As we gathered for the sixth and final session of Parenting Through a Jewish Lens at Congregation Dorshei Tzedek, we focused on how to parent for kindness. After reading an early text about the Jewish value of greeting people with an open heart, parents quickly started raising a myriad of questions.
“My children won’t stop being mean to each other. What can we do?” “How do I help my children develop a practice of giving tzedakah, to aid others in need?” “I want my children to greet people, but how do we balance that with stranger danger? What has our world come to that greeting people could be unsafe?” People responded to each other with strategies that they had tried or nodded compassionately, indicating that they too struggled with these issues. Over our short time together, this learning space had become a place where people raised their burning questions and looked to each other and to our texts to try to help them consider how to respond.
And then one parent asked, “How do we raise children with the value of kindness in a world that seems to not value this any more? I just can’t stop thinking about that.” There was silence. Heads were shaking up and down and left to right, as if they were ready to roll off in our efforts to ponder the massiveness of this question. Many parents spoke about feeling the same way and not knowing what to do. Finally, one parent said in a small but assured voice: “I think we need to focus on this now more than ever, as we’ve been learning from our different readings. And we need to do it together, not alone.”
We then turned to the famous midrash from the Sifra:
And you shall love your neighbor as yourself. (Leviticus 19:18). Rabbi Akiva teaches: This is the fundamental principle of Torah.
Ben Azzai teaches: “These are the generations of Adam: On the day God created the human, God created the human in the image of God; male and female God created them…” (Genesis 5:1-2) This principle is more fundamental.
Our Jewish wisdom offered a new frame for teaching our children, that as Jews, we have an obligation not only to our neighbors, but to every human being created “in the image of God.” And this text offered our group an alternative vision to a world in which there is so much distrust of the “other” and devaluing of kindness.
Imagine what could happen if we could really draw on Ben Azzai’s wisdom and expand our own and our children’s capacities to be open to others.