Category Archives: Education

Shabbat App Source Sheet

Over the past week, over 3,000 people have read the posts here and here about the Shabbat app. Many people have asked for sources, either for their own learning or in order to teach and discuss with others. Below can be found a small collection of 10 fundamental sources focusing on the understanding of תשבותו and ממצוא חפצך ודבר דבר as the safeguards set by the Torah (according to some) and the rabbis (according to everyone) so Shabbat stays Shabbat.

I’d like to thank my friend and colleague Rabbi Elan Mazer for putting together the Hebrew sources – all translations are mine.


 שמות פרק כג, יב
שֵׁשֶׁת יָמִים תַּעֲשֶׂה מַעֲשֶׂיךָ וּבַיּוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי תִּשְׁבֹּת לְמַעַן יָנוּחַ שׁוֹרְךָ וַחֲמֹרֶךָ וְיִנָּפֵשׁ בֶּן־אֲמָתְךָ וְהַגֵּר

Six days you may do your work, but on the seventh day you shall rest, in order that your ox and your donkey shall rest, and your maidservant’s son and the stranger shall be refreshed.

 מכילתא דרבי ישמעאל בא – מסכתא דפסחא פרשה ט
שמרתם את היום הזה לדורותיכם למה נאמר והלא כבר נאמר כל מלאכה לא יעשה בהם. אין לי אלא דברים שהם משום מלאכה דברים שהם משום שבות מנין ת”ל ושמרתם את היום הזה להביא דברים שהן משום שבות

“Safeguard this day for your generations” – why was it said? Isn’t it so that it already said “no labor [Melacha] should be done on them”?
I only learnקed [the prohibition of] things that are [prohibited as] a Melacha. Things that are [prohibited from being] a “Shvut” [ceasing[ – from where do we learn [they are prohibited]?
[For this] it says: “safeguard this day” – to include things that are from Shvut [ceasing].

רמב”ן ויקרא פרק כג פסוק כד
נראה לי שהמדרש הזה לומר שנצטוינו מן התורה להיות לנו מנוחה בי”ט אפילו מדברים שאינן מלאכה, לא שיטרח כל היום למדוד התבואות ולשקול הפירות והמתנות ולמלא החביות יין, ולפנות הכלים וגם האבנים מבית לבית וממקום למקום, ואם היתה עיר מוקפת חומה ודלתות נעולות בלילה יהיו עומסים על החמורים ואף יין וענבים ותאנים וכל משא יביאו בי”ט ויהיה השוק מלא לכל מקח וממכר, ותהיה החנות פתוחה והחנוני מקיף והשלחנים על שלחנם והזהובים לפניהם, ויהיו הפועלים משכימין למלאכתן ומשכירין עצמם כחול לדברים אלו וכיוצא בהן, והותרו הימים הטובים האלו ואפילו השבת עצמה שבכל זה אין בהם משום מלאכה, לכך אמרה תורה “שבתון” שיהיה יום שביתה ומנוחה לא יום טורח.

It is my view that the Midrash is saying that we were commanded from the Torah to rest even from things that are not a Melacha… therefore the Torah “Shabbaton” [day of ceasing], that it should be a day of ceasing and resting, not a day of toil.

חידושי הריטב”א מסכת ראש השנה דף לב עמוד ב
וברם צריך את למידע דכל מאי דאמרינן בכל דוכתא שבות דרבנן לאו למימרא שאין לנו שבות מן התורה כלל, דא”כ נמצאת שבת כחול מן התורה שהחנויות פתוחות ואוצרות תבואה ויין, ומטלטלין חפצים מבית לבית דרך כרמלית ומודדין ושוקלין ומונין, ואינו בדין שאסרה תורה הוצאה כגרוגרת והתירה העמל הגדול הזה שא”כ אין זה יום מנוחה, אלא כך עיקרן של דברים כי בכלל מצות עשה שבות של תורה לשבות ממלאכות יש לשבות מכל שבות דרך כלל שלא לעשות שבת כחול, אבל בכל פרט ופרט כי עביד לי’ וזהיר באידך דלא הוי שבת כחול הוי שבות דרבנן, נמצא שיש לשבות עיקר מן התורה, ולפיכך העמידו בו חכמים דבריהם במקומות הרבה לדחות מצוה של תורה, וזו מרגליות שבידינו מרבינו הרמב”ן מפי מורינו ז”ל

But you need to know that what we say in every place “rabbinical Shvut” it is not to say that we do not at all have [a prohibition of] Shvut from the Torah, as [if that were true], Shabbat would be like weekdays from the Torah – shops would be open and storehouses of crops and wine, carrying objects from house to house through a Karmelit, measuring and weighing. It isn’t logical [that it is] legal that the Torah forbade carrying a “Grogeret” [small amount of food] from one domain to the other but permitted these great efforts, for if so – it isn’t a day of rest. Rather, this is the main point – included in the prohibition of “ceasing fro Melacha” is to cease [LiShbot] from all Shvut prohibitions as a general instruction not to make Shabbat as a weekday… we find that Shvut [Rabbinical prohibitions] are anchored in the Torah and therefore the rabbis set their words, in many places, to override a Torah Mitzvah

 רמב”ם הלכות שבת פרק כא הלכה א
נאמר בתורה (שמות כ”ג) תשבות אפילו מדברים שאינן מלאכה חייב לשבות מהן, ודברים הרבה הן שאסרו חכמים משום שבות

The Torah [Exodus 23:12] states: “[On the seventh day,] you shall cease activity.” Even things that are not a forbidden activity he must cease from doing and many things have been forbidden by the rabbis because of “Shvut” (ceasing).

 מגיד משנה הלכות שבת פרק כא הלכה א
א] נאמר בתורה תשבות אפי’ מדברים וכו’. כוונת רבינו היא שהתורה אסרה פרטי המלאכות המבוארות ע”פ הדרך שנתבארו עניניהן ושיעוריהן ועדיין היה אדם יכול להיות עמל בדברים שאינן מלאכות כל היום לכך אמרה תורה תשבות. וכ”כ הרמב”ן ז”ל בפירוש התורה שלו ובאו חכמים ואסרו הרבה דברים

It says in the Torah “cease” even from things etc. The meaning of our rabbi [the Rambam] is that the Torah forbade the particulars of the specified Melachot according to their matter and measurments and still, a person could labor in things that are not Melachot all day, therefore, the Torah said “Tishbot” [cease]. And similarly wrote the Ramban in his commentary to the Torah and the rabbis came and forbade many things


 ישעיהו פרק נח, יב-יד
(יג) אִם־תָּשִׁיב מִשַּׁבָּת רַגְלֶךָ עֲשׂוֹת חֲפָצֶיךָ בְּיוֹם קָדְשִׁי וְקָרָאתָ לַשַּׁבָּת עֹנֶג לִקְדוֹשׁ יְקֹוָק מְכֻבָּד וְכִבַּדְתּוֹ מֵעֲשׂוֹת דְּרָכֶיךָ מִמְּצוֹא חֶפְצְךָ וְדַבֵּר דָּבָר: (יד) אָז תִּתְעַנַּג עַל־יְקֹוָק וְהִרְכַּבְתִּיךָ עַל־במותי בָּמֳתֵי אָרֶץ וְהַאֲכַלְתִּיךָ נַחֲלַת יַעֲקֹב אָבִיךָ כִּי פִּי יְקֹוָק דִּבֵּר:

If you restrain your foot because of the Shabbat, from performing your affairs on My holy day, and you call the Shabbat a delight, the holy of Hashem honored, and you honor it by not doing your wonted ways, by not pursuing your affairs and speaking words:
Then, you shall delight with Hashem, and I will cause you to ride on the high places of the land, and I will give you to eat the heritage of Yakov your father, for the mouth of Hahsem has spoken.

 תלמוד בבלי מסכת שבת דף קיג עמוד א
וכבדתו מעשות דרכיך וכבדתו שלא יהא מלבושך של שבת כמלבושך של חול
מעשות דרכיך שלא יהא הילוכך של שבת כהילוכך של חול
ממצוא חפצך חפציך אסורין חפצי שמים מותרין
ודבר דבר שלא יהא דבורך של שבת כדבורך של חול דבור אסור הרהור מותר

And you shall honor it, not doing your own ways:
‘and you shall honor it’, that your Shabbat garments should not be like your weekday garments.
‘Not doing your own ways’, that your walking on the Shabbat shall not be like your walking on weekdays.
‘Nor finding thine own affairs’: your affairs are forbidden, the affairs of Heaven [religious matters] are permitted.
‘Nor speaking thine own words:’ that your speech [conversation] on the Shabbat
should not be like your speech on weekdays

רמב”ם הלכות שבת פרק כד הלכה יב-יג
אסרו חכמים לטלטל מקצת דברים בשבת כדרך שהוא עושה בחול, ומפני מה נגעו באיסור זה, אמרו ומה אם הזהירו נביאים וצוו שלא יהיה הילוכך בשבת כהילוכך בחול ולא שיחת השבת כשיחת החול שנאמר ודבר דבר קל וחומר שלא יהיה טלטול בשבת כטלטול בחול כדי שלא יהיה כיום חול בעיניו ויבוא להגביה ולתקן כלים מפינה לפינה או מבית לבית או להצניע אבנים וכיוצא בהן שהרי הוא בטל ויושב בביתו ויבקש דבר שיתעסק בו ונמצא שלא שבת ובטל הטעם שנאמר בתורה (דברים ה) למען ינוח

12. The Sages forbade the carrying of certain objects on the Sabbath in the same manner as [one carries] during the week. Why was this prohibition instituted? [Our Sages] said: If the prophets warned that the manner in which a person walks on the Sabbath should not resemble the manner in which he walks during the week, and similarly, one’s conversation on the Sabbath should not resemble one’s conversation during the week, as it is written, “[refraining from]… speaking about [mundane] matters,” surely the manner in which one carries on the Sabbath should not resemble the manner in which one carries during the week.
In this manner, no one will regard [the Sabbath] as an ordinary weekday and lift up and repair articles, [carrying them] from room to room, or from house to house, or set aside stones and the like. [These restrictions are necessary] for since the person is idle and sitting at home, [it is likely that] he will seek something with which to occupy himself. Thus, he will not have ceased activity and will have negated the motivating principle for the Torah’s commandment [Deuteronomy 5:14], “Thus… will rest.”
13. Furthermore, when one searches for and carries articles that are used for a forbidden activity, it is possible that one will use them and thus be motivated to perform a [forbidden] labor. (meaning, the previous Halacha is not out of fear of violating an Issur Melacha! Y.S.)
[Another reason for this prohibition is] that there are some people who are not craftsmen and are always idle – e.g., tourists and those that stand on the street corners. These individuals never perform labor. Were they to be allowed to walk, talk, and carry as they do during the week, the result would be that their cessation of activity on [the Sabbath] would not be discernible. For this reason, [our Sages instituted] refraining from such activities, for the cessation of such activities is universally applicable.

 רש”י מסכת שבת דף קכג עמוד ב
שלשה כלים – ותו לא, ולקמן אמרינן דבימי נחמיה בן חכליה בבית שני גזרו על טלטול כל הכלים, כדי לגדור גדר להחמיר באיסורי שבת, מפני שהיו מקילין בה משנה זו – דלעיל, בראשונה היו אומרין שלשה כלים ותו לא – משום דהוו מזלזלים בשבתות, דכתיב בימים ההמה וגו’.

… and below it says that in the days of Nechemia son of Chachalia, during the Second Temple, they forbade carrying all of the vessels [on Shabbat] in order to create a fence to be stringent with the prohibitions of Shabbat because they were lenient in it.

Cellphone on Shabbat

Shabbos app

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Is the Shabbat Smartphone app Kosher?

My students approached me asking for my opinion on the so called “Shabbat App” which – according to the developers – “allows you to Halachically use a Smartphone on Shabbos”.Shabbos app
After reading the material on their website, I discussed it in class. Below is a summery of my opinion, followed by 4 correspondences between myself and the app developers.

1. The foundational logic of it is false and very disturbing:

Currently, using a Smartphone on Shabbos is prohibited. Unfortunately, this does not stop many otherwise observant Jews from using their devices on Shabbos, and can make Shabbos harder for the more adherent observer that do not use a Smartphone. The Shabbos App will give us all a way to keep shabbos with all the stringencies and still take full advantage of the wonderful technology the world has to offer.

As I told the students, it would be like saying – since there are so many people who aren’t Shomer Negi’a (and/or “find it difficult to not be”), let’s come up with rules of how to minimize the חיבה (affection) aspect of touching – only through clothing, only after stipulating that it isn’t affectionate touching, etc… As one of the students said – “that’s ridiculous. No one who touches girls would care about any of those things”. Exactly. I don’t believe there is anyone out there who is texting on Shabbat but at the same time is stringent with Brachot before and after eating. Meaning, people who are texting on Shabbat do not do so because they find it difficult to manage without cell phones.
They do so because they do not care enough about Shabbat and are violating other איסורי (prohibitions) of Shabbat as well. There is a concept in Halacha called הלעיטהו לרשע וימות – we do not have a responsibility to minimize an איסור for people who intentionally violate Halacha. Furthermore, if we did do this – it would serve as a destructive blow to Shabbat as it would open the door for other people – who wouldn’t otherwise dream of using their phones on Shabbat – to start doing so.

2. In their list of possible issues that using the phone on Shabbat entails, the writers miss the biggest issue. They list possible איסורים (prohibitions) – Mav’ir, Boneh, Kotev, השמעת קול, etc… but say nothing of the main issue – ממצוא חפצך ודבר דבר – from which מוקצה and other איסורי דרבנן (Rabbinical prohibitions) come, of differentiating Shabbat from weekdays. For many Poskim this is also the reason we do not use many electrical appliances on Shabbat and not because there is any actual איסור מלאכה. Throughout history our rabbis made sure to maintain the unique distinction between Shabbat and weekdays, making sure that during Shabbat people not only not create but also not be engaged – in action or thought – in weekday endeavors. I can think of fewer things that would empty Shabbat from all that is beautiful about it. Think of the quiet of Shabbat, the quality time with family and friends, the Shabbat meals and songs, the special atmosphere in and outside Shul, the Drashot, classes and lectures and the long hours of rest. How much of that would continue if cell phones – the instrument which most isolates us from our immediate surroundings – were permitted on Shabbat?

3. The possible מלאכות and ways they are “fixed” through the supposed app are riddled with mistakes. To name two of them:
– The idea that a battery heating up is אסור משום הבערת אש is very childish. Fire is not an issue of heat. Like most Melachot, it’s an issue of (יצירה) creation.
– In the “solutions” it mentions that a גרמא (causation) system will allow typing to be delayed and random. This idea is one most well known from the Tzomet solutions. The obvious difference being that Tzomet comes up with solutions because there is:
A. An actual Halachik need to violate Shabbat such as for sick people, for security and safety and other similar situations.
B. An extreme loss of Oneg/Kvod Shabbat, such as disabled people and the like.
In order so people who have to violate Shabbat or cannot function normatively on Shabbat the Halacha has a solution: The Mishna says that גרם כיבוי is מותר, the רמ”א conditioned that this can be used only במקום הפסד (in a place where there is loss) and the Poskim of our generation have said that security and health needs qualify as מקום הפסד. Equating cell phone use to any of these is nothing short of a gross abuse of Halacha.

It was a great discCellphone on Shabbatussion with my students. Though they didn’t agree with everything, they understood the logic I presented as well as my claim that whoever is behind this is not coming at it will pure intentions by any means as they are completely disregarding the most problematic aspect of the question.

And if you need further proof that this has little to do with concern for Shmirat Shabbat and are wondering what is really behind it one may not have to look much further than the price of the app – 50 USD.

(SEE IN THE COMMENT SECTION BELOW 4 CORRESPONDENCES BETWEEN MYSELF AND THE APP DEVELOPERS)

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Ideas for a creative Sedder

Not cSedderontent with the simple rote recitation of The Hagadah? Want to make it an actual multi-generational Jewish learning/growth experience? Want to have a Sedder which will stimulate and excite your children?

There are a lot of ideas out there but here are some of my favorites which I’ve actually tried:

1. Start again. After everyone is finally situated in their designated seat, Head of Sedder (HOS) goes to the front door, opens it and urgently calls everyone to quickly come outside to see something. When they  arrive HOS says : “Imagine that right now we would get up and just leave our houses. Leave to go to Israel/Jerusalem/Har HaBayit. Just grab our suitcases and go. Everywhere in the world, right now, all Jews are sitting down to remember when The Jewish People left Egypt. Let’s do the same. Everyone head back in; We’re now ready to start our Sedder”.

 

2. Move Maggid away from the dining room to the living room. Children sit on the carpet or mattresses in center while adults sit on the sofas/armchairs. You will be amazed how this can transform the Maggid from a ritual to an actual family discussion/activity (Make sure to bring your cup of wine with you).

 

3. Encourage questioning. Throughout the Sedder every question (or answer) said by a child – awards them a chocolate chip to be placed in small baggie. Kids may eat them throughout Maggid, but whoever has the most chips by the end- gets a prize. (Other options are tiny marshmallows or, small notes that say “Good Job”).

 

4. Q-cards. Under each plate place a card which has on it information to be used at variant times during the Sedder. Examples:

1) An individual “special” word – whenever this word is recited in the reading, the person needs to yell out: “Pesach, Matzah and Maror!”

2) A character from the Pesach story – when there is a lul in the story, pick random participant, who needs to either act out his character, or answer 21 questions until the other participants guess his identity (don’t forget all the animal characters from חד גדיא!)

 

5. Experience slavery. Immediately after מה נשתנה, bring out blocks and tell the kids to each build a building to a certain height. As they build, Head of the Seder (HOS) makes suggestions of improvements. Upon completion, HOS instructs to ruin and re-do better. When they start re-building, HOS takes a more aggressive attitude, bossing them around about how to build the building. After the kids get upset (or even cry) HOS stops and explains that this is similar to what happened in מצרים, it started off mild and gradually changed into slavery. Continue with עבדים היינו.

 

6. Four sons.

1)     Ask each participant to identify which son they are and why (can be both a serious as well as a bit of a silly conversation). Adults can share which kind of “son” they were when they were kids…

2)     The 4 sons through the ages. Download and print out enough versions of The Four Sons collectioFour sonsn, based on which you can have many fascinating discussion with participants, of all ages. Sample questions:

i. Identify who is each son in the various depictions of the four sons. How do you know?

ii.  What are some of the differences between the various depictions of the various sons? (for adults – what do these differences mean?)

iii. Which depiction is you favorite? Why?

iv. Which depiction best describes our family?

v. (For adults:

– What is common to all the depictions on the 3rd page?  A: they carry strong ideological statements – Zionist, anti-enlightenment and anti-socialist

– What is common to all the depictions on the last page?            A: they depict whole families, not only sons

7. The Plagues

1) Each child acts out 2 pre-assigned plagues and the other kids have to guess what it is.

2) Blood – Ask for “Jewish” and “Egyptian” volunteers to demonstrate the plague of Blood. Prepare 2 non see-through cups, one of which should have at the bottom red food coloring. Make a spectacle of pouring clear water from same jar into the “Jewish cup” and then the “Egyptian cup”, hand to them and ask them to describe what they see. HOS explains that the same water stayed water for us but when was used by the Egyptians- became blood.

3) Darkness. Split kids into “Jews” and “Egyptians”. Blindfold “Egyptians”, who need to protect their chocolate chips from the “Jews”, who want to “borrow” them. HOS explains that this is what happened in מצרים- the Egyptians couldn’t see anything and the Jews could. The Jews went into the Egyptians homes to take treasures as compensation for their hard work.

 

8. Elijah’s cup. Have someone sneak out of the room a couple of minutes before Elijahs cup. This person leaves house and stands outside the door with his head covered with a Tallit. When children open the door – Elijah walks in, walks silently (remaining hooded) to the table, bends down enough to fool that he is drinking (while making sure to spill some of it) and then leaves.

 

Word to the wise:

1. Different activities are appropriate for different ages

2. Change the activity to fit your “clientele”

3. If you find one that the kids love – do it again. It’s worth the time

4. Choose wisely how many “special” activities to do. You don’t want overkill. I recommend choosing the 3 or four you think will work best.

5. These ideas are not meant to replace the traditional Sedder, rather to enhance it; to evoke more interest and engagement in the readings and observances.

 

Chag Same’ach VeKasher!

(Feel free to add in things you’ve actually done and seen succeed)

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Simon & Garfunkel, Jesus and Sex – a surprising conversation with my 8 year old son

On a drive back from Buffalo to Toronto last week, with only myself and my 8 year old in the car, I put on a “Simon and Garfunkel” disc as part of his ‘music appreciation education’. (He can already identify Blues as a genre, Beetles, Queen, some U2 and ‘Stairway to Heaven’. I thought it was time he become familiar with the great music of two nice Jewish boys, named Simon and Art).  
The first song on this timeless collection was “Mrs, Robinson”.

For those not familiar with this rock classic (shame on you!) the opening lyrics are:
“And here’s to you Mrs. Robinson;Jesus loves you more than you will know (wo wo wo)”.
Upon hearing this line, the following quite long and extremely important conversation ensued between my son and me:
Matanel: “Abba, who’s Jesus?”
Me: “He was a Jewish guy who lived a very long time ago. Do you remember that we learnt about Avaraham Avinu and how when he was a kid everyone believed that statues had powers and that they were gods? well Christians think that Jesus, who was a man, had powers and was a God. What do you think, does that make sense?”
Matanel: “No, not really”
Me: “Remember the story of how Avraham smashed all the statues and put the stick in the hands of the big statue and told his father that the big statue did it and that his father got angry because the statue is just a statue? what did Avraham answer him?”
Matanel: “That if the statue can’t smash the other statues how can you believe he is God”.
Me: “That’s right. So it’s the same thing with Jesus. Just like the statue was made by someone else and is just a statue so he can’t be God, also man was made from something and came from his parents and can’t be God”
Matanel (laughing): “That makes sense”.
Me: “Think about it. If he’s a ‘man’ then he’s a ‘man’ and if he’s ‘God’ – then he’s ‘God’. Saying ‘man’ is ‘God’ would be like saying a dog is a fish (Matanel laughing hysterically). If I tell you that this dog is a fish, that means that either it’s not a fish or it’s not a dog. It can’t be both, can it?”
Matanel: “Well, it can be both if you’re speaking in both languages…” (the Hebrew word דג, which means fish sounds exactly like the English word dog)
Me (laughing): “Well, I guess, but you know what I mean. Let’s say I say a dog is a cat – it’s either a cat that I’m calling a dog, or a dog that I’m calling a cat. IT can’t be both, right?”
Matanel: “Well, what if a dog and cat get married, wouldn’t their baby be both?”
Me: “Wow, good question. From what I know, when 2 animals from different species have babies, the babies can’t survive and they die”.
Matanel: “Ah. Abba – do animals get married?”
Me: “Not really”.
Matanel: “So how do they have kids?”
Me: “What do you mean?”
Matanel: “I have a different question. When people tell me I got my green eyes from you and Savta, or that I ‘got my height from my uncles’, how did I ‘get them’ from you?”
Me: “Do you know how you can save letters and pictures on the computer at home?” 
Matanel: “You mean it’s saved in the memory?”
Me: “Yes, exactly. So there’s something in our bodies called ‘cells’…”
Matanel: “Abba, I know what cells are!”
Me: “Oh, OK. Sorry. Well, cells have in them something called DNA that remembers all the things about our bodies – our height, the color of our eyes and hair and a lot, a lot of other things…
Matanel: “So I have your DNA and that’s why I’m like you?”
Me: “Yes but you also have Ema’s DNA”
Matanel: “Because I was in her Tummy?”
Me: “Ya, kind of”
Matanel: “But how did I get your DNA?”
Me: “Well, just like you can send someone an e-mail with letters and pictures that are kept in the memory of your computer, I sent my DNA, that has all the information about my body, into Ema’s tummy”
Matanel: “How did you send it to her? I mean, how did she get it from you? is it because you got married?”
Me: “Ah, I understand your question now. So no, not exactly because we got married. Think about it – you weren’t born right after Ema and I got married, right? only seven years later”
Matanel: “Ya. So how did you send your DNA to Ema?” 
Me: “You know how when you see a man and a women kissing and you don’t like looking because it’s very private?
Matanel (laughing) :”Ya”
Me: “So, there is something else that Abbas and Emas do and that’s how I send my DNA to Ema. It’s not from kissing – if someone ever tells you it’s from kissing, they don’t know what they’re talking about – but it’s from something like kissing that Emas and Abbas do but it’s more than kissing. It’s more special and more private than kissing. It’s like kissing, but more.”
Matanel: (says nothing. Seems to be thinking about this)
Me: “Do you want to hear more about this now or continue talking about it at a different time when you feel ready?”
Matanel: “Let’s continue a different time”
Me: “OK. I really like talking to you about these things. Let me know whenever you want to continue talking about it”. 
Matanel: “OK. Me too. Can I play on your phone now?”
Me: “Sure”. 
This Shabbat afternoong, Matanel asked me “if we could continue the DNA conversation”. I said I’d love to but we should wait until we can speak about it in quiet, without his younger brothers around to bother us.
Pointers to self for the continued conversation:
1. My kid is awesome. Thank you Hahsem for granting me such a special boy!
2. Make sure to continue letting him lead the conversation. Make sure I’m giving him the information he’s asking about and not giving him information he’s not actually asking about or ready for. There’s plenty of time. 
3. Don’t make a big deal out of either topic (God or Sex). He should continue to feel it is just like any other area in life, not something to get super excited, anxious or embarrassed about. 
4. What Simon and Garfunkel song should I have him listen to next…?

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Is the Torah Pro Choice?

Several years ago, a couple contacted me about their son who was becoming disenchanted with Torah U’Mitzvot and was gradually “shedding” observance. They described in detail how they had provided a loving and nurturing atmosphere for their children, how they tried to be good role models of love of Torah and Mitzvot, the excellent Jewish education their children received and the joy of Shabbat and Chagim in their house. 
They concluded their overview with a question that resonates with me as strongly now as it did back then – “Rabbi, where did we go wrong?” 
When trying to give them an answer, I reflected on Sefer Bereshit, in which the Torah discusses the most fundamental relationships of our lives: relationships between spouses, relationships between siblings and relationships between parents and children. 
It’s interesting to note that all of the great figures in Sefer Bereshit seem to have a child who “strayed from their path.” This was true for אדם, whose son, קין committed murder and נח, whose son חם committed incest. Similarly, we find that אברהם had ישמעאל and יצחק had עשיו, both of whom led lives of violence and immorality, far away from the ideals of faith and morality which were at the center of their father’s lives and education. 
When it comes to sibling rivalries, the Torah is quite explicit with its reasons for it – jealousy and competitiveness. The same is true for spousal dispute, where the culprit was mistrust and deception. 
When it comes to parents and children, though, we don’t find the Torah giving an explanation as to “what went wrong.” I shared with the distressed parents this peculiarity and the message I think it includes: The Torah doesn’t give a reason for the sons turning their backs on their parents’ ways because there isn’t always a reason. It is possible to be an אברהם, the greatest Jewish educator of all times, and still have a ישמעאל. Not because אברהם necessarily did something wrong, rather because it wasn’t all up to אברהם!

As these parents were already after the fact, I felt it was an important they not beat themselves up over it and realize it could have nothing to do with them and how they raised their son.
 
I do believe there is another message there which may help us before that point of choice comes and that is the realization that we can only take our children so far in their relationship with G-d and Torah (or in life in general for that matter). At some point they have to make their own choices. We can’t choose for them and we can’t force them to choose. We can’t assume that as long as we do all the “right things” (or whatever we imagine them to be) – they will just continue living a life consistent with how we raised them.

Does this mean there is nothing one can do but pray? Not at all. We need to do whatever we think are the “right things” but with the awareness of preparing them for that moment, or moments, when they will decide for themselves. They need to be accustomed, especially in their teen years, to making everyday religious (and otherwise) choices, not through coercion and deprivation of choice, rather the opposite, by allowing them the space and acceptance to make their own choices. That, coupled with the positive atmosphere, influences and learning will, with G-d’s help, result in the right choices they will make themselves.

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