April 17, 2024
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April 17, 2024
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One of the aspects that I most enjoy about Yom Tov, especially “three day” Yamim Tovim, is the ability to shut down my electronics and have some quiet time (except B”H for the noise of my wonderful children). As adults who live such hectic and busy lives, Yom Tov and Shabbos are an oasis and we cherish those opportunities to have quiet time to connect with family, learn, read and, most importantly, think. Often for our children, the ability to manage their quiet time is difficult, especially in this generation of over exposure to screens and media consumption.

However, it is this ability to learn how to manage non-digital time, and most importantly, how to think without the aid of technology that is crucial to our children being able to maximize their potential and develop their true selves and ideas.

This idea was developed beautifully by Rav Yaakov Kaminetsky zt”l, in his sefer Emes L’Yaakov on Parshas Tazria. We know that one who develops tzaraas, leprosy, of the skin and is pronounced tameh (impure) by the Kohen, needs to leave the camp of Klal Yisrael for seven days. Asks Rav Yaakov, if we know that tzaraas is obviously a spiritual ailment and not a physical one, why is it not enough to merely physically remove the tzaraas and do teshuva? He answers that the time alone, out of the camp and away from others is a gift to think and do true introspection, and while connection to other people is important, sometimes a person just needs to be alone with their thoughts to consider their own ideas and priorities.

The many benefits to quiet time for children and adolescents are found in both scientific literature as well as Torah sources:

A study conducted by NYU in 2010 showed that memory was boosted significantly by having awake, quiet time at periods of the day, especially immediately following learning. We already know this from Rashi quoting the Sifra in the beginning of Parshas Vayikra that the reason we have smaller sections within the perakim of Chumash was to allow Moshe Rabbeinu time to process all of the information given to him by Hashem.

Researchers at Penn State University found that “constructively bored individuals seek out and engage in satisfying activities.” In other words, children who have time to themselves become more creative individuals. In Parshas Vayechi, when Yaakov Avinu gave the brachos to the shevatim, one aspect of Yissachar’s bracha was that when he saw he had menucha (rest), he bent his shoulder and toiled. The Netziv explains that Shevet Yissachar had that quiet because they felt secure where they lived so they were able to focus and learn Torah more intensively. Individuals who have quiet, and are not distracted, accomplish more and are able to be more creative with their minds.

While we always want our children to do more and be truly accomplished, maximizing every second, many developmental psychologists have written extensively about over-scheduling our children and not giving them space to discover what they want to develop within themselves and discover who they can become. Rav Yaakov Kaminetsky writes in Parshas Vaera that what was so crushing about Pharaoh assigning the Jews to make their own bricks was that it took away their Shabbos. The Midrash (Shemos Rabbah 5:18) writes that the Jews had scrolls written by Moshe Rabbeinu discussing the redemption and they would gather every Shabbos to read and think about them and their freedom. However, when they lost that “free” time to learn, think and dream, they became complete slaves and lost hope in the geula, redemption, themselves and Hashem.

The idea of having time to think, learn and reflect without distraction has to be balanced with the overarching drive for excellence and accomplishment as the pasuk says in Iyov (5:7), “Adam l’ameil yulad, Man was born to work.” We live to accomplish and develop ourselves and the best way to do that is without distraction.

A few suggestions on how to do that:

  • Make sure there are times we and our children unplug from technology, aside from Shabbos and Yom Tov, and when they are not doing schoolwork, so they have time to think and create.
  • Have conversations with your children about the amount of time they spend on technology, not only what they do with it. One of my favorite conversations to have with adolescents is to have them analyze their screen time.
  • Discuss with your children what you do with your own down time and model for them time away from distractions. For parents who normally learn Torah outside of the home, whether with a chavrusa or in a shiur, it is crucial to also learn in the house so that your children see what it means to be productive and growth-oriented during down time.
  • Structure fun and creative downtime with each child throughout the week to teach them how to develop deep meaningful relationships that are not based on apps, and help them find what motivates them.
  • Use the Shabbos table to discuss your priorities and hashkafos so that your children can see their parents as teachers as well. It is great to do the parsha questions that are sent home, just make sure to also use the structured Shabbos time for personal growth as well.

After Avraham Avinu made the tremendous sacrifice of having a bris milah at the age of 99, the Torah records in the beginning of Parshas Vayera that Hashem Himself came to visit him and perform the mitzvah of bikur cholim, visiting the sick. Yet, fascinatingly, the Torah does not record any conversation that took place between Hashem and Avraham. Rav Tzadok Hakohen of Lublin zt”l explains that when two people have a profoundly deep relationship, they can just be with each other and not even have the need for a conversation. When children, and particularly adolescents, can find meaning in simplicity without the need for constant stimulation, then they have begun to crack the code for true success in all aspects of their life—in their learning, their relationships and their development as healthy bnei Torah.

Rabbi Shimon Schenker is the menahel at YUHSB (MTA).

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