Things are tough economically and kids are wondering. We often think that if we don’t talk about something, our children won’t worry about it. However, kids know and feel — and when we don’t talk, they worry more because they don’t know what to worry about. Each family must decide how much to share about the family’s finances and it does depend on the child’s age and maturity. Kids want to know what is bothering their parents but they also want to know that they are going to be cared for and that everything will be safe.
Our rabbis had lots to say about money and times of need. The most famous (and best) comes from Rabbi Ben Zoma: “Who is rich? He who is happy with what he has.” (Pirke Avot 4:1) Hillel used to say that the more possessions one had, the greater one’s anxiety (from Pirke Avot 2:8). If you have too much, you are more worried about losing it. All of this is about gratitude for all that we have.
There is a prayer that is usually recited on Shabbat and was written during Talmudic times — it talks about our concerns for the community:
“May G-d who blessed our ancestors, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah, bless this entire congregation … and those who give funds for heat and light and wine for Kiddush and Havdallah, bread to the wayfarer and charity to the poor and all who devotedly involve themselves with the needs of this community and the land of Israel. May the Holy One, Blessed One, reward them … and may G-d bless them by prospering all their worthy endeavors, as well as those of the entire people Israel, and let us say, Amen.”
We pray for G-d to watch over us but we must work to help ourselves and others. In this time of challenge for many of our families, we must take care of our own families but not forget our obligation to others. We hope that those who are in need have the strength to ask for help from our community. Their time will come to repay.
Let us talk with our children and teach them the true meaning of being rich as well as the importance of giving to others. There is the story of Rabbi Akiba who was a poor shepherd at the time. He married in the winter, and they were so poor that they had to sleep on straw. One day the prophet Elijah came to visit them disguised as a poor man asking for straw for his wife to lie on. Akiba said to his wife, “We think we are poor; there is a person who does not even have straw.” Remember Rabbi Ben Zoma!
Laura Seymour is director of camping services and Jewish life and learning at the Jewish Community Center of Dallas.