Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Fostering Emunah in our Children – A Pesach Message

by Rabbi Shaya Baumann of Torah Academy of Boca Raton

Pesach is the holiday of Q & A, questions and answers. Beyond the four questions, and the many various customs ‘so that the children should ask,’ the Seder night is built to engage our children and all participants, to encourage questions, discussion, and analysis. But what do we do when our children are unsatisfied with an answer? What do we say when they challenge or respond with cynicism?
And it’s not just the children. What do we say to ourselves when we struggle to understand a specific Torah concept or Mitzva? What do we say to those who challenge us and say, “How can I keep this Mitzva if I don’t fully understand it; how is that being intellectually honest?” What do we say when we don’t have answers that satisfy us?
Rabbi Paysach Krohn, in his second book, “Around the Maggid’s Table,” shares the following powerful true story:
A teacher was once donating blood in a local hospital. As he lay there with his arm outstretched, hooked up to the tubes that were drawing his blood, a man approached him and said in a defiant tone, “I see you are a Rabbi. Let me ask you a question.” Knowing he couldn’t sidestep this confrontation, the teacher accepted the challenge head- on and replied, ”Go right ahead and ask.”
“Tell me,” the man said brazenly, “what difference is it to G-d if a Jew wears clothes made from wool and linen? Why does it matter? I understand honoring parents or giving charity, but not that other kind of law. You explain it to me.”
From his years of experience with students, the teacher knew that the man wasn’t interested merely in an explanation for the mitzvah of Shatnez-of mixing wool and linen. He knew the man was troubled by much more. The man needed an answer that would be broad in scope, but simultaneously geared specifically to his question. After thinking for a moment he shared with him a parable he’d heard from Rabbi Eli Teitelbaum, creator of Dial-a-Daf.
“Let me tell you a story,” the teacher began patiently.
There once was a king who, aside from everything else, was a great artist. He had ten children and wished that at least one would follow in his footsteps and become an artist. But to his great chagrin, not one of them was even interested. That is – not one of them, except his youngest son. However, after hiring famous artists to teach him to paint, they reported, “We are so sorry to share with you, Your Majesty. Your son is color blind. There is no way we can teach him to paint.”
The king was heartbroken. In desperation he announced that whoever could somehow teach his son to paint despite his handicap would receive great rewards. Very few even offered to try, knowing the situation was hopeless. However one artist from a small far away town came and said he’d like to try.
For three months, the artist worked with the young prince. At the end of that time, the boy came to the palace and announced that he was ready to display his artistic talents. The king was overjoyed. He called together family and advisors, set up an easel for the child’s canvas, and the prince began to paint.
To everyone’s amazement, he splashed a color here, a color there, dabbing colors in a pattern that at first seemed incoherent; but then, as the picture began to emerge, they were astonished to see that indeed it was a very fine painting! The king and his followers cheered wildly. The next day they again assembled as the young lad splashed colors here with no apparent order, and somehow the result was brilliant again.
This went on for days and no one could figure out how he did this. Actually, the artist who had taught the young prince to draw had not done much more than teach the child to paint by number. Each canvas had sketches with outlines too faint to discern from a distance. Each section had a number corresponding to a number on one of the cans of paint set up before the child. Thus, by matching the numbers and staying within the hardly visible lines, the boy appeared to be producing masterpieces.
One day the child decided that he was indeed a great artist after all, and didn’t need his teacher’s assistance. Thus, when his father, the king, placed another easel in place, the boy did not follow the numbers that had been indicated for him, but rather chose the colors he wanted at random. The people watching were shocked as the result emerged; a disastrous mixture of frantic scribbles!
By this time the man listening to the teacher’s parable was spellbound. The teacher continued. ”You see, when G-d gave the Jews six hundred and thirteen Mitzvos, he chose each one so that it accomplished a certain goal for man, both physically and spiritually. The precept of Shabbos cannot accomplish what Shatnez can, and thus both are necessary. We are like the little child who must paint by number. If we fill in every space properly, the result will be something of great beauty. However, if we choose our Mitzvos at random, observing only those we think we understand, we will end up like that young boy who, choosing only the colors he wanted, wound up with disaster.”
By this time, the medical equipment had been removed, and the teacher got up to leave.  The man he had spoken with was in awe of this simple parable and its magnificent teaching. He accompanied the teacher through the hospital corridors and out to his car and blessed him, “I know that one day you’ll be a great Rabbi. May G-d bless our people with others like you.”
What is intellectual honesty? True intellectual honesty is having the humility, maturity, and honesty to recognize that Hashem’s Torah, as understood through the wisdom of our Sages, is far greater, deeper and more profound than our own frail understanding and limitations. It’s having the confidence to know that we’re the young child filling in the lines, painting a life of spiritual beauty, and that if we allow our own arrogance and intellectual limitations to veer us -even slightly- off His path, we will end up with something disastrous.  It’s knowing that there are some Mitzvos we understand, someMitzvos that may take us another decade of maturity and wisdom or more to understand, and some Mitzvos that Hashem has instituted specifically that we should not understand (for example, Bamidbar 19, see Rashi and the Midrash).
As parents, at the Seder night we lay the foundation of our faith as a nation. We relive our people’s history, when Hashem took us out of Egypt 3,326 years ago and gave us His manual to life – the Torah. [For an in-depth discussion of the powerful scientific and historic evidence to the Exodus and Revelation at Sinai, see “Permission to Believe” by Lawrence Kelemen (Feldheim) and/or ”Beyond a Reasonable Doubt” by Rabbi Shmuel Waldman (Feldheim) amongst others.] With this foundation established, we then know with certainty that the Torah is our Divine Guide, and it’s our job to learn it and master it.
Now, there’s a delicate balance: Yes, it’s our mandate to delve, analyze and do our best to understand His Torah, and all questions and challenges are welcomed and encouraged. But at the same time, throughout all discussions we maintain our ultimate respect and appreciation that Hashem’s Torah is not on trial, it is we who are on trial. There may be questions whose answers we understand, there may be questions whose answers we don’t understand (yet, or even in our lifetimes). But above all there must be an appreciation that Hashem is the Divine Artist, and as long as we follow in His lines we will be building a life of beauty. 
We must share this message with our children - the conviction that Hashem has given us His glorious Torah, and while we continuously ask, challenge, delve, and deepen our understanding, we maintain an unshakeable confidence throughout that we are here to loyally color in the lines. While we certainly must do our best to share the Torah’s lessons with our children in a palatable, understandable, relevant and sweet way, the powerful backdrop must be one of a small learning beginner delving into the vast and deep Divine Wisdom.
But…’s not enough to say the words. This is a lesson that we need to live and internalize ourselves, and only then will our children accept. We need to first strengthen our own emunah, and then our children will feel our depth of conviction, see it in our eyes, and absorb its truth, and its power and strength.  Let us use the Pesach Seder to deepen our faith and respect for the Torah, and celebrate our foundation as the chosen Am Yisroel with the joy and conviction of having the Master Artist lead our way!
Wishing you a Chag Kosher V’sameach,
Rabbi Shaya Baumann

Monday, November 19, 2012

Some recent Adaisms

Things sometimes appear to get a little lost in the telling of the parsha in school. Ada love to share everything she's learned in great detail. It took us a little bit to figure out some details in Bereishit like when Hashem blew a soul into Adam she declared, "Hashem glued a neshama into Adam." Or her description of the story centering around the "fake tree" which was determined to be a misrepresented fig tree!

Sometimes, though, I don't want to correct some errors because they sound so cute. Like when she says sepretary instead of secretary. Or when she urges her sister to hurry up by saying, "C'mon! Pick up the paste!" Nothing stops that girl from experimenting with new "fancy" words every day. Love it.

Thursday, May 03, 2012

An older lady - a friend of Dovid's grandmother - complimented Mordechai on how handsome he was. She went on to say how important sons were. After all, she said, they carry on the name.

My son thoughtfully mused, "What's more important, the name or the religion?"

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Ah, nachas!

Ada had a supply of potato sticks from the tearoom in a foam cup. Unfortunately, most of them accidentally spilled out onto the floor. After she collected them up, she announced that she would throw them out and replace them with a fresh supply. She began to pour out the potato sticks into a nearby trash can.

Me: Why don't you just throw out the whole cup and get a new one?

Ada: I'm trying to save the environment!

Ada's solo at the Granit 2012

Wednesday, December 14, 2011


Ada's been having fun on the computer lately making collages in Publisher and lists of things (that we already have lists for) like her class list in Excel.  She's getting lots of great skills. Tonight she came and asked me how to make another "list." I was about to tell her how to open a new spreadsheet when she said, "Oh, I remember!"I raised my eyebrow in surprise. "Really," she said. "You go to start and then Micro-office and then click on elexus, right?" Sounds good to me!

Doing Hebrew reading homework has also become more fun because she has real words rather than nonsense syllables ( which were torture for both of us!). She has a good time recognizing all the words she's seen or heard in other places like davening or chumash. Sometimes we get some amusing ones like: עשיר . What's amusing about that? Well I was looking for אֵיזֶהוּ עָשִׁיר? - הַשָמֵחַ בְּחֶלְקוֹ . She said - no! It's like "a shiur."