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Wanted: Self-Centered, Short-Sighted, Childish People

Wanted: Self-Centered, Short-Sighted, Childish People


Rabbi Meir said: When the Jews stood before Sinai to receive the Torah, G‑d said to them: "I swear, I will not give you the Torah unless you provide worthy guarantors who will assure that you will observe its laws."…

The Jews declared, "Our children will serve as our guarantors!"

"They truly are worthy guarantors," G‑d replied. "Because of them I will give the Torah."

(Midrash Rabba, Song of Songs 1:4)

Of the many childish qualities which set apart the "maturity challenged" youth from their adult counterparts, two are very stark and blatant.

1) A child's entire focus is on the here and now. The past is a non-existent bygone, and the future—an even more non-existent dream. The younger the child, the more non-existent is all but the present.

For example: On Sunday morning, the average adult wakes up and thinks about his goals for the day ahead—be they taking care of responsibilities or chores, or indulging some desires and hobbies which are reserved for weekends. Only after creating some semblance of a plan does the day begin in earnest.

“Yesterday” is code word for “completely irrelevant past”; “tomorrow” is code word for “utterly irrelevant future”…A child, on the other hand, wakes up and his first thought is: "What do I do now? Do I jump on Mom's head to wake her up? Or can I more wisely utilize Mom's sleep time by climbing the china closet to purloin some of the sweets she's hidden there?" The day ahead is completely irrelevant; all that matters is living in the moment.

This is also why every child-raising book speaks of the importance of immediate consequences – positive or negative – for youngsters' actions. This is for two reasons: a) the warning of a future [i.e. non-existent] reward or punishment will not impact what the child will do in the [very real] present. b) If the consequence is delayed, the child can't comprehend why he's receiving a very real punishment/reward for an abstract act which has been relegated to the annals of immaterial history.

Interestingly, I've noticed that young children refer to any prior date as "yesterday," and anything which will occur in the future, no matter how distant, is part of "tomorrow." How far in the past or future is unimportant; "yesterday" is code word for "completely irrelevant past", and "tomorrow" is code word for "utterly irrelevant future"…

2) Every child considers himself to be the very cog around which the world revolves; the sole purpose of every G‑d-created being is to serve him. Every game and latest gadget was invented with him in mind, and how dare Mom and Dad – who were also put on Earth to serve him – deny him his birthright! And when they do capitulate to his whimpering and moaning and buy the toy, the nerve of them to suggest that he share it with a sibling!

The importance of global upheavals and momentous scientific discoveries pale in comparison to a lollypop. If it doesn't affect him, it just doesn't matter.

This is why children must be trained to feel and express gratitude. Not because they are naturally unappreciative, but because they fail to understand why, for example, they must be grateful to parents who are just performing their duty. Thanks is due to a creature who has a life and aspirations of its own who selflessly chooses to forgo his own benefit to help another. This certainly does not apply to the parent whose life's purpose is to cater to his every wish. Thanking a parent is akin to showing appreciation to the school bus which transports him to school!

How much more would each of us accomplish if we were childishly eager to utilize the present moment to its utmostThese two childish qualities clearly have serious downsides. Thankfully, people mature—for living in a world wherein people remained exclusively focused on themselves without consideration for others would be unimaginable. And the human would still be living in caves if he lacked the capacity to plan for the future. However, there is much to be learned from the child's perspective.

"Do not say 'When I will have free time I will study,' for perhaps you will never have free time" (Ethics 2:4). How much more would each of us accomplish if we were childishly eager to utilize the present moment to its utmost, instead of delaying important goals for an imaginary future? Furthermore, how many people's ambitions are hampered because they dwell in the non-existent past—frightened into inaction by past failures, or lacking motivation because they rest on the laurels of prior achievements?

"Every person is obligated to say, 'The world was created for me'" (Sanhedrin 37a). You are not an insignificant cosmic speck; you are the reason why the world was created. G‑d Himself waits for you to fulfill the purpose of creation by studying some more Torah and observing yet another mitzvah.

Perhaps this is why G‑d enthusiastically accepted the children as guarantors for the Torah. The message is plain: Torah is intended for "childish" people who realize that 1. there's no time like the present, and 2. you are the one chosen to do it!

Rabbi Naftali Silberberg is a writer, editor and director of the curriculum department at the Rohr Jewish Learning Institute. Rabbi Silberberg resides in Brooklyn, New York, with his wife, Chaya Mushka, and their three children.
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H. Aber n.m.b. September 21, 2014

As a teacher of 5-6 year olds I can say that your assessment is so accurate. Part of my teaching strategies involves the calendar and birthdays. They need to get a sense of yesterday, today, tomorrow, next week, next month, and the cycle of the year.
I also make a point of having them thank our co-teacher for serving the meals as well as our 'lunch helpers' who set the table. Reply

Sarah Eliana World August 11, 2013

Shirley- Now that we are adults we know the joys of life are to do good; not to have good. Instead of saying, who other than I should have this? We say who other than I should do this? Reply

Anonymous RVC May 16, 2011

Todah! I appreciate the insights Reply

Anonymous Honolulu, HI August 5, 2010

Sounds wrong unless you really read and understand It's very well written and very inspiring. Thanks! Reply

shirley westlake vill, ca May 19, 2010

WORLD CREATED FOR ME This is not only an unbelievable burdening thought but could also cause many people to become even more selfish and self-centered than they already are
we live in a world of me and my and I get mine
and the heck with you and the others
why not speak of the joys of child hood instead of making it about selfish egoistic
stuff that has gotten us to this mess we are in on this planet Reply

Ben flushing February 1, 2010

A very interesting insight... A very significant reason for people not to study the Torah is that it seems we're not who are supposed to do it. We're just simple. But I guess the Rabbi is right. We need to change our attitude and realize WE are the ones to learn it. Thanks! Reply

daniel February 1, 2010

brilliant right on Reply

Mimi Yasgur New York, NY May 28, 2009

Beautiful insight What a beautiful thought to connect a child's nature with our characteristics as guarantors. Very inspiring, both as parenting advice as well as a spiritual metaphor that we can learn from children. We should all be blessed with a sweet and happy acceptance of the Torah. Reply

Anonymous Natick, MA January 25, 2008

A very important idea Depressed over last year's sins? Worried about next month's rent? Just live today and work toward whatever G-d has in mind. Is this a strange idea or not? Reply

Patti Grossman Silver Spring, Maryland January 24, 2008

Moral courage I had lost my enthusiasm. Rabbi Silberberg has helped to rekindle it.

Thank you, Rabbi. Reply

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