Jewish parents who are interested in passing on their religious tradition to their children must make it a point to never use the expression "It's hard to be a Jew." -- -- -- Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, (1895-1986), one of the greatest legal authorities of our generation, attributed part of the high assimilation rate of Jewish children in the United States to their parents' repeated usage of this phrase with their kids. When children hear their parents say "It's hard to be a Jew," they internalize this notion and it becomes their new mantra. Most people tend to avoid pain and choose pleasure, so it's no wonder that kids who grew up on the "It's hard to be a Jew" mantra have strayed from their tradition. Although any worthwhile pursuit will have its challenges, the mantra that our children should hear is "It's a pleasure to be a Jew." One of the problems facing the Jewish people in our generation is the inability to create a joyous atmosphere in our homes in general, and around our Sabbath (Shabbat) table in particular. Furthermore, there seems to be an inverse relationship between our perception of a person's holiness and the number of times a person smiles. How can we create a positive association with Judaism in our children while simultaneously going about the serious business of transferring our faith to the next generation? Here are some ideas.
There is no commandment to be serious, nor is it a sin to have a sense of humor. One can laugh with Judaism and not laugh at it. Our primary sources are filled with wit and humor. One of the Talmud masters began each class with a joke or humorous parable. However, this is not to be confused with cynicism and telling jokes at other people's expense.
A great way to teach law, lore, ethics, morals and courage is through stories. All of us learned to love stories at an early age, and this love carries on throughout our lives. When our kids are in a trance-like state when hearing a great story, we can impart the values of our heroes from the past and plant the seeds of their own moral courage that they can actualize in the future.
The Sabbath (Shabbat) is a time for family and friends and celebration. While we are committed to the huge body of laws and restrictions of this day, our commitment should not detract from the joy of the Sabbath (Shabbat). When the "dos and don'ts" are couched in terms of laughter and happiness, the healthy lessons and deep messages of this holy day will be internalized by the next generation and joyfully passed on to their children.
When we give ourselves permission to relax and be ourselves, then humor, storytelling, and celebration will occur naturally. We should do our best to get rid of the notion that holiness is manifested by maintaining a stern expression on our face and being overly serious. It is a challenge to learn Torah, to follow God's commandments and focus all of our energies to drawing ourselves closer to Him and doing His Will. But these challenges are labors of love, not painful burdens.
Ben Goldfarb was born and raised in El Paso, Texas, and is a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin. He moved to Israel in 1988. He divides his time between his yeshiva studies and his coaching practice. His life calling is to help others understand their personal mission and accomplish it with humor, creativity, and spirituality. He lives with his wife and children in Jerusalem. For more information about his coaching practice, visit the Paradigm Shift Communications website, or send an email to email@example.com. Copyright 2007 by Ben Goldfarb