I'm Worried About Our Kids This Summer. And Us Too.
Like every summer, as the school year draws to a close, our children's eyes are glazed over with the aspirations of freedom, video games and sunshine. They dream of lazy mornings, late wake-ups, swimming pools and the smell of popcorn and BBQs.
But this summer is not like any other. This is not the conclusion of a long, hard academic year. It is the end of a longer, harder, two years of unprecedented stress, anxiety, depression, loneliness, loss and frustration.
Reactions and emotions will vary from age to age, and from child to child, but we should be well aware: This summer is unlike any we have encountered before.
For some children, especially teens, the pressures and rules of this year have compressed and squeezed them like a spring. In a regular summer, they might decompress and let loose a little. But the heightened stress of the past two years has pushed them further to the point that they might “spring back” higher and harder than ever before. This could well result in riskier activities, and unwise decisions.
For other kids, the past two years have rendered them emotionally, socially and intellectually exhausted. They want nothing more than to “veg-out” on a couch and recuperate. Unchecked, this could well lead to anti-social behavior and unhealthy eating and sleeping habits.
All of this is to say: As parents, we should be actively engaged in conversations with our children – of all ages and stages – asking how they are feeling what they are thinking and what they need to best take care of themselves.
Discussing self-care with our kids is a powerful tool to ensure that they feel validated, listened-to and important. It's also a skill that can and should be developed early on in parent-child relationships and is more important now than ever before.
So far, nothing I have said is novel. However, once we and our children have established what they need in order to recharge, there is a far more important conversation that needs to take place: What do we do next?
More often than not, we galvanize ourselves, our families and our communities for an acute and critical problem. In the past few months alone, we have faced COVID, anti-semitism, Hamas rockets and countless personal concerns. To each of these we develop opinions, directives, instructions, narratives and messaging.
We have developed an arsenal of well honed responses: Social distancing, masks, vaccines, tefillah, calling politicians and talking to therapists. Whatever the issue, we have charted the course of action.
But what about a lazy Tuesday morning in the summer? What is the course of action for such a day?
Of course, a few unstructured days of rest are essential to maintain mental and physical health. Although, we should consider just how many such days are helpful before they begin to become harmful?
If we're honest with ourselves, there is a deep and powerful drive for parents to take it easy this summer. We have spent months navigating and negotiating all of the systems and stresses. This has undoubtably taken its toll on the priorities we had insisted upon in the world before COVID. After all, there is only so much brain-space and emotional wherewithal at our disposal.
We may not want to push and pressure our kids this summer. We may want to give them and us the freedom to chill. But there is a subtle and devastating message that we should be considering.
Essentially, the question I'm asking is as simple as it is daunting: What do we expect of ourselves and our families when there is no crisis looming?
Bringing this question into even sharper focus: Are we still Avdei Hashem when we feel like we're in control again, and we need Hashem less?
In the introduction to the new edition of the Chidushei Seridei Eish, Rav Yechiel Yaakov Weinberg זצ״ל, the publisher tells of a his attendance at one of the Sichos of the Seridei Eish in the Hildesheimer Rabbinical Seminary in Berlin:
The Rosh Yeshiva told us that he had met the famous Jewish physicist, Albert Einstein, and had asked him: “Professor Einstein, do you believe in the existence of God?”
Einstein equivocated and responded: “Every scientist knows that there are things beyond their comprehension. Things that they will never know, and things that they will never understand. These things that are beyond us, express the smallness of our grasp on the universe, and that which is beyond human comprehension, you can most certainly call God.”
The Seridei Eish then continued to explain his objection to Einstein.
The Professor believes that God is evident in the world which we don't understand. This means, by definition, that the more we understand, the smaller Hashem becomes. But it cannot be that Hashem is less, because we know more. As history marches on, science, mathematics, medicine and technology develop and become clearer and better understood. This should give us a more profound understanding of Hashem, not, Chas V'Shalom, a weaker understanding.
Instead, we must understand that Hashem is also found in the world we know. He inspires every Halacha in Shulchan Aruch, every atom and molecule. And the more we learn about the world, and the Torah, the more we are learning about the Ribono Shel Olam.
At the beginning of this pandemic, when knew nothing, we quarantined in our homes, and totally disconnected from the world and each other. In that confused space, we turned to the Master of All Worlds, and davened to keep us and our loved ones safe. We flooded the zoom rooms with Torah, and reached out to our neighbors with acts of kindness.
But now we know more. And so we in danger of are turning to Hashem less.
This is not Derech Eretz. This is not Yiddishkeit. This is the way of Korach.
When Korach challenges Moshe he explains: “All of us are holy!” And Rashi comments: “All of us heard Hashem's voice at Sinai.” We all went to the same Shiur, we all have the same information. (Indeed, the Rambam write that at Matan Torah, every single Jew reached the level of prophecy of Moshe. So we're in control of our worlds because we understand them the same.)
Rebbe Nosson explains that Korach's machlokes was based upon his brilliant understanding. But his genius lead him astray. Korach did not realize that even if he did know as much as Moshe, there is a great difference between a Lamdan and a Tzadik. A Lamdan understands the Halacha, knows what to do and how to practice. But a Lamdan who is not also endeavoring to become a tzadik could be filled with Torah, and absent of even a shred of Godliness. A Tzadik finds Hashem even in what they know and do.
We're back to living in an era of immense knowledge and understanding. But all of it is for naught if it pushes Hashem out of our lives.
This is an invitation to engage with ourselves and our children about how we should utilize the summer to recover from the pain and strain of the past two years. But more so, what we can do now that we couldn't do before. We should consider how to include Torah, Tefillah and Chesed as maintains of our families lives. Our charge should be to bring Hashem into our every moment. And with His help, our lives should be infused with meaning, clarity and closeness.