During the month of Av, the three week mourning period that we began observing this week is intensified, culminating in our national day of mourning: Tisha B’Av. Some years however, it seems that Av comes early. With the tragic murders of the three yeshiva boys and the current crisis Israel faces, the Jewish people have already experienced feelings of sadness and destruction.
At last week’s Shabbos table, my daughter related that she found it challenging to sincerely relate and feel the pain for those suffering in Israel. She’s right. It’s not easy as we sit here thousands of miles away in the midst of our summer, to truly empathize with our brothers and sisters on the frontlines. But we have to try, especially if we want our children to care about serious and important issues.
Chazal tell us (Sotah 11a) that Pharaoh took counsel of three advisors regarding the population growth of the Jewish people in Egypt: Balaam advised him to kill all Jewish born males by throwing them into the Nile, Iyov (Job) remained silent, and Yisro ran away. The Gemara tells us that corresponding to their responses to Pharaoh, Balaam was eventually killed, Iyov suffered great afflictions, and Yisro merited descendants who would sit on the Great Sanhedrin. Why was Iyov punished so harshly for his silence? The commentators explain simply: When someone feels pain, they cry out. Iyov’s silence indicated that he wasn’t bothered by Balaam’s plot to kill thousands of Jewish babies. When something truly bothers us, we react loudly.
Our first response to the current situation has to be to ensure that we as educators and parents make it clear that the welfare of fellow Jews is something genuinely close to our hearts. We have to cry out in some way, otherwise in a sense we too are guilty of indifference. When children see something that truly matters in the eyes of adults they look up to, they inherently understand that that issue should be important to them as well. This is one way to try to reach kids in a way that encourages them to develop a sense of responsibility.
We live in an era which by definition is distracted. Smart phones have provided us with more and instant information, while dumbing down the average attention span needed for genuine learning. This means that getting through to kids is more challenging than ever. One strategy that can be very effective is to create concrete and tangible ways for kids to relate to the issues that concern us. It’s very difficult to care about something abstract.
An easy way to make an abstract real to a child is by sharing relevant videos, news and stories about the situation in Israel. Personalize the crisis by meeting or talking to people who have been there. If your kids have been to Israel, remind them of the places they saw and describe specifically what is happening there. If they haven’t been to Israel, and it’s possible, plan your next big vacation there. Finally, look for opportunities for your family to do something that aids or promotes Jews in need. When kids feel like they can make a difference, the cause becomes something that is a part of their lives, not just a distant concern.
Another way to elicit empathy and care for others is based on our practice of fasting. One of the things that we accomplish by not eating or drinking is to give up a little bit of our normal comforts so that we can look outside of ourselves and focus on important things. Perhaps a person can voluntarily abstain from a luxury in their lives. This can be for a week, a day, or an hour—the point is to empathize with others in distress during that time.
In 1970 a TWA flight to Israel was hijacked and the passengers, some of them very prominent Jewish leaders, were held hostage by terrorists. After lengthy negotiations, some of the hostages were released and welcomed home with great fanfare. While others were celebrating, Rav Moshe Feinstein’s response was somewhat muted. When asked why he wasn’t celebrating with everyone else, Rav Moshe responded that he felt it was inappropriate for him to be joyous while other Jews were still in grave danger.
Hopefully we can all contribute in some way to alleviating the current crisis, and I pray that we merit to see Shalom for all of Israel.
Rabbi Avraham Shulman MS, LAC is a Rebbe and Guidance Counselor at MTA. He is also an Associate Mental Health Counselor at EK Counseling in Teaneck. He can be reached at [email protected] or 973-271-3753.
By Rabbi Avraham Shulman MS, LAC