Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Not Raising Kids with Superficial Yiddishkeit

Rav Moshe Weinberger often speaks about the fact that this generation demands depth. Children in some earlier generations may have been satisfied with being instructed on what to do and how to daven without any explanation. "That's what Jews do." So many kids go off the derech today because they seek depth and meaning and become dissolutioned when they are presented with a shallow Yiddishkeit that is inconsistent and superficial.

It is definitely harder to explain the reasons behind the myriad of questions children have (at least until we attempt to squash their natural inquisitiveness so we don't have to be bothered with the questions). But it is vital that we do so. Children or teenagers often ask questions we don't know the answers to. It becomes humiliating, after a certain point, to continue saying "I don't know." And we don't always have the time to look up or ask people who are more knowledgeable about the answers. So it's natural for a parent to want to make kids feel wrong for asking their questions. And eventually, they learn to stop asking. They either become satisfied with shallow Yiddishkeit or disaffected from Yiddishkeit, believing that either their parents, rebbeim, or Yiddishkeit itself really is the superficial enterprise presented to them.

Why do only baalei teshuva deserve answers to the big questions? Why are we here? Why did Hashem create us? How can terrible things happen to innocent people? Frum children deserve these answers no less than our non-observant brothers and sisters. That is why the program Project Chazon was created.

I often fall into this trap as well but this past Friday night gave us an opportunity to address my kids' real questions. During the seuda, my six year old daughter asked, "Why do we do mitzvos?" A very basic but fundamental question! I think her implication was: Mitzvos are sometimes a lot of work. So why do we have to do them? They feel like a burden.

Rather than essentially ignore the question, which certainly would have been easier, I took the first crack at it with a Derech-Hashem-for-six-year-olds approach. I told her: "The only way we can understand why Hashem gives us mitzvos is to ask why Hashem created us to begin with. Hashem is perfect right? He lacks nothing. So why did He go to the trouble of creating us? Since He doesn't need anything, He couldn't have created us for His benefit; because He needed something from us. So for whose sake did He create us? It must have been for our benefit, for our sake. If so, then he must have given us the mitzvos for our benefit, because he wanted to give us something good. Mitzvos are the biggest good in the world that He could have given us.

Certainly there's more to say but the attention span is limited. Hopefully it planted a seed.

My oldest daughter (15) then tried her hand at another Derech Hashem/Mesillas Yesharim approach, which is amazing. She offered an analogy. She said to our youngest, "If you get something good, what feels better? When you get something as a free gift or if you get something that you'd already worked for and earned? Hashem gave us the mitzvos so that we can earn our reward and enjoy it even more."

IY"H, may all of us take the time to encourage our kids' questions,do our best to answer them, and be proactive about learning why we do what we do and teaching our kids the reasons!

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Tehillim Yid said...

My pre-teen daughter asked me a similar question on Shabbos. I didn't have a good answer then, however, after thinking about it, I thought I would explain it with a simple statement to her:

Mitzvos are what connects the real you to Hashem.

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