It can be through visiting the sick, helping needy people, or joining Partners in Torah. In this way you’ll learn to switch your mode of thinking from seeing people as a threatening anonymous mass to viewing them as unique individuals, each with a special story of their own.

How can I increase my kavana (concentration) in tefila?

15 09 2011

Excerpted from Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller’s Question and Answer series on

Rebbetzin's Perspective


How can I increase my kavana (concentration) in tefila? Can you provide some practical ideas?



Create an image that speaks to you and use it to guide you through prayer. I’ll suggest one but you can use your own.



Close your eyes and picture yourself as a young child, way before you realized that your parents didn’t have much control over events. Imagine your father or mother telling you, “It’ll be ok.” Take that moment of absolute trust and transfer that feeling to Hashem. Only He cares for you in the ultimate sense and only He can give you what you need. Any image that evokes a feeling of faith, love, reliance, and dependence will work. Take it along with you when you start davening.

It’s difficult to move from an outside action-oriented world to an internal world where you have to feel absolute reliance on Hashem. Try to concentrate on the meaning of the words.


When you say Pisukei D’zimra, visualize drawing Hashem’s infinity into your heart. And when you get to Shemone Esrei, think about Hashem’s omnipotence and recognize that it’s only Hashem’s life force and essence that can give you anything at all.

The Sweetness of Tikun Hamiddot Part 2

11 09 2011

Based on a shiur by Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller


Elul: The Sweetness of Tikkun Hamidot Last week, we described a process of self-discovery which should lead us to perfecting our midot, character traits.

 How do we refine our middot?

 The Baal Hatanya recommends meditating on ones deeds and where they stem from. Find a time to talk to Hashem, open yourself up to Him, let yourself feel regret and yearning to be nurtured only by his goodness, so that your character is directed towards where you want to go.

The Rambam’s plan of action involves identifying your bad middot. Do a replay in your mind’s eye, revisit the places you’ve been, be yourself, and see the gap between where you should be and where you are now. Then plan significant small concrete steps that will help you narrow the divide. You are a baal teshuva as soon as you start on the path to return, not when you finally succeed. Repentance itself draws you closer.

Another method is cheshbon hanefesh (self-introspection). You know the middah you need to work on. If you’re aware of what doesn’t work, don’t try the same thing again. Read up on the problem, listen to a tape, speak to a mentor, and try to find a new approach. Deduce it to one sentence and then repeat it many times so that it becomes part of your self -conscious. At the end of the day, ask yourself, “Did I live up to the motto?” Divide a page in seven boxes for each day of the week. Mark off where you failed every day. If you do this conscientiously, you’ll notice the marks dwindling because subconsciously we hate failing. Keep it up for a year so that it becomes a part of you. You can do this with a mentor who might recommend readings and offer guidance. You can also join a group. Members get together and select a mussar text to study that is relevant to a specific middah. Then a particular act of improvement is chosen for the week. Participants share their failures and victories. You’re there to encourage each other, not to criticize.

A fourth and final method is hisbodedet and hisbonenut. Find time every day to think about who you are, what Hashem has given you, and how you can best use it. Speak to Hashem. The first few minutes will be difficult but push yourself to continue onward for at least five minutes, and it’ll get easier. The more you open yourself to Him, the more He’ll open up to you. The more freely you talk to Him, the more aware you’ll become of Him throughout the day. This awareness will change you and in turn your middot, without you even knowing it.

Elul is a time of love. The King is in the field. He’s close to us and we can ask Him for almost anything. However we cannot be forgiven by Hashem unless we ask forgiveness from the people we’ve wronged. Part of cheshbon hanefesh is recalling what’s lacking in our relationship with others. The people we tend to treat worst are the people we’re closest to. We must take note of what our patterns are and commit to change. Choosing what we want to be and clearing out the accumulated dross, is part of the process. Asking for forgiveness requires honesty. It means remembering the things we’ve done. Our goal is connection beyond the limitations of this world.

May it be a wondrous, uplifting, Elul.

Teaching Your Children Sensitivity

9 09 2011

Rebbetzin’s Perspective: Class #4

Excerpted from Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller’s Question and Answer series on

Rebbetzin's Perspective


My seven year old daughter thinks that she can insult and call people names without a care. She also acts rude to our guests.  I have explained numerous times that it isn’t nice but she doesn’t listen.




The wisdom of seven years hasn’t taught your daughter the art of sensitivity. She probably doesn’t understand how people feel when she calls them names or treats them unkindly.  She can connect to herself, but not to others. Try to find several good children’s books in which the theme is getting beneath another person’s skin. It could be in the genre of “The Ugly Duckling,” where the one who was despised and in pain ultimately turns into the swan. Get her to identify with the hero and feels his pain. Then ask her, “If you would have been there with all the others, would you have made fun of the duckling? Had you been one of the kids in the class with Rabbi Akiva, learning aleph beit, would you have laughed at him?” 


Try to find as many opportunities as you can to tell her these stories, either at bedtime or on Shabbat. Fictional tales are good because it creates enough emotional distance so that she won’t be defensive.  It could take at least a month or so to open her heart a little. When you see visible signs that she’s starting to understand, you can talk to her more, not about mistreating guests, but how to make them feel good. Invite someone she likes and have her serve. Then move the conversation on to how one should treat a visitor.  Ask her, “Do you want our guests to feel bad? Of course not, even if you don’t like them, you’ll try your best to make them feel comfortable.” 


As time progresses, make her aware that nobody enjoys being called names.  It hurts people’s feelings. Teach her the right way to express herself. Encourage her to use positive, heartening words. With time and practice she’s bound to improve.

Hachnasat orchim (welcoming guests) doesn’t come easily to me…

2 09 2011

Rebbetzin’s Perspective: Class #4

Excerpted from Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller’s Question and Answer series on

Rebbetzin's Perspective



Hachnasat orchim (welcoming guests) doesn’t come easily to me. When people ask me for a favor my automatic reaction is refusal. How can I become a more giving person?





Some people are extremely social. They dread being alone. You seem to be a person who has an inner life and enjoys order and control. Your middah is gevurah (restraint) rather than chesed (outpouring). Don’t be hard on yourself. Gevurah is just as holy as chesed.


However the Maharal says gevurah is very easily corrupted, so you need to be careful. When you manifest your desire for restraint on other people, instead of using it on yourself, it gets distorted. Invite guests that need an invitation. Don’t host people for the sake of company. Take your eyes off yourself and focus more on others. If you need thinking space, do it when people aren’t around. If someone comes to you for a favor, treat it as an opportunity for self- development. Tell yourself, “This is how I’ll build my chesed and become a more balanced person. This is how my gevurah will be tempered.”


You have to learn to be more spontaneous and giving rather than disciplined and in control. When Hashem sends chesed your way he is really telling you to widen your borders. You’re a person of restraint which is a holy middah. Use your self-control to perfect yourself, but be expansive and giving with others.

Rebbetzin’s Perspective- Preparing for Mashiach

10 08 2011

Excerpted from Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller’s Question and Answer series on

Rebbetzin's Perspective III #4


How do we anticipate Mashiach, if the era before his coming seems so frightening and confusing? Is there something we can take upon ourselves to ensure that we get through this period safely?




How it will be is really up to us. It depends on how much we are willing to make changes and how aware we are.


A friend of mine went to the Rachmastrivke Rebbetzin and asked her, “What should we be doing about all the tragedies happening in our time?” She answered, “Don’t you trust Hashem? He is taking us to where we have to go. Things will happen soon and it will be good.”


We need to realize that Hashem has far more compassion for us than we have for ourselves. If the price we’ll have to pay will be awesome, we should know that all our suffering is only to get us to a place that is far better than anything we can imagine. The financial calamities, the unbelievable chutzpah, the lack of respect for Torah, are all events which were foretold.


Rav Elyashiv says people are asleep. We need to arouse ourselves to the possibilities of every moment and to encourage others to do the same. Torah and chesed can save us from the birth pangs of Mashiach. As women we can be kind to others, offer support, and love our fellow Jews with all our hearts. We can study the Torah that we find relevant and inspiring. We should yearn for Mashiach. It is the only solution to the terrible things happening around us.


Don’t confuse the solution with the problem. The problem is galut, the symptoms are all the horrific things happening to awaken us. The solution is Mashiach leading us to the time of enlightenment. We have to point our hearts in that direction. In our minds we should hope for the redemption. With our actions, we should endeavor to move forward day by day, so that when Mashiach finally comes, we’ll be ready to greet him.

Ask the Rebbetzin: Keeping Close to Hashem

28 07 2011

Excerpted from Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller’s Question and Answer series on

Rebbetzin's Perspective III #4Question:

When my children were young, I developed an ongoing “conversation” with Hashem. It’s wasn’t formal davening, but continuous and in some ways more meaningful. Now that my children are older, I’ve gotten back to normal davening, but I miss the feeling of closeness I had.


You are really asking what the value of formal davening is as opposed to spontaneous davening. Praying from the heart is extraordinarily powerful. It’s a way of giving oneself over to Hashem by expressing one’s essence. Our words are like little notes that we write to ourselves. We revisit what we think and what we feel when we talk to Hashem. This affects not only our closeness to Hashem but our understanding of ourselves and our ability to make something of our lives. It’s hitbodedut (solitary communion with Hashem) and hitbonenut (introspection), which is vital in avodat Hashem, but it is not davening.

The Rambam tells us that formal davening is a consequence of a decision made by the Men of the Great Assembly. When they returned from Bavel, they observed that the Jews were no longer davening in the same way. Each person followed their heart and created their own personal prayers. However davening isn’t just self -expression. It’s meant to help us form a connection to Hashem. When the Men of the Great Assembly composed the praises in the Siddur, they did it knowing the deeper meaning behind the words. When we say, “Hakel ha’gadol, ha’gibor, v’hanorah,” it’s not just acknowledging Hashem’s awesomeness. It’s raising the question in our minds, “What does awesomeness really mean?” Formal tefilah is connecting to the collective soul of Klal Yisrael. It’s supposed to change us. Therefore there is really no substitute for it.

Your question should really be what you could do to make davening from the Siddur more meaningful. Today there are many books on the subject such as, Praying With Fire and Rav Schwab on Prayer. If your Hebrew skills are up to it, I would recommend the Siddur Eis Ratzon which explains the deeper underpinnings of the tefillot in a way that touches the heart. Set aside time to learn. This will uplift and add new depth to your prayers.