Susie and her four-year old daughter, Judy, were at the check-out line in the grocery story. The racks near the counter were laden with all sorts of tempting sweets. Judy noticed one particularly mouth-watering chocolate bar and begged for it.

Susie firmly refused, citing the many treats her daughter has already consumed that day and how it would spoil her appetite for dinner. Judy's wails began to grow louder. From past experience, young Judy has already determined that the louder and longer she cried, the greater the chance of her mother giving in to her demands.

Soon Susie capitulated and Judy was contently sucking her treat.

One row over, Susie noticed, the same scene was being played out with another mother and child. Yet, as that child's wails began to grow louder the mother simply said, "I'm sorry, honey, but that candy bar is not kosher and we may not eat it."

To Susie's amazement, the child's whimpering stopped. From past experience, he understood that this was an unyielding rule, which neither tears nor screams would succeed in breaking.

Are there "red" lines—certain rules and standards that our children realize cannot be broken? How do we establish these principles? And when we do, does this leave any room for spontaneity and flexibility?

The Torah refers to Israel's tribes either as shevatim, "branches" or matot, "rods." Both terms express the concept that the twelve tribes of Israel are all branches or offshoots of the same root. But there is a not-so-subtle distinction between the two terms. A shevet is a supple, pliant branch. In our case, the Torah chooses the term mateh, which connotes a firm, inflexible stick.

The basis of successful parenting is establishing matot—firm, unbending principles to guide our children. Children thrive on consistency, uniformity, and stability in their lives. They intuitively distinguish which standards and values we regard as essential and immutable and which can be challenged and negated.

Especially in today's world, our children look to us for a set of morals and standards that don't yield to outside pressure. If these are instilled in the earliest stages of their development, then, when unsuitable choices tempt them, or when others taunt them for who they are, they will be able to draw strength from the fixed values of their upbringing. They will have the fortitude and firm determination of matot, unyielding rods.

King Solomon teaches in Proverbs, "chosech shivto, soneh benoh" which literally means, "he who withholds his rod, hates his child" (hence the popular adage, "spare the rod and spoil the child"). The message of this wisdom for our times is that a loving, caring parent must imbue his child with conceptual rods—firm and unyielding principles to guide him through the bewildering paths of life.

At the same time, there are moments in parenting when it is necessary, for the sake of our child's growth and progress, to stretch boundaries and overlook nuances or details.

Children are not static creatures; they are vibrant, emotional individuals with developing intelligences and needs. Rules are meant to be constructive, not stifling and destructive, to create positive results while providing guidance to advance our children through life's journeys.

Massei, means "journeys" and it chronicles the travels of the Jewish people in the Sinai dessert to their destination in the Holy Land. Unlike the rod, a journey is, by definition, not fixed and unyielding, but represents fluid movement, a passage forward towards a goal.

On the face of it, these two principles of Matot and Massei seem contradictory. Matot instructs us to establish a steadfastness and immobility, like the strong non-pliant rod, while Massei encourages us to move forward, change, and transform. But in combining these two sections in a single reading, the Torah teaches us that both can, and should, be incorporated in our own approach to life.

First establish Matot, strong, uncompromising values as a basis. The Torah guides us with definite rules of right and wrong, the permitted and the forbidden.

But at the same time, the Torah provides a space and flexibility to accommodate unique needs. At times, small exceptions, detours, or a different approach must be explored for optimal growth, while still remaining true to essential principles.

In life we need the skill to navigate these two modes: to balance strength and compromise, immobility and flexibility.

Because at all times we must remember that the goal is to keep journeying forward.