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5 Basic Ways to Bring Spirituality Into Our Children’s Lives

5 Basic Ways to Bring Spirituality Into Our Children’s Lives

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“We don’t do anything religious.” Most years one of my Hebrew-school students tells me some variation of this. Sometimes, the lessons we’re learning in class about Jewish holidays and customs just don’t resonate“We don’t do anything religious” with my students’ home lives.

But I always tell these kids that there are lots of things they’re doing that are “religious,” and together, we work on recognizing the many ways to be spiritual and Jewishly connected on a daily basis.

As educators and parents, there’s a great deal we can do to help kids develop their natural sense of awe. Here are five practical ways to incorporate holiness into our lives and help kids (and grown-ups, too!) tap into our spiritual potential.

Connecting With the Sick


I’m not sure how many of the songs, crafts or lessons my kids remember from preschool. But one practice made a lasting impression: Whenever a classmate was home sick, the students would gather around a phone and place a call to their friend, wishing him or her a speedy recovery. It’s called bikur cholim, their teacher explained—the commandment of visiting the sick.

I still remember how proud my children were when told me about those calls, and how pleased they were over the years when they themselves were absent from school and became the recipient of such good wishes. My kids felt important—not only did they learn that they have the power to help make people feel better, they loved the fact that calling and consoling the sick was a mitzvah.

Those phone calls set a pattern that continues to this day; my kids still call up friends who are ill, commiserating with them and offering help. To tap into this powerful mitzvah, consider reframing your actions when people are ill. Make a conscious decision to call or visit, or just as important, schedule time at a local hospital or nursing home.

Feeding Pets


When my son became the proud owner of a hamster, I knew that he would gain some valuable lessons in responsibility. What I didn’t anticipate is how much taking care of a pet would help him feel connected to Jewish tradition and spirituality as well.

The Torah instructs that before we eat, we have to first make sure that any animals in our care are fed and watered. In addition to ensuring that our animals are well-cared for, this command helps us develop empathy, asking ourselves if others are in need. I love the fact that before we sit down to dinner, my son first runs to feed the hamster (and if he doesn’t, then one of his siblings, aware of this mitzvah, will remind him).

Reframing the task of feeding our pets as a chance to fulfill this mitzvah is a great way to give kids the opportunity to feel connected to Jewish tradition in a new, different and personal way.

Blessing Thunder and Rainbows


“Quick, what’s the blessing?” My kids wind up asking this a lot when we see phenomena such as rainbows, the ocean or a huge crowd of people gathered together. Jewish tradition is full of blessings to say on various occasions. For instance, when we hear thunder, it’s traditional to say “Blessed are You, L-rd our G‑d, King of the universe, for His strength and His power fill the universe.”

Thunder, my kids have learned, is seen in Judaism as a wake-up call—much like the shofar on Rosh Hashanah. It’s a reminder toRainbows have deeper meaning straighten up and do the right thing. Rainbows, too, have a deeper meaning; the Torah explains that they are a sign G‑d sent the world after he destroyed it in an enormous flood, promising that he would never again send such devastation.

Reframing how to witness these phenomena offers a chance to remember and praise the Divine, and serves as a reminder to grow. It adds to the moment, bringing an extra dose of beauty and meaning.

Returning Lost Items


When I was a kid, “finders keepers” was the rule among children in our neighborhood. It was a surprise, then, when I started becoming more immersed in Judaism, to learn that hashovas aveida—returning lost items—is a central mitzvah that’s taken extremely seriously by many Jews. It’s not uncommon, for instance, to see items in synagogue newsletters and Jewish papers advertising objects that people have found and whose owners they are trying to trace.

As a mom, I’ve found that this mitzvah can capture kids’ imaginations. Whether it’s because we can all identify with the anguish of losing a favored possession, or because it’s fun to try and solve a mystery, returning lost items can be a satisfying challenge.

The next time you come across a set of keys, a jacket a visitor left behind or anything of value, try reframing it as a chance to do a mitzvah. Attempt to do the right thing by tracking down the owner; in the process will come the discovery of growing into a better version of ourselves.

Walking Guests Out


This mitzvah is one of the easiest to perform. We all know to say goodbye to guests when they leave, but the Torah challenges us to do so in a uniquely sensitive way.

Entertaining guests is an important commandment in Judaism, and the Torah has a lot to say about the way we treat those we have invitedAttempt to track down the owner into our homes. We are to make sure to offer them food and drink, and to treat them with warmth. And when it’s time for our guests to leave, we are to walk them to the door—and even accompany them outside for a few steps—expressing in this way our reluctance to let them go and our desire to symbolically accompany them on their way.

I’ve seen the way this tradition appeals to kids firsthand in my own family. It’s fun to walk outside a few steps with departing guests, and is something simple enough that even very young children can understand. It lends an extra something to visits; it helps communicate to guests how welcomed and treasured they were in our home. Walking out guests is also a painless way of reframing a common event and bringing spirituality into what would otherwise be a mundane moment of saying farewell.

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Susan Levitsky January 3, 2017

Making your dog feel like the leader of the pack This is an interesting dilemma for dog owners. Among dogs, the leaders of the pack eat first, so feeding your dog before yourself makes him know he's the leader. At the same time, the humans are supposed to position themselves as leaders of the pack, so the dog will know his place and the humans will have better control. The dogs we have had all have "read Torah" because they all demanded to be fed first. We have relinquished some control of who is top dog in the household, but the dogs have been really nice about it. :) Reply

Anonymous December 30, 2016

am i spiritually inadequate We should feed our animals before ourselves and how much more our children. However i found a conflict with nature when breastfeeding my baby. When i fed her before feeding myself not only was i hungry but nosebleeds and less milk was the result. And it is even harder to feed older, but picky or difficult to feed children when you are hungry. Reply

Alungi. Gideon Ghana December 29, 2016

I am so blessed and will keep it up and those I am not doing I will encourage myself to do them. Thank you. Reply

jim dallas December 28, 2016

another special writing always so fine and thorough, i enjoy reading your work and always learn as i have in this article regarding my personal habits being jewish beyond my knowing it, imagine, a mitzvah! thanks yvette. Reply

Sarah December 27, 2016

Could you please supply the Torah references for these 5, please? I would like to read them in the Scriptures so that I can explain them more fully to my children. Reply

adele mandagie jakarta December 27, 2016

Learned something about thunder, rainbow. Thank you so much. Be blessed. Reply

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