Lessons in Memory of my brother Dale Alan Konigsburg
November 29, 2004 – Number 5765-10
Jewish Spirituality for Children and Teens
Rabbis have taught for centuries that Jewish mysticism can only be taught when three conditions are met. To study Kabbalah, one has to be at least 40 years old, married and be the parent of at least one girl and one boy; and have a full “belly” of Torah. In other words, only when our other duties in life are fulfilled, we are mature, with a family and well versed in Judaism, can we begin to delve into the mysteries of G-d. Considering what some people will do for religion, it is a very practical way to insure that mysticism remains the study that is practiced by mature and wise people.
But the Sages also understood that everyone needs to contemplate G-d and the meaning of all life. Therefore, Judaism also teaches a concept called “normal mysticism”. Normal mysticism is how we can find G-d in all the world that surrounds us and not by studying some ancient tome. Normal mysticism is finding G-d in a beautiful sunset, in a beautiful moment, in the eyes of a child and in acts of kindness. We don’t have to travel distant paths or learn from venerable sages. We need only to lift up our eyes to see the glory of G-d that surrounds us.
To call attention to these spiritual moments, Jews say blessings (berachot). A blessing is a way we acknowledge to G-d that we have understood the moment before us as a gift from G-d and we express our thanks for that moment. Almost anything can be a sacred moment and therefore Judaism has a blessing for everything.
There is an old story of the greatest miracle in history, the crossing of the Red Sea by the Jewish slaves fleeing from Pharaoh and his army. The entire Jewish People understood the meaning of that moment and were in awe of G-d’s power, all except for two men. These two men were upset that the seabed was not perfectly dry as they crossed to freedom. They were getting mud on their shoes just like they used to get mud on their shoes when they made bricks for Egypt. In their eyes, freedom and slavery were the same mud on their shoes. Imagine, they were in the presence of the greatest miracle of all time and all they could see was the mud on their shoes! Often, we are so upset over what is happening in our lives that we don’t see the miracles that surround us everyday.
One Rabbi I know taught preschool age children to understand G-d. He sat them in his lap and had them point out his nose, mouth, ears and eyes. Then he asked them to point to his “love”. Just as love is real but can not be seen or touched, so too G-d’s love for us can be felt, even if we can not touch G-d.
Teens often ask why we don’t have miracles today like we did in ancient times. Of course we still have miracles, but the kind of miracles have changed. It is like the story of the man in a flood who turns down rescue by three boats because he insists that “G-d will save me” and so he drowns. And when he arrives before G-d in Heaven disappointed that G-d had failed him, G-d replies, “What do you want from me? … I sent you three boats!” For the miracle to happen we have to often use our own hands and feet and to make them do G-d’s will.
Rabbi Lawrence Kushner compares life to pieces of a jigsaw puzzle that we try to assemble all of our lives. Only we don’t have all the pieces we need, and we have other pieces that we don’t need but are important to someone else. So we must go through life exchanging our thoughts and ideas, our knowledge and our wisdom so that we can get the pieces we need to complete our puzzle and to help others get the pieces they need to complete their puzzle as well. Rabbi Kushner concludes that each time we give one of out worthless pieces of the puzzle to someone else, we are emissaries of the Most High.
Can we teach our children about G-d? Of course we can. But first we need to make sure we know for ourselves what we believe about G-d. To teach our children, we need to make sure that we are comfortable with G-d as well. Once we can articulate for ourselves what G-d means in our life, only then can we help our children understand as well. Only when we know to whom we address our prayers, can we teach our children how to open their mouths in prayer. There are some great books to help us adults to understand what we mean when we are talking about G-d. Talk to your Rabbi, he can recommend some just for you.
Next week: Jewish Values at Work