New Year Suggestion: Save Our Children
It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men — Frederick Douglass
Dear Rabbi: If I were to focus on one thing on Rosh Hashana, what do you suggest it should be? (signed)
Why limit it to one thing? But since you ask, be aware that King David used that exact term, in the special Psalm (27) which we recite during these days: “Achas sho’alti” – “one thing I have asked of the Lord, this I seek: that I may dwell in the House of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the pleasantness of the Lord, and to visit His Sanctuary.”
What does that mean in relevant, contemporary terms?
Beyond all the complexity of life, beyond all our jaded experiences, beyond all the clutter and noise, we each have within our souls a very quiet place – a soft and gentle voice. This is who you are at your purest core. This is what you looked like when you were a newborn child.
And this is the place we return to every Rosh Hashana, when we celebrate the collective birthday of the human race. On this day 5777 years ago, a Divine breath, for the very first time, infused life into a pile of dust from the earth, creating the human being. We are part dust, part spirit – a body and a soul.
On this day each year we return to our origins: Not the dust part, but the spirit – the dimensions that makes us uniquely human.
And what does this spirit look and feel like? It is the part in you that has not been polluted by life experiences.
This is the one thing David asked for. “I seek,” he declared, “that I may dwell in the House of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the pleasantness of the Lord, and to visit His Sanctuary.”
In a hostile world, with many trials and tribulations, I seek a pure and peaceful place – to dwell in, to behold and to visit.
Even today when the Holy Temple no longer stands, we each still have within our hearts and souls a pure place that houses the Divine, where we can dwell and find comfort; a beautiful core whose pleasantness we can behold; an inner sanctum which we can regularly visit.
If you are looking to define one thing to focus on Rosh Hashana, ask yourself:
What do you seek?
Sadly most of us are distracted with the struggle for survival, the pursuit of material needs, the immediate challenges that each of us face. Rosh Hashana, especially during the Shofar blowing (this year on Monday), put all that aside.
As we solemnly recite the verses in preparation for the Shofar blowing, allow the words to carry you away on their wings.
As the haunting Shofar begins to sound, imagine that this the simple cry of your soul, reaching out, yearning, beckoning.
Close your eyes. Take your mind, heart and presence to another place – to who you truly are beneath it all: “achas sho’alti” – seek out the single most important thing of all – your essence.
If you were to ask for one thing, “achas sho’alti,” ask for this: That your core purity should surface. That you should have the ability to dwell in and be embraced by its warm arms, all the day of your life. That you should sense with awe and behold its beauty. And that you should visit even the dimensions that transcend your soul.
Your Personal Mission Statement
As we return to our core identities on Rosh Hashana, we also revisit the purpose of our existence: Why am I here?
Over the years I have written much about the vital importance of finding your personal life mission statement. If a business cannot function without one, how can we?
This is the central theme of Rosh Hashana, the collective birthday of the human race, when the human being was created in the divine image, with a distinct and irreplaceable role to achieve in transforming existence.
The absolute significance of each life – that each of us is indispensable and was sent to earth on a mission that you and only you can accomplish – is the most critical ingredient in life and the foundation of all of Torah and Judaism.
Without this foundation – that you and everything you do matters now and forever – any expectation of us and any choice we make is rendered negligible. What significance can there be to any mitzvah, and to any moral virtue and social responsibility, if our lives have no meaning or arbitrary meaning?
Rosh Hashana then provides us with the greatest possible gift: The renewal of our divine contract and mandate – the renewal of our divinely endowed mission and all the resources we need to realize this mission.
On this extraordinary day we are charged anew with the single most essential force in life: The dignity of your immutable value.
The importance of this cannot be overstated. No words can express the significance of our indispensability.
Imagine waking up every day knowing that you have a job to do that no one else but you can accomplish. That the entire world is waiting in anticipation for you to fulfill your role. And if you don’t do your part, now one else can fulfill their roles. Imagine that you are carrying the baton in your leg of a long marathon, and if you drop the baton or do not run your leg, everyone else is compromised. Imagine that you are an astronaut in space and if you don’t press the right button all of humanity hangs in the balance.
Imagine that every second of the day, every fiber of your being, feels how your next act changes the course of destiny.
If you felt this sense of urgency and this confidence all the time, how many problems would it pre-empt? How much heartache, aggravation, and therapy it would prevent; how much money, time and resources it would save!
Think about that for a minute: If you don’t feel like you make a difference in the world, how excited can you be about the things you do and the choices you make? When you wake up in the morning and you feel like what you do that day doesn’t matter anyway, how committed or passionate can you be?
This simple, clear message is the best preventive medicine for much of the troubles plaguing our world today, much if not all of which stems from one root: A deep void and lack of feeling that you and your actions are absolutely significant. That you are a necessary player in the scheme of existence, and your choices and actions always matter.
We need to reach to every person, to every child, every parent, every educator, every leader, with the message: You matter. Your life and what you do with it matters. You are indispensable to G-d and to this world.
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Rosh Hashana Suggestion
A few weeks ago a couple approached me with their little children and asked me to bless their children for the New Year. I gave them a blessing, and then, without much thought, I turned to the parents and smilingly said: And G-d should bless you and all us adults that we not corrupt our pure and innocent children.
Words provoke. Spontaneously, the mother asks me: what do you suggest we can do to ensure that our children grow up the healthiest they can be and do not get corrupted by the adult world? If there were one thing we can do, what would it be?
“What a great question,” I said to myself and to her.
I will share with you my response, as a suggestion all parents around the world – a Rosh Hashana resolution:
On this Rosh Hashana let us all begin a new custom – a gift to our children:
Every morning upon awakening and every evening before putting your children to sleep – and as many times as you can throughout the day – tell your child (in addition to any words of love you usually convey to your child):
— (Obviously, you can and ought to customize this with your own words, and also tailor to the specific age and comprehension of your child. But here is an idea that you can either use or adapt). —
“Your soul was sent here to earth to accomplish a mission that you and only you can accomplish. Always remember that.
“You have a special song inside of you. A melody that has never been sung before. A beautiful song that will change everything you encounter.
“Wherever you go, whatever you do, whomever you meet – everything is waiting for you to sing your song. For you to shine with your special glow. For you to paint your unique portrait. For you to contribute your irreplaceable verse.”
In the Morning
Each morning, take your child’s hand and place it on his or her heart, and tell your child: “Your warm and special soul has just returned to you fresh and new. You were given this soul today anew so that you use it to illuminate and warm everyone and everything you come in contact with today.”
You can easily use the Modeh Ani prayer, which we say upon awakening, to express this message: Modeh ani lefonecho melech chai v’kayom, she’hechezarto bi neshmosi b’chemloh rabbo emunosecho. I offer thanks before you, living and eternal King, for You have mercifully restored my soul within me; Your faithfulness is great.
These words contain many ideas. One of them is the message of indispensability: Thank you for returning my unique soul, for making me special and imbuing me with an indispensable mission, for having faith in me.
“I am so excited to see you again this morning, my dear child.
“The world would be very different if you weren’t here. As you awake know that you have a new day ahead of you in which you have a critical role to play.
“You are absolutely necessary. You are indispensable to G-d’s vision of the world, chosen to fulfill a mission in this world that you and only you can accomplish.”
After School or At the End of the Day
As the day ends ask your child how he sang his special song that day. How she contributed and brought light to another person. Depending on the age and comprehension of the child, find ways to elicit form your child how he or she fulfilled their mission that day.
In the Evening
Every night before putting your children to sleep say to them:
“My dear and beautiful child, your special soul will now be returning to its source, to replenish itself with energy from the wellsprings of life.
“You surely used this day well, and showed G-d that He did well in placing His confidence in you.
“Now, return your soul and sleep well.”
Here too you can insert the evening prayer: Beyodcho afkid ruchi, podiso oisi Hashem Kel emes. In Your hand I entrust my spirit, You have redeemed me Hashem G-d of truth.
All Day Every Day
No number of times is enough to infuse our children with the cognizance of – and confidence in – their souls. In our material world, which relentlessly assaults our spirits, we can always use more energy to counter the attack.
Remember, children are naturally spiritual. As they grow and increasingly immerse into the material world they will assimilate and be impacted (by the toxins) of materialism. So the more we arm them with spiritual resources, the bigger the arsenal we provide them, and reinforce their confidence in their unique soul’s mission, the more powerful they will be and the more strength and courage they will have when they have to deal with the formidable and relentless demands and pressures of material life.
Therefore, whenever you have an opportunity to remind your child about his or her unparalleled spiritual mission, never hesitate to do so, even if it means again and again and again.
Is there a limit to how many times you can express love to your beloved? There is also no limit to how many times you can convey dignity and significance to you children.
Our Great Responsibility
There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children (as Nelson Mandela said).
It is time to create a revolution – to refocus our priorities and invest our energies into the most premium of all our gifts: Our children. And remember: It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.
Now let us envision what our child will look like as he or she grown into an adult saturated with not just with our love and nurturing, but also with a profound and intimate sense of purpose and urgency.
Imagine a child turned adult who has heard this message every day after day:
“You matter, not because you think you are important, or because others tell you that you are, or because of your buying power, monetary value, looks, performance or productivity level. But because G-d put you here. You are an indispensable musical note. Irreplaceable. Period. The world would be different if you were not here or if you do not fulfill your calling. You have been allotted a certain section of this globe, with certain talents; people you will meet; experiences you will have; places you will go; objects you will obtain – all are allocated to you in order for you to transform them, to leave them differently from how you found them. And this change lives forever. Eternally.
“You don’t just matter to me and your family; you matter to the entire world. You matter to all the worlds and the cosmos. You matter to all the souls in heaven who have been here before us. And above all: You matter to G-d.
“G-d personally chose you and sent your soul down to us here. To accomplish things that only you can accomplish.
“Never ever forget that.”
Blessed is the child that will grow up with this message ingrained in his every move.
Blessed is the world that will be filled with such children.