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This year, for the first time, my husband and I decided to make our own sedarim at home. On one hand, I was saddened at the prospect of observing this pivotal ritual with no grandparents or extended family around us to share it with. On the other hand, I was excited to pave our own path and make a Seder centered on our children and their abilities and needs. I did not want my doubts and mixed emotions to rub off on our kids (who are used to being with their grandparents for the sedarim), so I tried to be positive and drum up as much excitement as possible about everything from kadesh to nirtzah, and the chance to truly make the Seder our own.
It worked. When the time finally came for setting the table (which my son was itching to do from the moment he awoke), preparing the Seder plate, and planning how to arrange and incorporate each of children’s myriad projects, the Yom Tov spirit filled our small apartment. The circle of inspiration ran from us to our kids and from them right back to us.
Today, as my kids and I came through the front door after the afternoon pickup, laden with knapsacks and jackets, my son remonstrated with me, “Mommy, you didn’t kiss the mezuzah!” “My hands were full,” I protested. “Just do this,” he said, pursing his lips and sounding a small kiss. Of course! And a little child shall lead them.
It is not our children’s job to teach us; “V’shinantam l’vanecha” is the sacred obligation of parents. But dipping into our children’s wellspring of enthusiasm and eagerness to learn furthers not only our own spiritual development but theirs as well. To succeed as parents, we need more than the right words and techniques – we need to be the kind of people, the kind of Jews, we want them to grow into. To do that, we need all the inspiration we can get. Even from our own offspring.
In a way, children personify “na’aseh v’nishma” – they do even though they don’t yet understand. They embrace mitzvos whose underpinnings and complexities are far beyond their (let alone our) ability to comprehend – tzitzis, basar v’chalav, muktzah, arbah minim. And they do so with happiness.
We adults could all use more na’aseh v’nishma in our lives. In other words, more trust that God has His reasons and that if we follow the path He laid out for us, things will work out. That does not mean a surcease of questions. Who, after all, asks more probing questions about Hashem and His ways than children? Rather, the goal is to continually renew our acceptance of Torah and our commitment to grow as we go.
And how to do that? Here again, our kids can teach us a thing or two. As much as we emphasize the value of school, they know instinctively that you learn best by doing. Books and shiurim have much to offer, but if the messages are not put into practice, they evaporate like fog. It’s like a professor of mine used to say, “Show, don’t tell.” So when I encourage my children to make berachos and they don’t hear me saying them, what are they really learning? If I cut in line or rush through bentching or speak lashon hara or disrespect Shabbos, my children will, consciously or not, disregard their formal teachings as merely heuristic constructs.
When our kids seem to be tuning out our lectures, they’re reminding us that the most powerful teaching tool we have is not our words but our actions. Our conduct is what defines us.
There is much corruption in the Orthodox Jewish world. Sex abuse scandals, embezzlement schemes, feuds and schisms between competing groups – it’s enough to make one cry out: Is this what we have to show for ourselves? But then we look at the children, at how their true, simple faith shines. No political calculations, no apologia. No constantly looking over their shoulders to take the pulse of the people. What a refreshing contrast! It’s enough to awaken the hearts of even the most disillusioned. And a little child shall lead them.