The Blessing of Faith and Tradition
The Blessing of Faith and Traditions is one of the crucial blessings that Wendy Mogel recommends for raising children in her book, The Blessing of a Skinned Knee. The spiritual growth and health of a child are as important—if not more important—than all of the apparent physical, emotional and academic needs. In fact, Wendy states, “You must name it, follow it, and plan the curriculum for their spiritual education as thoughtfully and intelligently as you plan their academic education.” How many of us can truly say that we do that?
The belief in G-d, the perception of the part He plays in our lives, and how much these concepts are a part of one’s life may vary from individual to individual; however, this is not the true focus of this article. Our sages tell us that Judaism instructs us not to wait until our faith is in place, but to begin immediately with action. “You aren’t expected to work out your theology before you begin to live a Jewish life; as our ancestors at Mt. Sinai said, ‘naaseh venishmah’ – ‘We will do and then we will attempt to understand.’”
In fact, as much as I have enjoyed this book, the chapter on spirituality and faith leaves me feeling a bit empty, because I believe that it is not so important to validate the different destinations one may reach when on the journey we all take towards faith in G-d. Rather, it is more important to validate that we are all on the journey.
The gift of a day school education is that it gives children a more natural and consistent setting within which G-d becomes a part of their life, thought process and day-to-day actions. One of the foundations of our day school’s philosophy is modeling and nurturing the absolute belief in G-d and in the holiness and sacredness of the Torah, specifically because of its divinity. Yes, it is true that not everyone believes that G-d is in total control of the world. Some people believe that He is only part of the good that happens, not the bad. Some people believe that He is really not involved in the world after He created it. And, some people believe He is a figment of our imagination.
It is true that our students come from different homes, backgrounds, and beliefs, and they will shape and establish their own conclusions on the journey. However, I have always felt it important at least to expose the students to belief in its unadulterated, unmodified and pure form. If they don’t know what that kind of faith looks like, then they are not being given a fair choice when composing their definition of faith. What disturbs me most is the rush to share with children what faith is not, rather than what faith can be. In time, they will certainly experience all of the doubts, cynicism and skepticism that we are all so capable of creating. It is unnecessary at this young, fragile age, to disturb their innocence with uncertainty.
I have countless stories that convince me of the importance of sharing, modeling and teaching faith. If you are unsure about G-d, come have a conversation with our students and you will walk away with a warm, protected feeling. We can learn so much from their view of the world, G-d and His Torah. They really do believe.
For example, one of the fourth graders at our school who was struggling with a tough home situation turned to G-d on her own. Her mother came home from work and noticed that her daughter’s door was closed. She peeked in and saw that she held a Siddur (prayer book) in her hand and was whispering the words quietly. Her mom was a bit shocked and couldn’t imagine why she would be praying at home when her teachers don’t require her to do it. The mother did not think that her daughter could understand the Hebrew she was reading, so she asked her, “What are you doing?” Her daughter answered, “I am davening. It makes me feel good.”
Rabbi Cohen received a 10:00 p.m. phone call at his home, asking him what prayer her child could say for their dog that had just died. Her son could not go to sleep before he connected to G-d at a time that was very painful for him.
As a child was being moved from his parents’ bed to his own, in middle of his sleep, he reached out to kiss the mezuzah as he was being carried through the doorway. I do not believe that this natural instinct was due to his desire just to carry out a tradition. I believe that he reached out to kiss the mezuzah because it connected him one more time to G-d.
Acts of kindness and goodness are carried out at our school not only because it is right or because it makes us feel good, but simply because it is one of the commandments from the Torah. Because what happens when it stops making us feel good? Should we stop doing the acts of goodness and kindness? On the contrary, the Torah teaches us that this is the time when we should step up those acts, because eventually they will be for the right reasons.
These are just a few examples of how a sense of spirituality and a connection to G-d and His Torah enrich our children’s lives. The Torah, a living document, provides a solid foundation for all we teach our children in their secular and Jewish lives. This framework provides the fundamentals for our hopes and dreams for our children.