At this time of year, honey, and the sweetness it represents, plays a major role in our celebrations. Beginning with the solemn days of Rosh Hashanah − when we eat honey and other sweet foods, asking for a sweet year − throughout the holiday of Sukkot, the “holiday of joy,” culminating with Simchat Torah, when we dance with rapturous abandon, we have been living in a spiritually-charged atmosphere.
In today’s world, in particular, sweetness and joy, are especially essential in the education of our children. The best learning opportunities occur when our children experience Yiddishkeit as something sweet and pleasurable. As we celebrate Sukkot, the holiday of joy, let us resolve to try to make this sweet happiness permeate our, and our children’s entire year.
Many shuls have a “candy man.” He’s usually the beloved and jolly man sitting in the back of the synagogue, who distributes lollypops and other sugar-laden treats to the well-behaved children. He’s easy to spot, with a trail of children in all shapes and sizes heading resolutely in his direction. Their eyes are glazed with anticipation on their way to greet him; pockets bulging and huge smiles plastered on their faces after their encounter.
You can well imagine that the candy man is one of the most popular members of the shul. He’s definitely the unanimous favorite of all the little, pint-sized people (not to mention the local dentists!).
Our shul also has a candy man. But until a relative recently visited from out-of-town and remarked on how unique our particular candy man was, I had never realized this.
Our candy man also gives out candies, lollipops, chocolate bars and an assortment of sweet, syrupy treats. Our candy man also has a trail of youngsters purposefully heading to him. My two-year-old enthusiastically walks the long trek from our home to our shul with the promise of these special confections well-imprinted in her mind.
But instead of our candy man sitting in the back of our shul, he sits on a special, elevated dais right up front.
My younger children especially love to stretch out their chubby, little hands to him and feel a very special bond of affinity to our candy man.
That’s probably because he is my father and their beloved Zaidy. You see, our candy man is not just a candy man. He is the community’s revered and respected, wise and knowledgeable, elderly rabbi and authority.
Some might see it as a sign of disrespect for the senior rabbi to be distributing candies to little children. They might argue that it is a slight to his honor and to the respect due the sanctuary of a shul to have young children parading up to his dais throughout the services.
But I see it as the ultimate sign of respect. I see it as respectful toward the vast knowledge of Torah that the rabbi represents and to his authority in deciding communal legal issues.
You see, when our children, from their youngest age onwards, can look to Torah and those authoritative figures who represent it, as something sweet, positive, precious and appealing, we have instilled within them a lifelong value that could never be communicated in classrooms through text-book lessons.
If our children’s first encounter with the respected Jewish figures of their lives is one associated with pleasantness; if from their positions at the dais, these figures can relate to our youngsters’ needs and desires, as well as increase their inborn joy of life, we have successfully educated our children by making an indelible impression on their little hearts. Our child’s young mind will forever associate Torah study with the sweetness of honey.
We need to palpably show our children that Judaism is something sweet, lovable and heartwarming. It is something worth fighting for. It is something worth defending against the trends and value systems of the majority. And it is something worth sacrificing for its ideals. This is true education.
In this generation of disillusionment, life’s journeys can be challenging enough. Let us provide our youngsters, from their earliest years onwards, with a taste of the sweetness of Judaism to fortify them on their future journeys. Within their little hearts, let the sweetness of this faith be small places of refuge, accompanying them wherever their path in life may take them.
Let our children forever savor the enticing and succulent sweetness of their early experiences – and the sweet taste of the candy, given with a smile from the hands of the candy man in the shul sanctuary.
Chana Weisberg is the author of several books, including the best-selling Divine Whispers – Stories that Speak to the Heart and Soul and the soon-to-be released book, Tending the Garden: The Role of the Jewish Woman, Past, Present and Future. She is a columnist for www.chabad.org and she lectures worldwide on a wide array of issues. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org