In last week’s column, a parent named Sara asked how she should deal with a book she bought on the planets that contains text describing the world as being 15 billion years old. She questioned if she ought to read it to her children and discuss with them the fact that there are people who believe this – while sharing with them our belief that the Torah teaches us that the world is 5,766 years old. She wanted to convey to her children that the theory of evolution is not accepted in the Torah world, and noted that she would like her kids to hear that information from her – rather than possibly hearing it later in life from someone who does not have proper hashkafos.
In my response I separated our adult understanding of essential matters of our bedrock emunah from the challenge of discussing these matters with our children. I also noted that the fact that there are objects in our world that appear to be more than 5,766 years old is not, in and of itself, a contradiction to our emunah. This is because Hashem created a world that was mature and developed – with aged trees and stones.
In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, issues of emunah (unresolved questions pertaining to bedrock, fundamental components of our faith in Torah Mi’Sinai) seemed to have been a far greater challenge than they are today. Communist philosophy, the atheist mindset that went hand-in-hand with it, and the Haskalah raged through Europe like a forest fire and was a significant factor in many frum people abandoning Yiddishkeit.
Most of today’s children and adults, on the other hand, are not as preoccupied with philosophical matters as were their grandparents. I would guess that this change is due to today’s enhanced living conditions, and the distractions of technological and recreational opportunities. After all, the much slower pace of life in pre-war Europe allowed for more reflection and introspection – while today’s teens have far less discretionary time for matters of hashkafah.
With that in mind, your point about not raising these challenging concepts with your children may be valid. But I would suggest that all things considered, it would be far wiser to open a dialogue with your children about concepts of emunah and bitachon while they are still in your home, and are at an age when their set of nisyonos (temptations) are more manageable.
In Project YES’s 11 years, I have come across countless teens (and more than a few adults) whose commitment to Yiddishkeit was significantly weakened due to questions related to fundamental emunah concepts that were suppressed or left unanswered by their parents and/or educators. And while it is only a small minority of individuals who actually abandon Yiddishkeit due to these types of questions, having them “out there” unresolved during vulnerable phases in one’s life is not a recipe for maintaining his or her spiritual commitment to our mesorah during these trying periods.
I would most certainly encourage you to broach this delicate subject gently by mentioning that we firmly believe that the age of the world is 5,766 years, and that some objects in the world appear to be far older (as we discussed in the previous column).
What is most important in this discussion is that you leave the door wide open for your child to approach you with any questions – now or at any time in the future. Keep in mind that an unasked question is inevitably an unresolved one.
Often, parents (and educators) are intimidated to leave that door open for fear of being asked a question for which they may not be able to formulate an appropriate response. I suggest, however, that you need not be concerned about being in that predicament. Not knowing the answer to a question affords you the opportunity to guide your child as to what a Torah Jew ought to do in a situation where he or she has unanswered questions.
Suggest that he or she consult with a rav in the community, or a kiruv (outreach) professional who may be better equipped to answer these questions pertaining to our emunah. Or better yet, model the behavior by going with your child to the rav or kiruv professional.
You may actually enjoy the experience.
Rabbi Yakov Horowitz is the founder and dean of Yeshiva Darchei Noam of Monsey, and the founder and director of Project Y.E.S.To purchase Rabbi Horowitz’s d’var Torahsefer, “Growing With the Parsha,” his popular parenting tapes and CDs – including his 4-CD set “What Matters Most” – and his recently released parenting book, “Living and Parenting” (ArtScroll), please visit www.rabbihorowitz.com, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, call 845-426-2243, or visit your local Judaica store.