I have a friend who is a physical therapist, specializing in infants' care. I was fascinated when she told me her opinion that Jewish infants from religious backgrounds have above average ability in manipulating tiny objects; clutching them between their fingers and then releasing them on request. She reckons that rather than being due to any innate, natural ability, this skill is a direct consequence of the practice these children have in gripping coins and then placing them in a charity box.

I doubt that any scientist has ever run a double-blind study comparing and contrasting kids from various backgrounds and correlating those results against frequency of charitable giving, and I couldn't find anything about it on Google, but it is certainly interesting to speculate. We do believe in training our children to give charity from a young age. We try to ingrain habits and attitudes even in infancy, so that when they're old enough to understand what they're doing, they'll keep up the practice.

She came running back to her parents: "Look mummy and daddy, I found charity!"I read an article wherein someone describes his return journey to tradition. He told of going for a walk with his religious host family one afternoon; the adults deep in conversation, the kids running on ahead. Suddenly they saw the four-year-old on her hands and knees, scrabbling for something on the ground. All excited she came running back to her parents; "Look mummy and daddy, I found charity!"

"I was shocked," said the author. "The kid wasn't excited about finding a coin on the street so that she could buy lollies, but so that she could give charity. When I saw how even a child can be educated with this disposition, I decided then and there that I wanted the same for my future family."

Be a Tree

The Torah describes man as the "tree of the fields." I've personally never understood the analogy. Why a tree, of all things? What character traits, life experiences or growth-ring patterns can a tree achieve to compare to ourselves?

But there is one comparison that does bear fruit: even the tiniest influence on a plant while in its developmental stage has dramatic affect on future growth. Whereas a mature tree can stand unbowed against the winds of change and the toxic influences of pollution, a juvenile plant is far more vulnerable. Providing positive stimuli will result in proud, upstanding and fertile trees, while any negative influences, no matter how slight, will have drastic consequences on future yields.

We can have the same affect on our children. Provide them with suitable nourishment and positive examples and they'll thrive, developing into the proud face of our future. Train them to empathize with others, to give to other people and charitable causes and, when they mature, they will provide shade and sustenance for all those in need.

However, if we stunt their growth, provide bad examples and inappropriate breeding conditions, they're prone to degenerate into nothing but sterile decay.

At a tender age, even the slightest negative impression can have drastic consequences, and it is up to us, the parents and guardians, to plant and prune judiciously, cultivating a prized crop for future enjoyment.