Out of the Mouths of Frum Babes

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Quite often, I find myself in front of audiences of relgious non-Jews, explaining what committed Jewish life is all about. There is never time, of course, to convey more than a few vignettes and examples. In choosing what aspects of Torah life to highlight, I usually attempt to dispel major misconceptions about Orthodox life (e.g., that living by the Law is a spiritually empty enterprise, full of anxiety, guilt and devotion to detail rather than devotion to G-d) and/or create kiddush Hashem by offering them something they can relate to as missing in their own spiritual lives.

Berachos is high up on my list of topics. The reason is simple. Everyone in my audience believes in prayer, and believes in thanking G-d. They are entirely at home offering spontaneous invocations before a substantial meal. They don’t, however, pause to thank G-d before sipping a drink of water, or taking a bite out of an apple. They perk up when I explain the system of berachos, and instantly get it when I explain the rationale for differents berachos for different foods. If you believe that you, individually, are the recipient of Providential largesse, you want to make note of it. You want to savor the moment not just for having received a gift, but for the nuance and quality of the gift. G-d made eating potatoes a different experience – a different blessing – than eating grapes. That difference is memorialized in the two different berachos for the two items.

I point to the impact this has – directly or subliminally – on children. Since these audiences worry a great deal about whether their children will remain loyal to the values of their parents, this point finds its way home as well.

Do frum kids “get it” too? Entirely loath to make a case from the very small sample of one frum soon-to-be-seven year old boy, I offer it nonetheless as an illustration of what young children can be sensitized to realize are blessings in their lives. Hopefully, berachos, as well as good parenting had something to do with it. So did good schooling. The teacher at Torah Day School of Dallas should be commended for her insight in asking her students to list a hundred things they are thankful for, in honor of the 100th day of school. One mother sent me the list her son came up with, and insisted that he got very little adult assistance.

It goes without saying that the fact that the child is my grandson has absolutely nothing to do with this posting.

100 Things Yaakov is Thankful for:

1. Hashem
2. My life
3. My house
4. My room
5. My mother
6. My father
7. My brother Eli
8. My brother Meir
9. My baby Pinchas
10. My little sister Adina
11. My lego
12. That I am healthy
13. That I have a brain
14. School vacations
15. The summer
16. That I live in the USA
17. That I live in Dallas
18. That the Sun keeps us warm
19. That the Sun gives us light
20. That the moon shines at night
21. Clean air to breathe
22. Clean water to drink
23. That I woke up this morning
24. Good food
25. Ice cream
26. My bed
27. My tree house
28. Steak
29. That I am Jewish
30. That my grandparents are alive
31. That my grandparents come and visit me
32. That my grandparents buy me presents
33. That I have cousins
34. That some of my great grandparents are alive
35. That Hashem made animals
36. That Meir shares his DS with me
37. That I can walk
38. That I can talk
39. That all the parts of my body work well
40. That I don’t need glasses
41. That I am strong
42. My trampoline
43. That I can jump
44. That I can play
45. That I have clothes
46. Shabbos
47. All the Jewish holidays
48. That the world is full of colors
49. That I can sleep at night
50. That I am growing
51. That there are so many good fruits to eat
52. Healthy vegetables
53. All the different flowers
54. Trees that give us wood, and fruit and paper and shade
55. The soldiers that keep us safe
56. The police men that keep us safe
57. That we have the Torah to teach us how to act
58. The fire fighters that put out fires
59. That I have toys
60. For Doctors that help keep us healthy
61. For my uncles
62. For my aunts
63. For the rain
64. For swimming pools
65. For air conditioning in the summer time
66. For heat in the winter
67. For funny jokes
68. For barbeques
69. For birthdays
70. For parties
71. For play dates
72. For my ears that hear
73. For music
74. That I get to visit my grandparents in LA
75. That I get to go to the beach
76. That I went to New Orleans
77. That I went to Yosemite
78. That I saw the Grand Canyon
79. For medicine that helps me feel better when I am sick
80. For DVDs to watch on long car drives
81. That I have been on boats
82. That I feel safe
83. That I have a baby to snuggle
84. For my computer
85. That we have mitzvos
86. That I can wear my yarmulke outside
87. That I have brothers to play with
88. For the sewer system
89. That I can go the bathroom
90. For my bicycle
91. That my parents have cars
92. That my father is smart and can answer all my questions
93. That my mother is smart
94. That I can remember things
95. For sports to play
96. That I have running water in my house
97. That I can run fast
98. That my mother and brothers have glasses so they can see better
99. For my nice teachers
100. For the 100th day of school!!!

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15 Responses

  1. ilana Gutman says:

    Gratitude is the most important first lesson a child should learn. Without gratitude, there is no respect or enjoyment for the blessings we receive in life.

  2. Jewish Observer says:

    Love the title!

  3. robert lebovits says:

    I wonder at exactly what age did we grown-ups stop being children & so forgot how to see what is really there.

  4. S. says:

    Beautiful post, by the way. Asach nachas!!!

  5. S. says:

    >You want to savor the moment not just for having received a gift, but for the nuance and quality of the gift. G-d made eating potatoes a different experience – a different blessing – than eating grapes. That difference is memorialized in the two different berachos for the two items.

    And licorice and a cookie? (Mezonos) Doesn’t this beautiful message go south when the minutiae of halachic nitty-gritty enter the picture? IMO this is what makes halacha hard to swallow for people who see it as legalistic rather than spiritual. Cleaning for Pesach? Yay. Selling your paper plates to a goy? Nay.

    [YA – It’s difficult to challenge someone else’s subjective experience. Suffice it to say that there are different ways to look at detail. If avodah in general is lovingly packaged to children (of all ages) as a privilege and a benefit, then the minutiae of halacha can be seen as myriad opportunities to bring HKBH to every nook and cranny of human experience. (A contemporary writer, about as far from haredi Judaism as one could get, has a marvelous chapter on what he calls “holy detail.”) Perhaps I am additionally blessed, knowing as many spiritual seekers from other faiths, and learning about their challenges in staying connected with G-d. Borrowing from William James, having seen the variety of religious experience out there, I will gladly opt for rigorous halachic Judaism over the closest competitor. Even Brisk!]

  6. MoShevi says:

    Although we can’t claim to be “current” with all your new posts, we were very inspired when we came a”cross” Yaakov’s impressive list…The innocent and sometimes hodgepodge enumeration Yaakov managed to churn out reminds us all that any appreciation that we express to Hashem is neccessarily subjective, and that’s how Hashem wants it! Consider, for example, the “Oseh maaseh b’raishis” uttered by a smitten observer of the relatively uncomplicated yet beautiful Swiss Alps as compared to the exceedingly complicated and amazing creature known as the ant, which doesn’t even make it to the bracha list. Yay Yaakov!

  7. cvmay says:

    Well done, Reb YiTzchak.

    Good idea, for each and everyone to begin a Hakataras Hatov Notebook, where daily ‘thank yous’ are inscribed, remembered and reviewed for future use.
    Today, Sunday, February 6; I wrote, Thank you hashem for a parking spot near the bank, Thank you hashem that the ATM machine was in operation, Thank you hashem that there was money in my account and Thank you hashem that I arrived home safe and sound without slipping on the ice. Each THANK YOU is written with sincerity and true thankfulness.

  8. Yehudit says:

    Of course children “get” brachot long before they are really able to articulate. My son used to bellow “Baruch Jus-jus” or “Baruch keka(cracker)” on recieving something to eat long before he could actually manage to say a whole beracha by himself. Maybe better than adults. They often say things with absolute, pure faith that I can only envy. They after all have neshamot in much closer to original condition than ours.

  9. lacosta says:

    makes some of us wonder why our kids can only think of what they are lacking— ie what we parents haven’t bought for them……. should interview those parents who did something right….

  10. Dovi says:

    The assignment was to come up with a list of 100 things. Yaakov CHOSE to do a list of 100 things he was thankful for.

  11. Shades of Gray says:

    The items on the list have all of the innocence of a child(“That Hashem made animals”, #35),but also reflect keenness, as was mentioned in one of the comments. I hope Yaakov’s grandparents have nachas from him :)

    One can also make such a list at an older age, which would also include items that, in the grand scheme of things, would seem the equivalent of “thanking Hashem for making animals”, yet also reflect all aspects of where a person is at, and who they are, in the positive sense. I thought of this a while ago when reading a list of “61 things I am thankful for” written by a frum blogger in her twenties, which included things from the major(“Tanach”, “that I am not a drug addict”), to the mundane(“That I own ice skates!”). At every age, the simple things, if important to a person, are not too insignificant to express gratitude for, as is apparently already realized by “(frum) babes”.

  12. rachel w says:

    Wow! I wonder how many adults would be able to come up with a list that long! Food for thought, indeed! Continued well deserved Nachas to you from all your children and grandchildren!

  13. YEA says:

    “That I can wear my yarmulke outside”
    A particularly keen insight for a six year old.

  14. Michoel says:

    Thanks for sharing, it gave me a smile. Nice to see that your being alive and coming to visit rate above the presents.

  15. Dov Ber says:

    101. That we have Cross-currents!

    Beautiful.