Many Jewish sources highlight the importance of helping others, but the following one has resonated through the ages, perhaps more than any other:

"If I am not for myself, who will be for me? And if I am only for myself, who am I? And if not now, when?" (Hillel in Ethics of the Fathers, 1:14)

Whether our children are still babies or already teens, we can demonstrate the deep joy and lasting fulfillment that comes from doing chessed (acts of kindness) and tikun olam (repairing our world).

One of my newest children's books (Aliza in MitzvahLand, Judaica Press 2009) is about a girl often heard complaining, "I've got nothing to do!" Aliza has gotten used to being entertained, but she is given the opportunity to see things reversed when she enters a wondrous "looking glass world." She finds out how joyful people are when they are busy caring and doing things for others. Aliza discovers:

"When I've got nothing to do,
It's because I'm forgetting...
Our world was made for giving
Not getting!"

Doing good deeds for others is actually a boredom buster that always works. Even on a cold, rainy day, every child can become genuinely excited about looking for their own opportunities to do good deeds. Very young children can make colorful and cheery cards to send to relatives who would be thrilled to receive them. They can make phone calls to elderly people they know, or to children who are sick. Cleaning sticky walls (from somebody's little fingerprints) with sudsy water is another possibility – with many variations on this theme available! So is practicing a medley of songs and/or a skit about an upcoming Jewish holiday that can be performed in a local nursing home or assisted living facility.

The joy that comes from giving is incomparable, and this deep and amazing concept can be readily absorbed by children when presented in a simple and delightful way. It is also a transformative message that can genuinely revitalize our homes.

I run a Jewish Big Brothers and Big Sisters Program, in Baltimore, Maryland, and there is always a shortage of adults able to volunteer as a Big Brother/Sister for the many children and teens in need of a mentor. Invariably, during the screening process to become a Big Brother/Sister, these extraordinary individuals express how they learned the joy of reaching out to others during their own childhood or teen years.

Volunteering involves reaching beyond ourselves, and, in turn, it expands our lives in so many ways. Including our offspring in volunteer efforts helps both us and our children realize that we are part of something bigger. Little sticky fingerprints can wash off easily, but the imprint made from giving lasts a lifetime and beyond.