Where can such real life situations meld with the kedushah of a Torah life? Rashi tells us that kedushah means separation, separation from things that are not holy. That is the theme of Havdalah on Saturday night. When we leave the holiness of Shabbos, a day where we separated ourselves form the world in a unique way, we thank Hashem for separating the Jewish people from the profane, from the mundane week, from the ways of the nations of the world. We pray that we should be able to bring the separation of Shabbos into the week as well. We live in the “real world,” but we recognize that all this progressive world offers us may be enticing, but does not mesh with the fabric of Torah values.
We want our kids to be Jewish and stay within our fold, but we also realize that forcing insularity may backfire and not give them the tools to succeed in the American world of 2013 in which they live. I propose three tools to help bridge the gap.
First, we must be extra patient and loving to our children so that we become trusted resources and guides. We must gain their trust, be their parents, disciplinarians, and loving educators. The tough love and physical discipline of years past is not as effective in the environment in which we are raising our children. It must be replaced with a greater understanding of who our children are and the challenges they are facing. Their shoes will never fit you. They are growing up in a different world than you grew up in, and even if you are technologically savvy, you are not a child growing up in this world (and never will be). Try to understand what is best for your child today, not what was good enough for you yesterday. Learn to understand, rather than impose.
Second, with the recognition that children will eventually be exposed to the world in many ways, whether we like it or not, I believe that every child must learn to be a Torah warrior at a young age. I believe that we should limit early childhood exposure to the secular world as much as possible in order to create a strong, emotional passion for Torah. Torah sells itself, and if young children develop a love for Torah and its teachings, there is a greater chance that will continue. Like any building, the foundation must be strong. Children who have an insular but loving early childhood foundation have a greater chance of withstanding the exposure that invariably occurs in the teen years. The excitement of the siddur party in kindergarten is moving, but it must be followed up during the subsequent years with a passion for Torah ethics and values. Children are not capable of understanding the conflicting ideals of the Torah and the world at large, so we must make sure their foundation in Torah is solid. Chazal tell us that a strong foundation of Torah, chesed, and prayer cannot easily be broken, but we must be sure if its strength before it is put to life’s tests.
Third, when the children are invariably exposed to the world at large, usually in their teen years, we have to turn this exposure into a learning experience. If we automatically say no to everything, then children will find ways to do things on their own. Each child has different interests, talents, and desires and we must find kosher outlets for them – if we want to quench these desires without losing our children. Additionally, we must try to educate our children, who by now have a strong foundation of Torah values, with the proper perspective for viewing the world. During this exploratory journey, they need guidance in showing restraint and retaining their underlying values. Many parents feel that since their teens are not really under their control anyway, they can allow them to make their own decisions. If our children trust us and see us as allies instead of gatekeepers keeping out the enticing, exciting world, then we can still be involved in their lives and decisions at this crucial stage. As active parents, we can help them use their Torah foundations to guide their teen decisions. Teenagers must be made to understand that their parents are also battling comparable challenges and can guide them based on their own life experiences. Ultimately, the process of guiding our children as they navigate the world must be done through the lenses of Torah. The alternative is a teen-led tour whereby they believe that that they must choose between the Torah values of their youth and the compelling secular influences and experiences.