In 2020, our communities went through drastic changes as our shul doors were shuttered for months. Our slow return began in outdoor settings, with limited crowds. Eventually, we worked our way back indoors, spread thin with significant space to maximize physical safety. Many of our friends and neighbors, but fewer of our wives and children rejoined us in shul. Seeing my own vibrant shul as empty and quiet as it was last year, when our youngsters were shelved, was shockingly sad.
Against that backdrop, I have even greater appreciation seeing our youth returning to their rightful places. Our shul is again beginning to teem with children, and it’s awesome. Their presence transforms our shul from a place of avodah to a place of avodah b’simcha, an invaluable enhancement.
In Shmos (10:9), Moshe asks Pharaoh to let the Jewish people worship Hashem, and Pharaoh asks who will go to do this avodah. Moshe’s response unequivocally included the children—“…b’nareinu u’bezikaneinu neileich, b’vaneinu u’bevnoseinu”—both the sons and the daughters. Pharaoh then tried to specifically exclude the children. The rest is history.
The letter in last week’s Link, “Lots of Noise in Shul,” suggests we follow in Pharaoh’s footsteps and exclude the children from our avodah.
When I look around at my peers in our daily minyan, I can see (however anecdotally) that the children who went to shul with their fathers have become the adults who continue to consistently come today. When my children are next to me in shul, I know that it’s well worth the occasional outburst to have them sitting among us, and we are truly the lucky ones.
Obviously, a parent is responsible to make sure their child can behave, but the crinkling of snack bags or infrequent utterance should not dissuade any parent from keeping their child in shul.
There’s no place in the world where a Jewish child belongs more than in a shul alongside their parent. It is a fundamental requirement for us to teach our children the tenets of Judaism, and to guide them in their spiritual journey. This journey begins at our Mikdash Me’at, learning the modern avodah that is a quintessential part of Jewish life. We see in Devarim (31:12) that for the mitzvah of Hakhel we must specifically include “Hanashim v’hataf”—our women and little ones. The Gemara in Chagigah (3a) explains that the children are there to give schar, reward, to those that bring them. We mustn’t let the grumblings of the discontent prevent us from achieving these mitzvos.
If the noise in shul is truly bothering anyone, they should start by eliminating the idle chatter of adults—conversations about sports scores and stock trades—before suggesting eliminating the presence of our children. These children who come to shul are the coursing lifeblood of the continuance of our heritage, and we should do everything we can to encourage them to stay in shul as children so they can grow up to do what so many of us seem to have no time for nowadays—keep our minyanim alive.Chaim Pinsker