As parents, we often see that our children have talents that are outside the classic Mitzvah realm. This could be in the area of art, gymnastics, musical instruments, etc. Often times, development of these talents require time, money and sometimes exposure that we would generally not encourage. How does one decide when this is a good idea (or at least necessary) and when these activities are a distraction from spiritual pursuits?
Please discuss this in regards to a child who is doing well in school and not yearning for something but would enjoy an outlet as opposed to a child who needs an outlet, and please also share your thoughts about these issues as they pertain to girls and boys.
Rabbi Horowitz Responds
It is my philosophy that (almost) all people need 1) a childhood and 2) regular breaks/vacations, and when one or both of these needs are suppressed, they are merely being deferred to a later date. Part and parcel of a healthy childhood is regular exercise and the pursuit of enjoyable and wholesome (and, in a Torah home, kosher) hobbies. Denying them these necessities is analogous to not paying your utility bills for a while. For all you are doing is deferring these obligations for a later date, when you will pay them with interest and penalties.
In this sense, children are perhaps similar to living creatures or even computers. When we deviate from the sh’vil hazahav (the ‘golden path’ of moderation) and overburden our children for too long, they tend to ‘crash’ and experience a system malfunction. Maintaining that precious balance of moderation is a primary responsibility of a child’s parents. It is also important to consider that children generally engage in proper, safe activities during their free time when they are in the primary grades. However, if they are denied recreational opportunities in their younger years and experience ‘burn-out’ in their adolescent years, they are far more likely to pursue inappropriate or even dangerous pursuits.
With this in mind, I would strongly encourage you to have your pre-teen children – boys and girls – pursue their artistic and athletic abilities. Obviously, these activities should not interfere with their limudim and/or studies. And you ought to carefully screen their teachers/mentors in these hobbies and activities, especially since children tend to idolize those who excel in these areas. But done properly, these activities will afford your children the opportunity to spread their wings and nourish their creative spirit.
In your question, you seemed to categorize a potential hobby as being either 1) a good idea, 2) a necessary one, or 3) a distraction. In my mind, the only hobbies that would fall under category #3 would be those that are inappropriate for a Torah home or those that are taken to an extreme and become one’s primary focus. Music, creative drawing, and athletic pursuits – when done in moderation – would seem to all fall in category #1. They are wholesome activities that build self-esteem and allow your child to add color to the canvas of his or her personality. I would consider this to be relevant to high achieving children but even more critical for children who are not performing well in school – since as a loving parent, you are affording them the opportunity to excel in other areas.
Perhaps it is my Chassidic yichus speaking, (my great-grandfather, Reb Dov Ber Horowitz, h’yd, lovingly referred to as Reb Berish Vishever, wrote hundreds of niggunim for many chassidishe Rebbeim, among them, the Admorim of Satmar and Viznitz, z’tl), but I would consider the ability to play a musical instrument simply another opportunity to serve Hashem.
Thirty years ago, when I was a talmid in Yeshiva Torah Voda’as, there was an outstanding young talmid chacham a few years older than myself who was an accomplished violin player. He used his talent to inspire many hundreds of bachurim at Chanuka gatherings and other festive events. All these years later, my mind’s eye can still vividly see (and hear) him playing the hauntingly beautiful niggunim that elevated our neshamos.
In the broadest sense, it is always important to keep in mind that parenting children is not analogous to a 100-yard dash; it is more like running a marathon. And it is not always about who arrives first or fastest, but rather who is still standing at the finish line.
My dear chaver, Rabbi Noach Orlewik s’hlita regularly quotes the brilliant insight of his rebbi, Rabbi Shlome Wolbe, z’tl. Rav Wolbe would often say that the primary mission of a mesivta and beis midrash is to fill a talmid with Torah, while the principal task of an elementary school is to create a well-adjusted child who is prepared to learn Hashem’s Torah. Rav Wolbe was not implying that elementary schools need not teach Torah, and that high schools should not stress developing “the whole child.” He was, however, speaking to the notion that there are long-term and short-term goals in chinuch and child rearing, just as in any other endeavor. And the long-term goal of parenting and raising young children is to see to it that they are well adjusted and healthy – in body and soul.