Because a proper Chassidish home of that time contained no books other than Torah books in Yiddish and Hebrew, Sora became accustomed to reading books like Orchot Tzaddikim/Ways of the Righteous and Tzena U'Rena for pleasure.
And so Sora grew under the tutelage of her Chassidish parents and the mussar and halacha Sora learned on her own, sheltered from the storms of change that unleashed upon so many souls.
Much later in life, Sora was sharing a home in America with her widowed daughter and little granddaughter. Sora's husband was dying and the family was preoccupied with his care, which demanded a lot of physical and emotional stamina during this trying time.
At one point, Sora trudged into the kitchen to get something and came upon her young granddaughter making a big mess with a large bowl of water and way too many soap suds. Sopping doll clothes lay scattered about.
This kind of mess was the last thing Sora needed at her age and at this trying time.
But never one to lose her composure, Sora thought a moment then calmly asked, "What are you doing?"
"Oh, I'm just washing my dolly's clothes!" her young granddaughter cheerfully replied.
"Yes," said Sora, "I can see that your washing your dolly's clothes. But why?"
"Mmmm...because Zeidy's sick."
Sora thought for a moment, then said, "I see." Pause. "So you think that if you wash your doll's clothes, that's going to help Zeidy feel better?"
In the course of the conversation, Sora discovered that her granddaughter had been watching everyone busying themselves around the house doing things for Zeidy (Grandpa). The tasks needed to be done properly and efficiently, so there was no opportunity to allow a young child to "help" as usual. Feeling helpless and desperate to contribute, the only thing the little girl could think to do was wash her doll's clothes.
"Well," Sora finally said. "Yes, I think it would make Zeidy very happy to know you were washing your doll's clothes for him, and that now they're all nice and clean. And you know what? As soon as he wakes up, I'm going to tell him what you did and he's going to be so happy to hear it."
The little girl started nodding and bouncing with pleasure.
"But right now," said Sora, "it would make Zeidy happiest if we clean all this up and then keep the floors neat and dry from now on. He'd feel a lot better if we did that. What do you say?"
"Oh, yes!" said the little girl. And she jumped up, went to get the mop, and together they cleaned up the mess and hung the doll clothes to dry.
And as long as her Zeidy's final illness lasted, the little granddaughter behaved herself very well.
And what could have been a bad memory for this granddaughter was transformed into a very positive memory. She felt loved and understood, and she learned how to really contribute in a stressful situation (i.e. sometimes the best thing to do is to stay out of the way and don't make a mess). She also learned from example the art of dealing with children (or with people in general): Don't assume.
Neither Condemnation nor Coddling
Especially because her granddaughter, intelligent and lovable as she was, also got up to some serious mischief at times, it would make sense to see the doll-laundering fiasco as a way to manipulate the adults to pay attention.
But that's not what the youngster was thinking. She wasn't thinking, "Ooh, I'm feeling so jealous and deprived of attention. I think I'll go make a big mess and then try to dupe everyone into thinking that I simply wanted to launder my dolly's clothes. Muwahahahaha!"
In fact, she wasn't thinking much at all. As far as the little girl knew, her only motivation was to get busy cleaning something for Zeidy.
On the other hand, had she been influenced by the not-yet-existent Eighties, the grandmother might've seen this as a cry for love and nurturing. "Poor baby! She's feeling lost and abandoned! She's impacted by all the tension and lack of attention, but has no way to express herself!" And then she'd receive lots of cuddling and maybe a big discussion to let out her feelings about what's going on with Zeidy.
And what's wrong with that?
Well, again, it's jumping to an assumption that's not necessarily true. It's closer to the reality than the pre-Sixties attitude, but at the same time, there ARE times in life where you just can't give a child your full attention, which is something children need to learn to deal with. Furthermore, children shouldn't be allowed to think that their negative emotions justify acting out or inconveniencing people who already have too much on their plate.
(We know adults like this, right? Too bad they weren't taught better as children.)
The Contemplative Torah Approach
Just as the Ramban advised in his famous letter, she spoke all her words "b'nachat" -- with equanimity and pleasantness.
Sora also gave her granddaughter the benefit of the doubt, another Torah ideal. Yes, the child could've been manipulative and attention-seeking (children sometimes are), but what if she wasn't? This needed to be figured out.
And this is also where I think Sora's scholarship came into play. When reading the mussar books and Tanach commentaries, it's impossible to miss the contemplative inquisitiveness they display. First, they notice when passages or incidents don't add up. Then they calmly wonder why. After a contemplative analysis of all the relevant factors, they arrive at their penetrating conclusion.
When watching our gedolim questioned about complex or painful issues, it's impossible to miss their composure as their contemplative mind analyzes the facts at hand.
They're not unemotional or apathetic; they merely possess a high degree of yishuv hadaat -- a composed mind.
Even those who are naturally buoyant or fiery still express themselves within a framework of yishuv hadaat.
According to the Child's Way - For Real
Like I mentioned in a previous post, I've only ever heard 2 options for raising children: pre-Sixties (yet post-1800s) and post-Sixties.
So it took me a while to grasp this investigative yishuv hadaat approach.
But I picked it up from hearing stories like this, stories about people who weren't influenced by psychologists of either era.
I also noticed this in memoirs from 19th-Century America. It was impossible to miss the long pauses adults incorporated into their dealings with errant children. Initially, I either saw this as a laconic backcountry communication style or I was confused -- this adult seemed so smart; why were they suddenly behaving in such a plodding manner?
And even when some kind of punishment was called for, it was often decreed with an absence of emotion. At times, the parent or teacher even seemed quite reluctant to administer any consequence.
Even odder, there were situations for which I was sure a child would be punished, but none was forthcoming. And again, this decision against punishment was determined by an adult who'd suddenly grown laconic and made his decision after a very long and contemplative silence.
This surprised me because child-rearing in "the olden days" is reputed to hold that sparing the rod meant spoiling the child -- and to interpret this (which is anyway a mistranslation) literally and unreservedly. (The real verse reads: "He who spares his shevet hates his son" -- and a shevet can be a rod, but it can also mean a structural framework, like a tribe, which is also called "shevet.")
Yet contrary to what I'd always heard, I discovered that people didn't jump to this option automatically. And even when they did utilize this option, it wasn't in a rage. Okay, yes, of course sometimes people were abusive and enraged, but it certainly wasn't a given.
I started to realize that people influenced by Tanach operate under a whole other behavioral system. All the more so, knowledgeable Jews with access to millennia of sagely scholarship and guidance.
In his 1824 masterpiece Pele Yoetz, Rav Papo clearly outlines the need to respond to each parenting situation according to its specific need. Sometimes a stern response is necessary, sometimes a soft response, and sometimes a parent should make himself as if deaf and blind!
It depends; there is no black-and-white approach to raising children.
Our Sages even composed a prayer for parents that asks Hashem for the wisdom to know when to laugh and when to rebuke, when to be stern and when to be pleasant, etc.
I know I tend to jump to conclusions with my children rather than taking the time to ask the right questions and to contemplate the answers and the situation at hand. (American culture seems to be phobic of conversational pauses.)
Sometimes I jump to a negative conclusion based on past experience with the child. But sometimes I jump to a positive conclusion that if wrong, can habituate the child toward being irresponsible, undisciplined, and narcissistic.
This is especially challenging when a child anyway displays a tendency to leap for looking, toward aggression, teasing, forgetting, daydreaming, or anything else. It's easy to assume that a child forgot to do something because he's anyway gets his head stuck in the clouds, or that a child started a fight because he anyway tends to do that.
But maybe not.
That's what I learned from the way Sora interacted with her own granddaughter.
Take a step back. Ask. Investigate. Contemplate. Then respond.
Don't fear a long pause of silent contemplation.
On the contrary -- embrace it.
It's the authentic Jewish way.
Seeking a Way through the Parenting Maze