Bless Your Children. Tonight.
On Monday night, I taught my teen class on Long Island, beginning with a discussion of the tragedy at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT. As the conversation proceeded, I realized that the children and teens now growing up have faced the terrorist attacks of 9-11 and the murders at Columbine, Virginia Tech and Sandy Hook as key events of their childhood. They have never faced a world that felt safe. During their lives, they watched these violent tragedies take innocent lives and watched as our society introduced metal detectors, bomb sniffing dogs, armed guards and other security measures in public places that include transportation hubs as well as schools.
A rabbinic colleague raised the question of whether we can or should teach our children that they are safe. I don’t know the answer. At the same time, I do believe that the Jewish tradition gives all of us, whether we are Jewish or not, a great tool for strengthening our children as they face a world that is insecure and, too often, unsafe: blessing our children each week.
In the Jewish tradition, children are blessed on Friday night. But you don’t need to be sitting at a formal, traditional Sabbath table to do it. You can stop wherever you happen to be and bless them. And certainly, if you’re not Jewish, you can use any day or night in your week to do so. Traditionally, parents place their hands on their children’s heads to bless them in person. But I’ve also blessed my kids over the phone and via Skype. And while it’s a parental blessing, I’ve always felt free to bless
campers and youth group members when I’ve been in charge of them over a weekend.
There are traditional biblical verses that are recited [May God bless and watch over you. May God cause His countenance to shine on you and be gracious to you. May God lift His face to you and grant you peace]. But you don’t have to use them, or limit yourself only to these words. You can do it in any language you desire.
And you can use the blessing as the time to assure your children that you will do anything and everything in your power to protect and support them and their lives.
It may seem like a small action to you, but it will mean a lot to your children. Think your kids are too old to want a blessing from their parents? Think again.
Reassure your children starting tonight. And wish them the blessings of peace.
May Their Memories Be a Blessing. And a Wake-Up Call.
According to my people’s tradition, it is all around us and sustains the world. Sometimes we are able to visibly see holiness – in the work of the Dalai Lama for peace, in the collaboration between President Obama and Governor Christie to look beyond political differences to respond to human suffering in the aftermath of Sandy, in the work of Peace Corps volunteers, and in the impact of organizations like American Jewish World Service and Avodah: The Jewish Service Corps.
Other times, the holiness is hidden or has not yet fully developed. But it is there. And one reason that the Jewish tradition requires us to recite at least 100 blessings daily is to train us to see the holiness and the miracles that surround us each day, but that we might otherwise miss.
Friday’s mass murders destroyed holiness and took holiness from the world. We know the holiness of the educators who work tirelessly to bring out the potential in every student every day of their lives, and we mourn their deaths. And we know that holiness lives in the souls of every child taken tragically from our midst. But we only know a part of their holiness, because their stories were halted violently and publicly.
Would one of the twenty kids murdered have discovered a cure for some type of cancer? Who would have become a doctor in a small town? Which were going to be among the next generation of teachers? How much would some of them have given to charitable causes during their lives? The actual and the potential holiness of their lives were taken from our world.
And we need to add holiness to our world, and quickly.
Not because we can replace theirs, but to replenish the world’s supply of holiness and to prevent the next angry and crazed person from grabbing guns and going out there to kill innocents.
You can add holiness by not keeping quiet when you see that kid or adult who seems like a little too much of a loner. S/he may need help desperately. Intervene.
You can add holiness by adding your voice to those who believe that there is a need to think through firearms laws. It may very well be true that, if firearms will be harder to obtain, that criminals will kill in other ways. But let’s have a dialogue and figure it out in as rational a way as we can. And yes, I want the NRA members and the gun control activists in the discussion.
You can add holiness by doing good things in the world in memory of these fallen children and educators. Add some activity that they might have done had they continued their lives. Teach, volunteer, give charity, work for a cause, make a difference in the world.
May their memories inspire us to put some of the holiness we have lost back into our world.