Many children come home from their Jewish school or camp singing songs by Debbie Friedman — what a wonderfully gifted songwriter and singer! Her death was a terrible loss but her music lives on.
Most of her songs teach as well as are just fun to sing. A camp favorite is: 613 Commandments! When we talk about having so many rules to follow, parents and children, it seems so hard to be Jewish. We need to remember that every commandment is really about reminding us to think about how God would want us to act. (Don’t worry — there are many, many mitzvot that we cannot do now because the Temple does not exist any more).
Doing the mitzvot (commandments) teaches us how to treat one another. Another way to learn how to treat others is through doing “middot.” The word “middot” is used by the rabbis to describe characteristics of people. Sometimes the word “value” or “virtue” is used for “middot,” but whatever word is used, the goal is for us to learn ethical behavior. There are many “middot” that the rabbis teach. Here are just a few: friendship, hospitality, peace, honor, truthfulness and being pleasant.
A hard one for children (and sometimes adults) to understand is “humility or anavah (Hebrew).” Moses is described as being the most humble of all men. The prophet Micah said: “God has told you what is good, and what God requires of you, to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with your God.” A good discussion with children on this middah is about bragging: What is bragging? Do you know someone who brags? How do you feel when you hear them talk? Why is bragging bad? A favorite Hasidic story tells us that we should each carry a message in each pocket: One says, “I am but dust and ashes” and the other says, “For me the world was created.” Sometimes we need to feel really good about ourselves but there must always be balance. Take some time to think and talk about this together.
Shalom…from the Shabbat Lady.
Laura Seymour is director of Camping Services at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center of Dallas.