Shalom From the Shabbat Lady

Dear Parents and Children,
Yom Kippur is a difficult holiday especially to explain to young children. There are many things to think and talk about. The Jew’s responsibility during this week is to go to those whom he or she has hurt and to ask for forgiveness. Saying “I’m sorry” is hard for children but often harder for adults. Judaism helps us out by telling us that we must not only ask for forgiveness but also be willing to forgive.
How do we teach our children about forgiveness? First, by recognizing that saying “I’m sorry” on command does not make it true. Our children learn many lessons from us on how to handle mistakes and there is much to learn from the Jewish way of tshuvah. The term, which is often translated as “repentance,” really means “turning back.” We must realize that we have done something wrong and feel bad about it. Children do understand right and wrong even when they cannot always control their actions. Next, when we ask for forgiveness, we must really say and intend that we will not do the hurtful act again. In Judaism, if you apologize then do the same thing the next day, you have not “turned back.” In fact, the rabbis told us that we must face the same temptation to do wrong three more times and not make the same mistake, before we have really succeeded. Tshuvah, repentance, is hard! However, it is an important lesson to teach our children. We must also remember that forgiveness is good for us — it hurts us to be angry at another.
Now, after going to the people we have sinned against, on Yom Kippur we ask G-d to forgive us. Since I was a child old enough to read the prayer book, I always wondered on Yom Kippur, “I haven’t done half those things mentioned — why do I have to stand up and list all those sins?” It took a lot of growing up to realize that I was part of a community and together we ask for forgiveness for our collective sins — together we will be forgiven and together it will be easier to strive to be better in the coming year!
P.S.: For a really great book to explain these tough issues, read “K’Ton Ton and the Kitten.”
Laura Seymour is director of camping services and Jewish life and learning at the Jewish Community Center of Dallas.

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