Bringing Torah To Life: Making Pesach Meaningful

19 03 2012
Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller

The essence of Pesach is sipur yetziat miztrayim.

With younger children ages three to six, it’s easy to get distracted with the drama of the story, so it is important to emphasize three main ideas: Hashem is constantly watching over us, He has the ability to transcend nature, and in the end, justice prevails. The wicked ultimately pay for their actions.

The story of the exodus is rich and complex. Although younger children have surely learned all about the plagues in school, they don’t always get the whole picture.

I once overheard one of my grandchildren talking about Avraham Avinu and the tent with four doors.   “I know why it had so many doors. If guests came and you didn’t like them, you could make them leave right away from any room in the house.” Apparently the teacher got across about the four doors but she didn’t quite make the connection about hachnasat orchim (inviting guests).

Tell your children how Yaakov and his children went down to Egypt. Slowly they forgot that they were different from the Mitzriyim. Discuss how we are not like the non-Jews. We know about Hashem and we follow His will. The Mitzriyim forgot how much Yosef had done for them. You can elaborate how a tzaddik is careful to show gratitude while someone who isn’t righteous doesn’t care to remember too much.

The evil Mitzriyim made the Jews work for them. Pharaoh fooled them into thinking it was a mitzvah. Bring the concept of slavery down to your child’s level. “Imagine what life was like for a little boy your age. He would get up in the morning from his bed of straw on the floor. He’d put on his old ugly clothes. He didn’t go to school. He had to work hard and even when he got tired he had to keep on going and sometimes he would get beaten. He’d stop only at night when he’d go home to rest and eat a bit.”

The Mitzriyim enslaved us because they saw that the Jews had so many children and they were afraid that soon there would be only Jews and no Mitzriyim left. We’d be stronger than them. But the real reason they tormented us was because they were evil. You can be dramatic about the suffering, but save the horrific pictures in the Hagadah for older children. It may frighten the younger set.

Pharaoh got worse. He ordered the babies boys thrown into the sea. At this age, kids won’t always understand what death is. You want them to know that killing someone is cruel and that it’s sad for the family. But you can’t be too graphic. Hashem saw how cruel Pharaoh was to the Jews. He heard the Jews’ cries and he selected Moshe to lead them out of Egypt. Moshe was special. When he was born the whole room was full of light. His mother saw that he was righteous, so she attempted to save him.

Talk about some of the tzadikim and tzidkaniyot of the generation. Tell them about Miriam, Yocheved, and Batya. This teaches them that no matter what happens, a person’s innate greatness and nobility can still shine through. Batya didn’t just shrug her shoulders and turn away. She said, “The baby is crying. I must help him.” She stretched out her hand and Hashem enabled her to reach Moshe. Don’t talk about how it got really long. It’s confusing at this age to think that Batya did something good and ended up looking weird.

Discuss how tzadikim do the right thing even when it’s hard. Have them give them examples from their own lives such as sharing their toys with their cousins or offering some of their snack to a friend.





Bringing Torah to Life: Teaching our Children the Meaning of Purim

8 03 2012
Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller  

Explore the four mitzvot of the day with your children. Memory games are fun, so are Guess Who games. Mention something in the Midrash such as “I did ___” and then describe an occurrence and have the children figure out who it was.

Involve your kids in the mitzva of matanot la’evyonim directly. Discuss the tzedaka stories with them. Help them visualize what would it be like to be poor. Would this person have thought he would be in such a situation five years before? Could this happen to anyone? What is the nisayon of a poor person and a rich person? What is the best way to give charity? What’s the worst way? If you are giving away significant sums on Purim, you can set aside a small amount for your children to decide where it should go. If they have their own allowance money let them give some of it away with joy and empathy. Make the mitzva as endearing and fulfilling as possible.

At this age, shalach manot has a lot of social value. Whatever you can still say to little kids you can’t say to kids this age. If they need to show off a bit and express themselves creatively, let them. You can try to make them think who needs to receive also. If the social pressure at this age is that you have to give to all of the girls in the class then your child has to conform. In most schools, everyone comes to school with one nice shalach manot and then the teacher randomly picks out names. In other schools, there’s a cash limit on how much a student is allowed to spend. You should not make your kids be different because at this age it’s so important for them to feel accepted and normal.

Be organized and do the shopping a week or two before Purim so you have time to do craft activities with your children. Help them be creative. You may want to look at crafts books or how-to articles. Have their shalach manot ready in a box early so they can decorate it in a relaxed atmosphere.

Going to shul for megilah is important. Try to get them to sit through the reading. Set limits on what they will do during Haman. You can’t and shouldn’t tell them not to bang. It’s part of tradition. But you should let them know that it’s important for the people in shul to hear every word and that they have to stop in time.

The drinking at the seudah won’t be frightening for kids this age. They may actually enjoy it as long as you prepare them for it. It’s a celebration of v’nahafoch hu. We’re not getting drunk on Achashveirosh’s wine, we are celebrating with Hashem. There should be happy music in the background. If the revelry causes material damage, remember it’s Purim. Don’t ruin it because of your personal frustration, regardless of what you think. You can feel distressed, but keep a grip on yourself. It’s not worth losing the joy of the holiday.

With preteens and teenagers, talk about the miracles as much as you can before Purim. Try to engage them at the table. Discuss why anyone would want to be Achashveirosh. Ask them whether Haman would have been easily recognizable before he made his decrees? Talk about what happened to Queen Esther at the end and how Daryavesh, her son, gave permission to build the second beit hamikdash. Point out Hashem‘s hidden ways and how Purim is relevant to us in exile because we constantly experience veiled miracles. Kids can understand these ideas if you simplify it.

Be sure to make it clear before Purim that doing dangerous things is really listening to the voice of Achashveirosh and the voice of arrogance. This includes drunk driving, handling anything explosive or sharp, or giving people hard liquor when they think they are drinking something soft. Boys will be going around collecting for their respective yeshivot. They should understand that their role is to bring simcha to the homes they go to. They should be making their host feel good about the charity they are giving, not terrorizing them.

With older kids you need to plan the day beforehand. Don’t let your boys wander around drunk. If there’s a rabbi in the neighborhood who is willing to make a mesibah (festive gathering) for them, that’s great. If not, give your husband the job.

Give your teenage girls a day plan too. Otherwise Purim becomes a drag for them as they watch the boys get drunk while they’re stuck cleaning up the mess. Purim is a day for prayer. In the morning, take them with you to daven. If you are in Israel, go with them to the Kotel so they feel the spiritual essence of the day. Let them deliver shalach manot to their friends. When you arrive home for the seudah, everyone should be in a good mood. Fill the empty spaces in the afternoon with reading and discussing stimulating topics about the megilah or Purim.

May the pure simcha of this special day create lasting memories for your children.





Elul, Rosh Hashana, and Yom Kippur For Children

22 08 2010

Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rebbetzin Tzipora Heller

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Creating Elul consciousness in the home really begins with our understanding of what Elul means. The Sefas Emes explains that there is a place within Hashem’s infinite reality where his love for us is so great that nothing can touch it. Similarly, there is a hidden spark of ahavat Hashem within each of us that can never be defiled. The theme of Elul is “Ani l’dodi v’dodi li.” Discovering that place of pure love, emunah, and yearning for deveikut within ourselves draws down Hashem’s unconditional love and forgiveness. For adults, Elul is a time to push aside all the trivialities of daily living and get in touch with our deep inner selves through teshuvah and cheshbon hanefesh.

A good way to explain Elul to young children is through a parable. One can tell what something really is by looking at the end product. Following all the directions exactly while baking a cake, will usually yield good tasting results. Similarly, who we were during the year shows up in Elul. Ask the children to pretend that a very important person is expected to visit. You bake a delicious cake but it comes out a real flop. It’s too late to go out and buy new ingredients.  Imagine if you could sprinkle a magic potion on the ruined cake and turn it back to its original raw ingredients. You could then bake the cake again and it would come out just perfect. That is the wonderful gift of teshuva. We can go back as if we hadn’t done the mistakes, change it, and make it better once again.  In Elul, Hashem gives us a whole month to think about our wrongdoings and correct it. If you hurt someone, you have to say I am sorry. Show them how to do this sincerely. If you took something without permission you have to return it.   Go through their things with them. Teach them too how to forgive.

Rosh Hashana is about accepting Hashem’s kingship. Explain to your children how Hashem , our loving king, comes down to us once a year and how we great him with joy and awe. Children also need to understand that there is accountability. Although, most know about the three books that are opened on Rosh Hashana, tell them how every person writes their own story through their speech, actions, and thoughts.

Very young children should not be taken to shul because if they are forced to sit quietly for long periods of time they may come to despise going to shul. Letting them run wild in shul is anti-chinuch.  If feasible, take them for shofar blowing and some of the serious parts of the davening such as U’nesane Tokef to increase their yirat shamayim.

During Aseret Yemei Teshuva, encourage children to do more mitzvot. Give them extra coins to give to tzedakah and have them recite short chapters in tehilim.

Introducing the highlights of the Yomim Noraim to older children from the age of ten to early adolescence can be a bit more complex.  Take time to speak with them during Elul. Ask them what they would desire more, a fancy camera or to be married to someone they respect. They will probably answer the latter. Explain to them that the pleasure we derive from people stems from seeing their ruchniyut. This is something of the yearning we have for closeness to Hashem. Get them to identify all the gifts and talents Hashem has given them.  Tell them that Hashem gives us these things out of chesed and that he expects us to use it well. Let them see your Elul, how you are trying harder and working on yourself. Explain to them that Elul is the time to redefine ourselves, a period of great chesed, where we can once again resolve to make things work. Tell them stories of people who completely changed themselves. Ask them for mechila and encourage them when they express any signs of regret for past misdeeds. The real message of Elul should come through clearly-make your own transformational moments or ask Hashem to send them to you, decide what you want to be, and be it.

Rosh Hashana is a time when we renew our relationship with Hashem by recognizing Hashem’s malchut. This should awaken a certain desire to do and be more. Children can get very distracted by the externals of the day such as new clothing and the simanim. Stories are a good medium to explain “ol malchut shamayim.”  Tell your kids to aim for absolute acceptance of Hashem’s kingship. They should understand that our only desire is to do Hashem’s will. In a sense we are telling Him, “Wherever you take me, this is where I want to go.”

Older teens don’t like being told what to do. Share some inspiring ideas or stories you have read. The more indirectly you talk, the more directly they’ll hear it. The only condition though is, you have to “walk your talk”. Ask yourself honestly if you are at the level you want your children to be.Think ahead and plan things out carefully. Ask Hashem to give you the right words, clarity of mind, siyata deshmaya, and credibility, to guide your children on the true and straight path.





Rebbetzin Heller is Helping Parents in Teaching Children To Be Givers

2 08 2010

Based on a Naaleh.com shiur (Torah class) by Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller

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By nature, children do not enjoy giving. Babies know nothing about giving and everything about taking.  This is because very young children only hear their animal souls. You, as the parent must awaken within them another more elevated voice.

We live in a materialistic society where giving is undervalued. What counts is physical reality. In the material sense, the more you give the less you have while in the spiritual sense, the more you give, the more you are. Therefore, the first step in educating your child to give is to question your own attitude towards giving. Do a bit of introspection. How do you feel when someone asks you for a favor? What is your immediate reaction when someone asks you for a significant loan? If your attitude about giving is negative, don’t be hard on yourself. It’s normal not to want to give because we live in a very materialistic society. However, be aware that the language of the soul is giving; and the language of the body is taking.

By allowing yourself to be a taker, you commit yourself to your body. The body is journeying towards death which is why it yearns for repose. It’s root is death. Conversely, the soul is eternal and desires to give and to do for others. If you have your own inner crisis about giving, you will need to resolve it first before attempting to resolve your children’s’ crisis.

Ask yourself initially, “How can I come to enjoy giving?” There are various ways to reach this level. First, learn to identify with the recipient. Use imagery to cross a bridge that may be hard to cross otherwise. Suppose someone asks you for money to help pay for therapy. Picture someone who isn’t coping with life and imagine what will happen if you pay for therapy. Picture the person back on his feet, getting married, starting a family, and holding down a steady job. The more you see yourself in the recipient’s shoes, the more you awaken empathy within yourself for others, the more you’ll love giving.

Secondly, learn how to give with perfection. There’s a huge difference between making a complicated cake for a bar mitzva and handing over a box of store bought cookies. The cake signifies hours of effort and perfection and you can identify your higher soul in the gift.

A child’s desire to take and not give is much stronger than an adult’s. With very young children don’t expect much. They aren’t mentally developed enough to understand spiritual pleasure. Therefore, laying down the law is the way to go. You have to say, “We share here. Look at the clock. You get five minutes and he gets five minutes.”

Starting at about the age of five, it is possible to build empathetic understanding. This can be accomplished through storytelling. Have the hero stem from a different culture or use animal characters. This helps take pressure off the child. Your goal in storytelling is to have the child empathize with a hero who gives something to someone in need after which they both end up feeling good. You can use this basic storyline in endless variations for young children. The hero can either give honor, clothing, help with homework or assistance with understanding a new language. It is essential that the hero be a winner and not a loser, otherwise the child will not connect with the story. Your aim should be to teach them the joy of giving.

Give your child a sum of money and teach him about maaser. Initially, he won’t want to give the money to tzedaka.  Although he didn’t work  for it and does not as yet have a clear picture of what money can buy, he will still be loathe to give anything of his away. Try to open his heart by saving some of the Vaad Harabbanim booklets and reading him the stories.  Tell him how he can make a difference by donating his money. Once he’s experienced the pleasure of giving, you can move up a notch. Take your child to Geulah or the Kotel where collectors are wont to be found. Give him money to drop into a beggar’s cup. Then say, “Look what a mitzva you’ve done, now this woman can go home and buy a cake for Shabbat.”

Once you’ve passed these steps, you can then introduce the concept of giving as a part of the child’s personal life. A good place to begin is at home.  Tell your child, “The baby was so happy when you brought her a cookie,” instead of, “You were so good, you brought the baby a cookie.” This creates empathy.





‘Rebbetzin Heller’s Guidance is So Practical and So Inspiring!’

7 07 2010

Meaningful and Productive Summers for our Children

by Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller

‘I’m overwhelmed! Rebbetzin Heller’s guidance is so practical and so inspiring! To a generation of baalei teshuva (newcomers to religious Judaism)- who would have wished their mothers knew to give them such sensitive guidance – these classes teach us how to give our children something so so much better. Thank you. May you continue with mazal and Bracha.’

– Julia Silver  London, England





Helping Children Appreciate Their Siblings

22 06 2010

Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller

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Sibling rivalry is a burning issue for parents raising families today. Almost everyone’s read an article or two about it. If we look at some of the stories in Tanach, there aren’t that many siblings who had perfect relationships with each other. Kayin and Hevel, Yishmael and Yitzchak, and Yaakov and Esav all had differing personalities and struggled with their siblings. Even those sibling relationships which weren’t as disastrous such as, Shimon and Levi and Avraham and his brothers, were still complex. What are sibling relationships supposed to be like? What can we as parents do to foster positive connections? What should we be aiming for?

In Shir Hashirim the Jewish people are referred to many times as “Achoti”-my sister. The perfect sibling relationship is one in which each sibling sees the other as a mirror. There’s a certain level of balance and equality. Hashem calls us His sister because he wants to see His middot reflected in us. However, the fact is, children are different in age, sex, personality, and life circumstances. They have different needs and if you decide to give each child the same thing you will encounter trouble. How can we give siblings a feeling of unity when they are not really one? In addition, all children are born with an inherent, intuitive feeling that the world was created for them. The child can transform these feelings into one of responsibility but he can also misdirect it by demanding everything for himself and picturing himself as the center of the world. It is then very difficult for him to understand why everything doesn’t circle around him and why his other siblings seem to be more important than him. How can we nurture healthy sibling relationships?

With very young children, sibling issues are much less severe than with older children. If a one and a half year old wakes up one morning to discover a new sibling, it will become a part of his reality very quickly. However there may still be challenges. An only child is used to being the sole recipient of his parent’s attention. When a new baby comes, he has to learn to share his parents. You have to realize that the older child is far more vulnerable than the new baby who has no expectations. The child has no way of understanding that the new baby isn’t his replacement. Therefore, try to keep the older child central and introduce the baby slowly as a presence. When visitors come, have them talk to the older child first. The baby loses nothing and the older child gains centrality. Sometimes you will need to speak with your relatives beforehand about this so that they are emotionally and psychologically equipped to do this. Have a present ready that you bought that the relative can give to your child, before she shows you her present for the baby. Nursing can become an issue. The intimacy, warmth, and closeness of nursing can awaken a primal instinct in the older child who might want to have it again. The child may regress back to babyish behavior such as bedwetting or wanting a bottle or asking to nurse. Try not to make a big deal about it. He will not do this indefinitely. Making a big fuss will just get him the negative attention he wants which will only encourage him to continue. However this does tell you that he needs extra love. So when he is playing quietly, get down on the floor with him and give him the extra attention he needs. If you think he needs more, try to get a babysitter he knows and likes to take him out. This will give him quality time and will offer you some rest time with the new baby. I am aware that there are psychological theories that posit that a person’s entire sense of self value is formed by the end of the first year. Therefore you have to centralize the baby and not the older child. Still I personally think that a baby’s sense of security and esteem develops with time after consistent warmth received from his parents, and the fact that his sibling is getting some of the pie won’t make it worse. Some parents find the new baby more emotionally and physically attractive. Naturally, they will pay little attention to the older child. These feelings need to be checked. Your older child is just as dear and precious and cannot be neglected.

We will continue with older toddlers and young children next week.





How to Teach Children the Value and Sweetness of Torah

16 06 2010

Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller

visaIn this class we will examine how to teach children the value and sweetness of Torah, how to determine which school will serve as the best partner in educating your child, and how to then build a mutually beneficial relationship with your child’s school.
Children between the ages of three to six develop a strong sense of what is normal and valued and what is not. No matter how many rhymes and songs they’ve learned, if they don’t see anyone in their own life valuing Torah, they will pick up the worst possible message, namely, what you say and what you do reflect different values.

Let’s look at three different home scenarios. In one home, the father comes home from work, eats supper, interacts with the family, and then may or may not go out to a shiur. However, if every so often, the father does go to learn, the child should be aware of it. The mother should say, “Say goodbye to Abba, he’s going to learn Torah.” Torah learning should be part of the child’s sense of normalcy, just as eating with utensils or putting on shoes are.

There has to be time set aside for Torah, even if it doesn’t happen every day. The child should register that whenever possible, Torah learning takes priority. Additionally, the child should see that there are Torah books displayed prominently in the home. This will leave him with the impression that Torah is important, beautiful, and valued.

In another home, the father almost never goes out to learn. Here, the mother needs to make sure that at least on Shabbat there is Torah at the table. Even if Torah only comes into the home once a week it is visible and treasured.

In the third kind of home, the father really learns a lot. Maybe a chavruta comes to the house every night, or the father teaches in yeshiva or he is a full time kollel member. The child knows that Abba learns Torah. However, he can make the mistake of thinking that Torah belongs to Abba and has nothing to do with him. He can even reach a point where he views the Torah as a rival that cuts him off from his father. Here the father should, at least occasionally, invite his child to join him in Torah learning. This can be accomplished by telling a story at the Shabbat table or learning with the child daily, even if it is only for a short while. This way the child won’t end up feeling locked out of his father’s world, which can result in serious problems later on.

Girls at this age need to see their mother involved in physical activities, and busy with spiritual pursuits. It is important for a girl to see that her mother is a seeker. She should go to a shiur or read an inspiring book so her Torah becomes a part of the home too. If she bakes challa or gives tzedaka, her daughter should hear her say every so often, “I am doing this mitzva because this is the Torah teaches.”

There are wonderful Torah books available for kids today. There are sefarim on the parsha, Pirkei Avot, and stories about the sages. If the wordy stories are too hard for your young child, you can compensate with pictures. Show your child an illustration of Hillel lying on the roof. Tell him, “Do you see how hard Hillel is trying to learn? Even though it’s cold and snowing, he’s on the roof listening to Torah.” This will teach your child the idea that learning Torah should be done in every environment and situation.
We will continue to explore this topic next week.